Whether they’re operating out of a food truck, cinderblock diner, or multi-million dollar restaurant, chefs in the Austin-San Antonio market are making a difference with creative food and alternative moxie. Just as Central Texas has proved itself an incubator for the technology and music industries, area chefs have put Austin and San Antonio on the map (and into the national consciousness) as dining destinations, dripping with ambitious chef talent. Barbecue, Mexican, and Southern comfort still have a home here, but chefs have redefined staples; a trip to Central Texas and its young guard talent just may yield the best taco, brisket, and fried chicken you’ve ever eaten—not to mention world-class sushi, otherworldly pastry, and sublime cocktails.
This year we tasted savory dishes, desserts, cocktails, and wine pairings from more than 60 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers in Austin and San Antonio. Only 18 earned the title of Rising Star. So what makes them shine?
Rising Star have attributes that make us believe they will be the future leaders of the country’s culinary scene. Put simply, they’re not just surviving the Central Texas restaurant industry—they’re catapulting it to the national forefront. So without further ado, our 2012 Austin-San Antonio Rising Stars: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of American cuisine.
MIXOLOGIST: Jeret Peña, The Esquire
Jeret Peña is at the heart of a changing cocktail culture in San Antonio. At The Esquire—once a rough and tumble bar where knife-toting and scandalous bathroom recreation were the norm—Peña leads a renaissance in the art of mixology, lacing drinks with his cherished mezcal, bitter amari, and a shot of character. Although Alamo city’s cocktail scene is still relatively small, Peña isn’t waiting to show off the few and brave mixos the city has behind its best bars. Along with Sasha Petraske and the team behind local Bohanan’s, Peña is helping organize the first annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. Peña is a natural ambassador with an unnatural amount of talent, along with a potent drink to convince any naysayers that he and his hometown have raised the bar behind the bar.
Drinks that Clinched It:
- The Sacrilege: Chamomile-infused Capel Pisco, Green Chartreuse, Lime, Honey, Egg White, and Cracked Pepper
- Mas Chingoni: Anejo Tequila, Aperol, Carpano Antica, Mezcal, and Grapefruit Peel
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