2015 New York Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2015 New York Rising Stars: Why They Shine

New York City. It’s home to some of the most storied kitchens and cooking traditions in the country. Founded once upon a time by chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the New York scene has grown up and grown deeper, in large part to their protegées. In exploring New York over the past few months, we found that some of the city’s best chefs (and many Rising Stars winners) are products of those traditions. They count Chefs Daniel Humm, Jonathan Benno, Gavin Kaysen, Marc Forgione, and April Bloomfield as they’re mentors, and they represent a third wave of talent descended from the city’s gods of cooking.

These professional have also committed to a city that’s in a constant state of flux. One that, understandably, drives nearly everyone else in the business away. They cook and pour and mix on—for the craft and thrill of it and in hope of making a mark. And they’re doing just that—with uncompromising art-as-food, adult Snickers bar, revived old school Italian, and an unabashed love of Burgundy. They’re making vegetable-centric cuisine that transform the humblest of ingredients into luxurious plates. This year’s Rising Stars are bucking brigades and running them. That’s the beauty of New York. It’s a city full of contradictions, fueled by talented, driven people. So without further ado, here are the 2015 New York City Rising Stars: who they are and why they shine.

Chef: Thomas Allan, The Modern

Thomas Allan is the kind of no risk/no reward chef that climbed the ladder by showing up at the kitchen door and asking for a trail. In college he skipped class to cook, ultimately dropping out and arriving in New York with one month’s rent in his pocket. Allan’s passion has driven him to follow his heart, even if that meant turning down a gig helping to open The Nomad to spend time in France. He brought sexy back from there. His food is sleek, utterly appealing, and never afraid of fat. His dishes are in your face, yet refined and elegant. Like Allan’s disposition and work ethic, his cuisine is intense. His dishes at The Modern are high-end studies in flavor, whether the focus is cauliflower of foie gras. Allan is part of a new wave of chef cooking the future of fine-dining.   

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Foie Gras Tart, Kumquats, and Fennel
  • Roasted Cauliflower, King Crab, Almonds, and Tarragon
Chef: John Daley, New York Sushi Ko

Being the gaijin (foreigner) in a string of sushi kitchens has affected John Daley in many ways. Minority status has compelled him to work even harder to prove his fish-fingered prowess. While he learned from a Master (and the Master of his Master), nobody tells Daley what he can or can’t do at Sushi Ko. A renegade, he’s free from traditions that saddle other sushi chefs—from technique to presentation. With just 11 seats, Daley is delivering the best, personalized dining experience possible, with every dish at Sushi Ko capturing a moment, a diner, and Daley’s daring. He brings vibrancy to traditional preparations—setting tuna a flame, along with the New York sushi scene—and introducing original bites destined to be copied, all with a flick of his tatted hakujin fingers.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Sea Scallop, Lemon, Yuzu Zest, and Sea Salt
  • Uni, Beluga Caviar, and Wasabi 
Chef: Elise Kornack, Take Root

Elise Kornack finds substance, intention, and purpose in simplicity, and ultimately artistry. Her cuisine is uncomplicated, yet cerebral and beautiful like a Piet Mondrian painting. At Take Root in Brooklyn, she is the co-owner and also the entirety of the kitchen staff, down to the dishwasher. With Take Root she has found her voice and her first Michelin star. Kornack is uncompromising when it come to her focused philosophy, strictly adhering to the restraint of no more than 4 ingredients in any plated component, and uses only one animal protein per tasting menu. She pays special attention to texture, acidity, and use of color. Kornack is straightforward but curious and careful, making each one of her dishes an exploration for the guest—one they would ultimately like to revisit, like a favorite painting.     

