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2011 New York Rising Stars Award Winners and Why They Shine

by Emily Bell with Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
Antoinette Bruno and Shannon Sturgis
September 2011

Never has a town been as analyzed, celebrated, and mythologized as New York City—and never has a town been so thoroughly tasted. As anyone who lives, eats, or cooks here knows, this city is a breeding ground of talent, and a crash test site for dreams and investments. Even as standard-bearer restaurants endure, churning out ranks of talented professionals each year, new voices emerge to test themselves against the city’s opinions and appetites. And we, the humble audience, sit back, marvel, and tuck in to the feast from year to year, enjoying every bite and sip, but we’re always in search of those sparkling talents, those Rising Stars of New York food culture.

This year we tasted savory dishes, desserts, cocktails, and wine pairings from more than 80 of New York’s talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers. Only 15 earned the title of Rising Star. So what makes them shine?

Every Rising Star has a quality that makes it clear to us that he or she is going to shape the future of the culinary industry. They are leaders in creativity, ambition, discipline, and, of course, cuisine. They don’t simply survive the rough and tumble New York restaurant scene—they thrive on it. So without further ado, here's an introduction to the 2011 New York Rising Stars: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of American cuisine.

 

 

Chef Aaron Chambers

Chef Aaron Chambers

Boulud Sud

There’s a quiet confidence about Chef Aaron Chambers that seems to suffuse the airy restaurant space he calls home. And it’s more than well-deserved. The English native was cooking even as he clambered into his adolescence, and his rapid-rise career launched in some of Europe and America’s most illustrious, disciplined kitchens. Now executive chef at Boulud Sud, Chambers works with an intensity of focus that keeps the cuisine first-rate—a seamless, elegant union of Boulud’s exacting standards, posh Riviera exoticism, and Chambers’ own intuition for flavor-building. For a former—and two-decade—vegetarian, Chambers shows marked agility and imagination with produce and proteins alike, and we’re eager to see where his imagination will take him, and his menu, next.

The Dishes that Clinched It:

-Octopus a la Plancha, Marcona Almonds, Arugula, and Sherry Vinaigrette

-Cedar-grilled Rouget with Fennel, Mushroom, Shallots, Fennel Pollen, and Piment d’Espelette

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Chef Vikas Khanna

Chef Vikas Khanna

Junoon

Vikas Khanna will charm you. It’s inevitable. If not with his food—which is rich, reverent, and revealing of a much deeper source than the kitchen—he’ll do it with his smile. Not that we’d congratulate a chef for just for warmth and charisma, which Khanna’s got in spades. We’re into Khanna for the depth of his dedication—his dedication to the traditions and techniques of Indian cuisine, his dedication to the ceremonies of hospitality, and his dedication to the evolution of global culinary awareness. And we’re eating it up at Junoon, the culinary temple where Khanna is creating dishes that combine five distinct Indian cooking methods with his years of training and his intuition for his vast native pantry—making Khanna a clear leader in sophisticated Indian cuisine in this country.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Lamb Matke Wala

- Lamb Shank Handi: Braised with Onion, Tomato, Yogurt, and Junoon Seven Spice Mix

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Chef Hooni Kim

Chef Hooni Kim

Danji

Koreatown might keep us well fed on bulgogi, bibimbap, and jap chae, and we’re happy to have it. But modern Korean cuisine has a new hero in the Big Apple. He works out of an unassuming, 36-seat restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, bringing diners to the restaurant netherlands, and quietly, passionately changing the way we perceive Korean flavors. A Seoul native who made his home in New York, Kim abandoned his original pursuit of medicine to answer to a deeper passion for cuisine. And the result—filtered first through the Michelin-starred training of Daniel and Masa—is a chef with super-solid technique and serious ambition to not only broadcast the bold pantry of Korean traditions, but to update them with modern creativity and classical perfection.