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Roasted Yellow Beets, Kumquat, Hickory-smoked Egg Yolk, and Pickled Beets
  • House Cured Duck Breast, Walnuts, Black Garlic Pudding, Pickled Pearl Onions, Burnt Onion and Duck Jus, and Chickweed
Chef: Richard Kuo, Pearl & Ash

Richard Kuo is a chef’s chef. He designs his menu for his friends and peers in the restaurant industry. There is no palate fatigue at Pearl & Ash. It’s all small plates and potent, simple, and satisfying combinations which always start off with a bang. The bread course is made with smoked flour and served with chicken butter—an ingenious, addicting Kuo invention. His style is technique-obsessed, detail oriented, and like the chef himself, makes you want to hang out again real soon. That’s why Pearl & Ash has quickly become an industry favorite and a popular New York destination. His food is as welcoming and amicable as Kuo’s personality. And when a chef’s cuisine is in line with his character, exceptional memorable meals usually follow—ts least that’s true in Kuo’s case.   

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Quail Eggs, Focaccia, Trumpet Mushrooms, and Dandelion Greens
  • Octopus, Sunflower Seed, and Shiso
Chef: Matt Lambert, The Musket Room

There's a portal to the Pacific in Nolita, and it pops up in the land of red deer and King Salmon. It's a journey to New Zealand at Matt Lambert’s Michelin-star Musket Room. He’s redefining, refining, and putting his country’s cuisine on the culinary map. Lambert walks a tightrope of complexity without losing balance, never letting flavors fall flat. Pride and care for his ingredients are his calling cards, as well as daring with flavor combinations. When he encounters challenges sourcing authentic product, ingenuity and love are substituted. Like New Zealand, Lambert's dishes are picturesque, mysterious in the way they come together, and contain mountains of flavor. With food as dynamite and honest as steak and cheese pie, Lambert is leading the way for powerful personal cooking, rooted in a land Oceans away.  

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Flavors of Gin: New Zealand Red Deer, Juniper Meringue, Cilantro-Celery Root Purée, Venison Jus, and Roasted Fennel
  • Ōra King Salmon, Satsuma, and Sunflower Seeds
Chef: Bryce Shuman, Betony

There are few chefs brash enough to think they can build an institution—plan, sweat, and cook with enough heart and finesse to establish something lasting. Bryce Shuman is one such chef, and Betony is his gamble. For Shuman, each service is a new chance to push himself and his cooking. His plates drip with luxury and exude technical precision (the man knows how to treat a lobe of foie). There’s also a great joy in his plates, a sense of humor that makes dining at Betony more inviting (and fun!) than its Midtown ZIP code would suggest. It will take years of toil before Betony can be cast as one of the city’s greats, but Shuman has the talent and the vision to make a permanent mark.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Grilled Short Rib, Roasted Cipollini Onion, Pumpkin Mustard, and Smoked Potato Mousseline
  • Marinated Fluke, Squid, Cured Seaweed, Black Beans, and Pickled Kombu
Chef: Daniela Soto-Innes, Cosme

Daniela Soto-Innes is the kind of person that makes life happen. She invites challenge and plows through it with a warm, open spirit that 80-hour workweeks have yet to stamp out. That’s how she arrived in New York via Houston and Mexico City to open and lead the kitchen at Enrique Olvera’s Cosme. Soto-Innes and her food are magnetic, and the menu at Cosme is a direct reflection of her travels, mentors, and Mexican heritage. She’s making personal cooking on the national stage. With everyone watching (and clamoring for a reservation), Soto-Innes is distinguishing herself as formidable chef—one who has all the intangibles to make a deep, lasting impact on the industry.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Veal Tongue, Ha’ Sikil P’ak, and Brussels Sprouts
  • Uni Chicharron, Cucumber, and Habanero Purée
Chef: Travis Swikard, Boulud Sud

Rising through Daniel’s ranks has never been easy. To make it to the top requires the kind of leadership, discipline, and technical mastery few chefs will ever achieve. Travis Swikard has all those things. From running a sushi bar in high school to moving to the East Coast for French training, Swikard has methodically worked his way up to the role of executive chef at Boulud Sud. Particularly suited to the sun-drenched cuisine of the Mediterranean, Swikard is a master of spice. He also exercises rip-roaring originality—there’s braised goat next to that tortellini and funky sepia nestled next to morcilla. It’s food that nods to Swikard’s roots and his rise through the brigade, and when combined with his ambition and passion, it will take him as far as he can dream.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Hawaij-spiced Sea Scallops, Heirloom Cauliflower, Capers, and Pomegranate
  • Pancetta-Wrapped Cavendish Quail, Foie Gras, Kale, and Provencal Pumpkin 
Community: Joseph "JJ" Johnson, The Cecil

JJ Johnson is on fire. He’s a chef with enough backbone and charisma to manage two kitchens, be a man about town, and open his heart to the community. For Johnson, that community is Harlem, home to chic Afro-Asian The Cecil and jazz club Minton’s. From behind the line, Johnson is a teacher and a leader. He nurtures students from Careers through Culinary Arts Program. He and his team feed 50 shelter residents restaurant-caliber food twice a week. He strives to hire and train talent from Harlem. All the while, he’s cooking soulful, innovative food out of the African diaspora and injecting serious energy into uptown dining culture. Johnson is the model for the modern chef, one who leads as a cook, tastemaker, and community builder.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Kona Kampachi, Pickled White Cherries, Smoked Peanuts, Thai Chile-Hibiscus Jam, Bonito Tuile, African Purple Basil, and Micro Cilantro
  • Oxtail Dumplings, Apple Curry, Micro Cilantro
Sustainability: Andrew Whitcomb, Norman

For Andrew Whitcomb, anything short of 100 percent isn’t enough. From his post at Colonie in Cobble Hill, he spends his days obsessing over seemingly minor details (custom grown mustard seeds and esoteric herbs), as well as the big picture of his restaurant and its impact on the planet. In the past few months Whitcomb has eliminated 95 percent of kitchen waste, and Colonie is on target to achieve organic certification this summer. As for most chefs, local sourcing is a given for Whitcomb (he buys pigs from a fenceless farm and sources flours from upstate mills), but he offers diners something more—the full picture of sustainability. Whitcomb operates in a world where restaurants and chefs serve as environmental stewards, and he’s paving the way for the rest of the industry to join him. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Slow Roasted Pork Neck, Green Apple Purée, Grilled Cabbage, and Mustard Jus
  • Salad of Sugar Snap Peas, Nasturtium, Lemon Jam, Minted Yogurt, Fennel, and Radishes
Concept: Matt Danzer and Ann Redding, Uncle Boons

Uncle Boons is the intersection of Michelin stars and Thai market stalls. It represents the power and future of American food, where years of training, sweat, and calculated risk give chefs the opportunity (and chutzpah) to pursue real, personal cooking. It is also a very real dream manifested for Chefs Matt Danzer and Ann Redding, who met while working at Per Se and now cook food rooted in Redding’s Thai heritage. Uncle Boons is in the business of serving bold, chef-driven Thai food—best washed down with a frozen beer slushie. It’s a no-fuss, cravable formula that Danzer and Redding will soon expand upon with a casual offshoot, fully leveraging the potential of their culinary pedigree and prowess.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Massaman Nueh: Massaman Curry, Beef Ribs, Potatoes, Red Onions, Peanuts, and Green Peppercorns
  • Mix Grilled Platter: Baby Octopus, Prawns, Yellowtail Collar, Snow Crab, Issan Sour Sausage, Blood Sausage, Tomato Nam Prik, Roasted Garlic, Onion Tomato, Lime, and  Cilantro. 
Concept: Liz Gutman and Jen King, Liddabit Sweets