The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Spicy Pork Belly Sliders with Scallion Salsa

- Steak Tartare with Quail Yolk, Toasted Pine Nuts, and Asian Pear

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Chef Jesse Schenker

Chef Jesse Schenker

Recette

“I couldn’t help it.” That’s how Jesse Schenker describes becoming a chef. What motivated him wasn’t family legacy, professional disillusionment, or even a gourmand’s sense of opportunism. Schenker got into the business because of one thing: instinct. He’s the kind of chef who sees nothing else, no other option beyond his place behind the line. And with the way he’s working it at Recette, his (almost) two year-old West Village venture in rugged, smart gastronomy, it’s clear his instincts are pointing him in the right direction. Schenker is the kind of chef who wants to please his diner foremost. His cuisine is about creating those moments of raw, unfettered pleasure, the kind you get when passion meets exacting technique, and a whole lot of elbow grease.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Australian Beef Carpaccio, Burrata, Tomato Jam, Porcini Purée, and Watercress

- Fall Squash Espuma, Roasted Foie Gras, Brussels Sprouts, Bacon Broth, and Piment d’Espelette

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Chef Adam Schop

Chef Adam Schop

Nuela

Adam Schop knows what he likes. He does it well. And he does it big. The tattoo-sleeved chef is more than one year deep into his pan-Latin venture Nuela, and the food he’s churning out puts a chef’s obsessive focus on bold flavors. Schop might have been brought into Nuela more suddenly than most chefs would like, but over the past year he’s honed it into a restaurant that caters to its Flatiron neighborhood and beyond. With culinary experience that spans (almost) the entire country, and training in French and Japanese cuisines, Schop has made a distinct choice investing in the flavors of Latin cuisine. And it shines in his food, which eschews delicacy—but not nuance—in favor of the robust. It’s food to make a stomach and a palate happy.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Peruvian Chicken with Huancaina and Papas Fritas

- Arroz con Pato for Two: Roasted Duck Breast, Confited Thigh and Gizzard Salad, Seared Foie Gras, Verde Rice, and Soft Duck Egg

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Chef Hillary Sterling

Chef Hillary Sterling

A Voce

For a kid who grew up on cream cheese sandwiches and apple sauce and whose culinary horizons were quickly circumscribed by the bagels-and-lox contours of Brooklyn dining culture, Hillary Sterling has developed an incredible intuition for cuisine. And maybe that’s because she learned to cook as a means of survival, to have something palatable on hand as both her parents worked (and her grandma’s food-filled summer visits ended every Labor Day). Sterling cooks from the bone, the way you’d expect a born-and-bred New Yorker to cook, building layers of flavors with a few, carefully selected ingredients. And as chef de cuisine at Missy Robbins’ A Voce Madison, Sterling is able to explore the pantry of regional Italian cuisine, expressing herself within a culinary culture that embraces sublime simplicity as thoroughly as she does.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Caprino Gnocchi, Brussels Sprouts, and Speck

- Trippa: Crisp Honeycomb Tripe, Cavolo Nero, Bacon, and Star Anise

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Pastry Chef Shawn Gawle

Pastry Chef Shawn Gawle

Corton

You wouldn’t know Shawn Gawle only got into pastry four years ago. Pastry chef at one of a very few Michelin two-star restaurants in New York, Gawle was once a long-time savory chef who launched a Chicago-centric career with Rick Tramonto at Tru and later at L2O, a chef who might have made—and maintained—a brilliant career on the salty side of cuisine. But when Laurent Gras put the sweets-curious chef in charge of the pastry program at L2O, he showed an almost effortless intuition for dessert. Still in the infancy of his pastry career, Gawle earned the Jean Banchet award in his first year. With this meteoric rise to the top of the industry, competitive staying power, and creative techniques that work as elegantly with fresh vegetal flavors as refined nostalgia (like his addictive smoked caramel popcorn) Gawle clearly belongs in pastry—not simply to thrive, but to lead.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Smoked Caramel, Popcorn, Brown Butter Crumble, Smoked Blackberry Gelée, Blackbery Tuile, Smashed Frozen Blackberries, and Cashews