Liz Gutman and Jen King aren’t afraid of jumping. Each took a career leap after The French Culinary Institute, embracing their mutual love of confections, and opened a candy business that grew to a spot at The Brooklyn Flea. Today, they produce at an artisan-filled warehouse in Industry City, complete with 100-year-old candy cutting machine. It’s also a retail space with a candy counter, in addition to their online business, wholesale accounts, and Chelsea Market kiosk. This duo makes candy for grown-ups—who never grew up, but their palates did. The treats of these paragons of New York entrepreneurship are nostalgic fun. Liddabit candy isn’t for your physical health, it’s for your mental well-being and preservation of your inner child. And like a kid’s appetite for candy, Liddabit’s potential is limitless. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • The Snack’r Candy Bar
  • Bacon Corn
Hotel Pastry Chef: Erin Kanagy-Loux, Reynard at Wythe Hotel

Whatever you think pastry should be, Erin Kanagy-Loux is breaking that mold with her totally different take. Her composed desserts at Reynard can be funky or subtle, but never ever boring. Kanagy-Loux has a deft hand with savory components, incorporating elements like sorrel vinaigrette and black olive brioche. When she’s not contemplating citrus with olive or pavlova with granite, her program at Wythe Hotel keeps her flush with activity. Kanagy-Loux readies bread and pastry service in the morning and plans and executes hotel events by night—including many weddings—and all that’s in addition to Reynard’s dessert menu. She loves the challenge of finding natural ingredients to achieve the same results chemical or molecular ones do. Kanagy-Loux is setting a standard for what a pastry chef can accomplish in a day, as well as in a career. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Carrot Pavlova, Cream Cheese Mousse, Carrot Granita, Coconut Sorbet, Carrot Coulis, Olive Oil, Micro Cilantro, Salt, and Pepper
  • Black Olive Tropezienne, Orange Blossom Diplomat Cream, Yuzu Granita, Yuzu and Sorrel Vinaigrette, Sorrel Sorbet, and Yuzu Baked Meringue
Pastry Chef: Tracy Obolsky, North End Grill

If Tracy Obolsky weren’t a pastry chef, she’d be a professional surfer. Lucky for us, the swells of the Atlantic aren’t so alluring as to pull her away from the kitchen indefinitely. But you can taste that influence in the ebbs and flows of flavor on her plates and the hang-10 playfulness. Obolsky, who has a special affinity for anything frozen and creamy is inspired by the sweetness of nostalgia, turning caramel apples and Almond Joys into sophisticated fine-dining desserts. At North End Grill, Obolsky is introducing new flavors and techniques, raiding the spice pantry and utilizing grills and smokers—reminiscent of a beach bonfire—because Obolsky’s kitchen it’s an endless summer of possibility.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • "Almond Joy" Ice Cream Cake, Candied Almonds, Passionfruit Curd, Coconut Meringue, Valrhona Chocolate Sauce, and Candied Almond Tuile
  • Caramel Apple Bread Pudding, Sliced Caramel Apple, Salted Caramel Sauce, Candied Walnuts, Crème Fraiche Ice Cream, and Apple Blossoms
Pastry Chef: Mina Pizarro, L'Appart

To understand Mina Pizarro, you have to have an imagination. Hers runs wild at Juni. Pizarro takes leaf-to-root cooking to unspoken places, incorporating ingredients like squash rinds into her creations. Pizarro herself is soft spoken, but her desserts speak with bold flavor combinations that recreate sensory experiences like a walk through the woods. Her Philippine upbringing taught her persistence, which has served her well and led her through some formidable New York kitchens, and all the way to California and back again. An artist in every sense of the word, Pizarro’s desserts are complete thoughts. She’s an inspiration to other pastry chefs in her all encompassing approach, from her vision to its whimsical manifestation in Juni’s dining room.  

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Milk Chocolate Ganache, Lovage Oat Crunch, Shiny Chocolate Glaze, Toasted Oat Stout Ice Cream, Fermented Oats, and Torched Lovage Meringue
  • Pumpkin Custard, Dukkah Spice, Black Sesame, Black Sesame Sponge Cake, Coriander and Cumin Tuille, Olive Oil Sorbet, and Candied Pumpkin Skin
Artisan: Dillon Edwards, Parlor Coffee

Dillon Edwards was schooled and steeped in West Coast coffee culture. But with the launch of his wholesale roastery, Parlor Coffee, he’s set to establish an East Coast institution. Opening in a city flush with established coffee brands was a bold move. But it’s one that Edwards has backed up with his delicately roasted beans, a focus on education, and an eye for detail. From Parlor’s sourcing and packaging to its inviting tasting room/roastery near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Edwards has built a timeless brand—one that works to sell some of the best coffee in town. With a growing team, accounts is serious restaurants, and buzzing, public Sunday cuppings, Parlor Coffee is primed to be New York’s new flagship for a quality cup of joe.

Brews that Clinched It:

  • Ethiopa Uraga Coffee
  • Stocklist Espresso Blend 
Artisan: Austin Hall, She Wolf Bakery

Austin Hall started baking at Roman’s in Brooklyn simply because there was an oven with a fire—then demand caught fire. This Bouchon and Lafayette alum supplies all the eateries in Andrew Tarlow’s empire. At She Wolf, the miche bread transports to fields of grain in France; a sprouted Danish rye conjures daydreams of smoked salmon; and a traditional sprouted rye—all thin crust and plush interior—is a siren for salty meats and cheeses. Flours milled from grains sourced upstate give Hall’s bread depth, particularly in the baguette which is deeper in color and flavor than the standard. It’s the kind of bread to be ripped into, of which an entire meal can be made. His styles and experimentation continue to expand as Austin’s star rises and She Wolf’s bread infiltrates New York. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Miche
  • Baguette
Brewers: Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford, Finback Brewery

After almost five years of planning, college buddies Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee opened Finnback Brewery, a 25-barrel brew house in Glendale, Queens—navigating the usual contractor and governmental approval gauntlet, complete with a less than voluntarily name change. During this last 1,000-barrel year, they’ve brewed a rotating series of intriguing, idiosyncratic beers, including wildly creative seasonal offerings. The duo’s library of 30 different brews catalogs barrel aged, smoked, and sour offerings, respectively, as well as twists on familiar styles. The duo is inspired by their travels, hops, complexity, and smiles. Their inventive palates and capacity to grow in a very thirsty market will make them familiar New York bar fixtures, as their barrel production (and smiles) continue to grow. 

Brews that Clinched It:

  • Finback IPA
  • Double Sess(ion)
Artisan: Fred Maurer, Hot Dog Boyfriend

Drawing from French, German, and American traditions, Charcutier Fred Maurer is doing for salt and meat what the Beastie Boys did for rock and rap—all from locally sourced heritage breeds at a rate of 1,000s of pounds of hog and lamb a week. Dickson's Farmstand Meats has a destination deli counter where Maurer is filling cases with the meats of your dreams. Try not to press your nose up against the glass and drool. From chicken liver mousse and spiced lardo to bologna and snappy hot dogs, Mauer's products are so good they'll make you angry—angry that you don't live closer to Chelsea Market, because once you taste his Parisian ham, with its pure white crown of fat, there's no turning back—you're a Dickson's lifer. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Parisian Ham
  • Bierschinken
Sommelier: Matthew Conway, Marc Forgione

There’s more to Matt Conway than a diner at Marc Forgione might expect. He is foremost a sommelier storyteller with the skill and will to convince even the great Larry Forgione to enjoy a sake pairing instead of an American wine. Conway brings Loire Valley field hands to your table—you can see them while you’re sipping a glass of chilled Sancerre rouge. Beyond the bottle, though, he serves as general manager for Marc Forgione, co-owns Taquitoria in the East Village, pens articles for Sommelier Journal, and is a partner in Forgione’s Bloody Mary mixer company, Batch22. With the beverage world expanding, so must the role of the sommelier. Conway is writing his own sommelier story, with a restaurant Renaissance man as protagonist. 