- Black Sesame Royale, Concord Grape-Yuzu Granite, and Cocoa Nib-Sesame Crumble


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Pastry Chef Jenny McCoy

Pastry Chef Jenny McCoy

Craft

Jenny McCoy started cooking with a gamble. Not entirely inspired by the college experience or the professional horizons that followed it, she enrolled in the Kendall College baking and pastry arts program. If she didn’t like it, or if she couldn’t swing it as a chef, McCoy recalls, at least she “would know how to cook.” But McCoy proved a natural in the kitchen, finding a creativity and expressive potential in food that she hadn’t experienced anywhere else. And now in the kitchen of Craft, McCoy is proving as much an expert in the feel-good-fundamentals of dessert as she is an accomplished technician at delivering them. At the root of her gifts is a thorough and very Craft-esque appreciation for the dimensionality of a single ingredient, coupled with a modern fascination with old-fashioned favorites. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this bright, peppy chef—or her colorful desserts—on a television show sometime soon.

The Dishes that Clinched:
- Raspberry-Pistachio Clafoutis, Lavender Ice Cream, and Pistachio Nougatine

- Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta, Cocoa Nib Tuile, Cherry Cola Sorbet, and Sautéed Cherries

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Sustainability Chef John Mooney

Sustainability Chef John Mooney

Bell Book & Candle

John Mooney is like a chef reborn. With years honing his craft with more conventional products and practices, Mooney found his passion through the ingredient-focused kitchen of the W Hotel, before making a definitive step into the organic, sustainable side of the industry—and opening an unlikely temple to the cause, Bell Book & Candle. Situated in the farm-less, claustrophobically hip West Village, BB&C incorporates hydroponic gardening skills Mooney picked up for his restaurants in Orlando and India, and the restaurant is already setting industry standards for efficiency in conscious urban cuisine. Not only does Mooney supply a majority of the restaurant’s ingredients from the 60 or so hydroponic towers on the building’s roof, he sources his proteins sustainably (and as locally as possible), using the entire pantry to craft a thoughtful, expressive menu that showcases the refined, creative potential of American cuisine.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Cervena Venison and Black Bean Chili with Vintage Cheddar

- Halibut, Sweet Corn Succotash with Thyme, Chives, Chervil, Parsley, Corn Purée, Fava Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, and Crème Fraîche


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Community Pastry Chef Shuna Lydon

Community Pastry Chef Shuna Lydon

Peels

Shuna Lydon got into the pastry game the hard way, and it shows. Not because Lydon is scarred, scared, or even slightly embittered by her years of hardscrabble ladder climbing, but because she’s got obvious passion. And even as she crafts indulgent, fun, and soulful desserts in the kitchen of Peels, often blurring the lines between sweet and savory applications, Lydon is ready and eager to use her position (now at the top of the ladder) to encourage new talent and foster connections, both within the industry and as a means of social outreach. Ask her if she’s a community leader and she’ll say no, and then quietly get back to the business of mentoring, volunteering with organizations like Bill Telepan’s Wellness in the Schools, and doing her own kind of “guerilla” outreach, with her award-winning blogs, industry friendships, and hands-on approach to teaching.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- 3 in 1 Cream Pie: Roasted Bananas, Chocolate Cream, Coconut Custard, and Chantilly

- Blackberry Eton Mess Fool: House-made Blackberry Jam, Ice Cream, Yogurt, Fresh Raspberries

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Sommelier Nick Adams Robinson

Sommelier Nick Adams Robinson

Tocqueville

It might have been his wine-savvy European parents. It might have been a lifetime of working in restaurants. Or it might have been the pressing desire to impress a girl (and the ensuing frustration with a sub-par pick). Whatever it was that finally propelled 28 year-old Nick Adams Robinson into the world of wine, New York City diners are better off for it. Robinson is a young, ambitious sommelier with five years' worth of experience. As Beverage Director overseeing the wine lists at both Tocqueville and 15 East, Robinson selects his wines the way a chef selects sauces, looking for bottles that will variously cooperate with or add dimension to the dishes. A high-concept pairing style and versatility within the realm of fine dining means Robinson is able to pair with even the most complicated dishes, but at the end of the day, he just wants the wine to love the food, the food to love the wine, and the diner to appreciate an unforgettable pairing.