Pairings that Clinched It:

  • Local Cucumber and Buffalo Tenderloin Tartare paired with Manotsuru "Four Diamonds" Sake, Junmai Ginjo, Niigata, Japan
  • Kampachi Tartare, Avocado, Pinenut, Saratoga Chips, and Szechuan Button paired with Fred Loimer Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria 2013
Sommelier: Grant Reynolds , Charlie Bird

Grant Reynolds believes New York City is the best place in the world to drink wine. And with Reynolds poppin’ bottles at Charlie Bird, that couldn’t be more true. His style pairs a humble demeanor and formidable juice knowledge—with sophistication and certifications all gained by age 26. Reynolds also is attune to modern culture in way that goes beyond wine. Selecting a bottle with him is akin to getting fashion advice from your best friend who’s totally cool, but also just got back from Milan. Reynolds’ laid-back table manner and intuitive questions keep guests at Charlie Bird deep in the red (or white), drinking comfortably all night long. He’s a glowing example of how a somm can help transform a meal and anchor a restaurant. Just getting started, Reynolds has a lifetime to continue to transform wine culture in New York and beyond.     

Pairings that Clinched It:

  • Cappellacci, Chanterelles, Bacon, Parmesan, and Black Truffles paired with Nebbiolo, Albe, G.D. Vajra, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy, 2010
  • Chicken Liver Mousse, Ricotta, Herbs, Brussels Sprouts, Pecorino, and Almonds paired with Pinot Noir, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Denis Bachelet, Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, France, 2005
Bartender: Natasha David, Nitecap

You could say that the intuitive skill of harmonizing is in Natasha David’s blood—both of her parents were classical musicians. At Nitecap, David brings harmony of a different sort: marrying flavors, colors, textures, and other cocktail variables most of us haven’t ever considered. She’s mixing drinks that on paper sound complicated, sometimes even strange (banana and absinthe!?). But in the glass, her cocktails show sophistication and a deft hand for balance and highlighting base spirits. But don’t mistake elegance for stuffiness. Nitecap is unpretentious, at times even rowdy, and packed with industry folk and lay drinkers alike. With her position at powerhouse beverage group Proprietors LLC, with whom she co-owns Nitecap, David is influencing future bartenders and the way we drink far outside New York. 

Drinks that Clinched It:

  • Selfie: Lillet Rosé, Bonal Gentiane Quina, Campari, Raspberry Syrup, and Sparkling Wine
  • Tartan Swizzle: Famous Grouse Blended Scotch, Laphroaig 10 Year, Lime and Pineapple Juices, and Passion Mix 
Bartender: Chris Lowder, The NoMad

Chris Lowder is the smartest guy in the room—without a hint of pretension. It’s a quality we all look for in a president, CEO, or neurosurgeon, but at the NoMad, you get it in a head bartender. Lowder approaches cocktails with confidence and intensity. He’s fluent in Mandarin and Japanese, but equally conversant in flavor profiles and cocktail history. His work is studied and purposeful; he manages a 30-person team (before he has even turned 30). Most impressively, Lowder has taken ego out of bartending. A visit to the NoMad comes with all of the trappings of hospitality and quality you would expect chez Humm-Guidara. Look out, world: here’s a bartender who’s the full package deal of brains, talent, and service.

Drinks that Clinched It:

  • Veracruz Sour: Highlands Blanco Tequila, Ramazzotti, Aperol, Lemon, Lime, and Egg White
  • The Shaman: Pisco Acholado, Salers, Pineapple, Lemon, Cinnamon, and Angostura Bitters
Restaurateur: Jeff Zalaznick, Major Food Group

Jeff Zalaznick wasn’t afraid to go all in, nor was he afraid to start small. That’s what he did when he left finance to work in hotels, and again when he sold a dining website to fund his ultimate dream of opening old-school New York restaurants. Zalaznick seized the opportunity to partner with blazing hot Chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone. Starting small, he grew slowly as a business owner, building a reputation and setting up a corporate structure over time. That structure—along with passion and an insistence on VIP hospitality—have led to a boom for Major Food Group. With nine restaurants to their credit, including Parm (soon to have six locations), Carbone, and Dirty French, Zalaznick and his team represent the future of fine, fun dining in America.