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Sommelier Seju Yang

Sommelier Seju Yang

Brushstroke

Seju Yang is cool, thrice over. He’s a musician, he knows sake backward and forward, and he looks damn good in a suit. To top it all off, the still under-30 sommelier pairs both sake and wine deftly and creatively alongside Chef Isao Yamada’s kaiseki cuisine at Brushstroke. Now in the seventh year of his career, Yang worked at Kyo-Ya and 15 East (alongside Nick Adams Robinson) before finally taking control of the list at David Bouley’s latest venture. And whether he’s matching the raw minerality of tuna sashimi with the naked fruitiness of a Leo Hillinger Small Hill Red or showcasing the lively drama of “raw” sake against the mosaic textures of Yamada’s seasonal vegetable plate, Yang demonstrates confidence (and cool) and agility on both sides of the pairing hemispheres.




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Mixologist Damon Boelte

Mixologist Damon Boelte

Prime Meats

Damon Boelte’s done most every job he’s ever wanted to do—he was a graphic designer, he owned a motor cycle and scooter shop, and, oh yeah, he was a musician working in a guitar shop for a while there. And now he’s proving his skills at yet another dream job, behind the bar of the Frankies’ Prime Meats. But don’t be jealous, because if you stick around, you’re going to get a delicious, well-crafted cocktail. (And if you get on his good side, Boelte might just tell you about how he—sometimes—dreams them up.) Boelte is naturally creative, and like many of Brooklyn’s finest, he doesn’t draw the line between disciplines, finding drinks inspiration as often from music as from his cabinet of meticulously selected ingredients and vintage barware. A mixologist with so many sources of inspiration, and so many outlets for creativity (including a band and a show on Heritage Radio) is bound to be a leader in the industry. If you can catch him between gigs, stop by Prime Meats to take in this mixo maestro for yourself.

The Dishes that Clinched It:

- Sidewalker: Laird's Apple Brandy, Pennsylvania Maple Syrup, House-made Apple Cider Vinegar, Lemon Juice, and Hefeweizen

- Prime Meats Old Fashioned: Rittenhouse Rye, Turbinado Sugar, and House-made Pear Bitters

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Mixologist Leo Robitschek

Mixologist Leo Robitschek

Eleven Madison Park

“I was a really, really bad bartender,” says Leo Robitschek of his early days behind the shaker. But it makes sense, considering Robitschek didn’t move to New York to learn the craft of the cocktail (which only several years ago was still in its gangly adolescence anyway). He came for a career in finance, and later, for a pre-med degree. It was only while working at Sushi Samba that Robitschek discovered a surprising bounty of talent in the worlds of wine, sake, beer, and spirits. Now in his sixth year at Eleven Madison Park, deeply invested in citrus and bitters, and fresh off a Tales of the Cocktail “Best Restaurant Bar in the World” win, Robitschek is far from his “really, really bad” days, crafting spirits-forward, classic cocktails with a modern, but never overreaching, twist. Robitschek’s creations are demure, kindred in spirit with the old-school culture they honor (and so handily update). And with his next project slated for early 2012, we’re excited to watch this really, really good bartender rise in the industry.

The Drinks that Clinched It:
- English Heat: London Dry Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth, and Jalapeño-infused Agave

- El Cigarillo: Lowlands Tequila, Dolin Blanc de Chambéry, Triple Sec, Carpano Punt e Mes Vermouth, Angostura Bitters, and Tobacco Bitters


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Restaurateur Joe Campanale

Restaurateur Joe Campanale

Dell’Anima and L’Artusi

Joe Campanale had a wine rack in his dorm room, wrote a conspicuous number of his European Studies papers on the subject of food, and somehow construed a way to turn a reporting class into a three-week stage at Union Square Café. The guy obviously wasn’t meant for a desk job. Campanale didn’t fall in love with the kitchen so much as the culture of wine and food, and it’s a love he’s transformed into a kind of casual, super approachable expertise over the years. L’Artusi, Dell’Anima, and the recently opened Anfora—that Campanale runs with Partner August Cardona and Chef-partner Gabe Thompson—operate with the same kind of affable perfection. There’s love behind each of Thompson’s dishes, just as there’s community investment and a genuine sense of the personal touch in Campanale’s kind of ownership. He’s enriching the West Village, one smile, one restaurant, and one carefully chosen bottle of small production wine at a time.

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