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2007 San Francisco Rising Stars:
What Makes Them Shine


April 2007

CHEF: Nate Appleman – A16
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Twenty-six year old Nate Appleman’s eyes light up when he mentions the 500 pound pig arriving in his kitchen later on this week. Whole. He’s already looking forward to taking it apart and turning it into the series of cured meat products he’s mastered with butchery practice and time spent apprenticing in Florence and working under Christophe Hille: soppresata, coppa, salume, the list goes on. Nate showcases the natural flavors of his high-quality meat, adding only curing salts and an occasional handful of garlic or fennel. His philosophy of making subtle and delicate variations to allow products to stand on their own carries through to his Italian regional menu that focuses mostly on Campania. The dish that clinched it was like a sun-drenched afternoon snack at a communal table in the Italian countryside: crunchy slices of radishes barely dressed in bright and pungent salsa verde with a coil of tender homemade fennel sausage. Before A16 Nate worked at Campton Place and Tra Vigne in the Bay Area.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Lamb Crespelle
- House Sausages with Radish Salad and Salsa Verde

Chef Jennifer Biesty of Coco500 on StarChefs.com

CHEF: Jennifer Biesty - Coco500
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: By the time Jennifer Biesty was in her last year of high school she was working at a friend’s restaurant and going to the Culinary Institute of New York after school. From there, Jennifer went on to cook with Marcus Samuelsson, Loretta Keller, and Traci DesJardins. She spent time at The River Café in England before returning to San Francisco to transform the old Bizous space into Coco500 with mentor chef Keller. Here, Jennifer’s spunky sense of humor and dynamic personality come through in modest, spontaneous dishes like her Brussels sprout salad. The greens are paired with a triangle of caramelized Cypress Grove goat cheese, smoked ham, and Braeburn apples for a delicious and unassuming series of textures and flavors balanced out with rice wine vinegar.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Bacon Wrapped Monkfish
- Brussels Sprout Salad

Chef Mark Dommen of One Market on StarChefs.com

CHEF: Mark Dommen – One Market
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Mark Dommen began his career in the kitchen with Hubert Keller of San Francisco’s Fleur de Lys, where Keller became his mentor and Dommen soaked up contemporary French technique and style. From there Mark spent 4 years in New York under Gray Kunz at Lespinasse and David Burke at Park Avenue Café before opening Palladin as sous chef for Jean-Louis Palladin. With years of fine dining experience under his belt, Mark went back to the West Coast to join Julia’s Kitchen in Napa Valley as the executive chef where he served seasonal Californian dishes. Today Mark has mastered the down-to-earth dining that defines San Francisco. The surprise? Mark seamlessly, and successfully, slips in techniques like sous-vide and slow-cooking to elevate his dishes without drawing attention away from his products, which are mostly sourced from the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market across the street.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Smoked Ocean Trout with Potato Rosti and Poached Egg
- Beet Carpaccio with Marinated Rock Shrimp

Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza on StarChefs.com

CHEF: Mourad Lahlou – Aziza
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Mourad Lahlou’s bold self-taught style and strong entrepreneurial spirit are at the helm of Aziza. His modern Moroccan restaurant preserves the traditional technique of hand-rolling couscous, all the while revolutionizing classic dishes with his fearless but grounded style. Mourad began cooking to ease the loneliness he felt while studying macroeconomics in San Francisco far from his home in Marrakech. The memories of watching his mother prepare traditional Moroccan dishes became the starting point for Mourad’s early experiments in the kitchen. After receiving a great deal of positive input regarding his food Mourad postponed his academic career to supervise the kitchen at Kasbah. In 2001 he found Aziza and has been revolutionizing Moroccan cuisine in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond ever since – his way.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Beef Cheeks with Roasted Summer Vegetables and Couscous
- Moroccan Carrot Soup with Blood Orange Foam

Chef Jonah Oakden of The Blue Plate on StarChefs.com

CHEF: Jonah Oakden – The Blue Plate
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: With an organic apple farming father and an uncle that founded Santa Cruz’s famous Outstanding in the Field dinners, Jonah Oakden’s low-key and modest about his culinary pedigree. Under the mentorship of Cory Obenour, Jonah has become the chef de cuisine at The Blue Plate. It’s not the vintage skateboards on the wall, the alluring green patio with beautiful flowers guarding their hallucinogenic pollen, or the Black Sabbath playing in the background that draws most of San Francisco’s industry folk in. It’s twenty seven year old Jonah’s well-executed, well-seasoned modern American dishes that are hearty and unpretentious with a focus on proper technique and an obvious love for seasonal product. Jonah’s most recent interest is in bringing back American charcuterie like pastrami, a technique he spent months working on before arriving at what tastes like the Platonic ideal of pastrami: lightly smoky, tender, and bright with flavor. Jonah thinly slices the slab and serves it with crispy rye bread croutons and seared diver scallops.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Pastrami, Rye and Scallops
- Cornbread and Pecorino Stuffed Pork Chop with Fried Sage

Chef James Syhabout of Plumpjack Café on StarChefs.

CHEF: James Syhabout – PlumpJack Café
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Twenty eight year old James Syhabout’s work experience with international progressive chefs reads like a dream for most working cooks: Heston Blumenthal, Andoni Aduriz, Ferran Adria, Daniel Patterson and David Kinch. The precise techniques he’s picked up along the way – and continues to build upon and experiment with – shine through in dishes like his tempered foie gras. For this dish James slowly brings the whole lobe up to temperature in a thermocirculator before chilling it and then shallow-frying it for a perfectly even browned crust and tender texture that can be served room temperature. For James, it’s all about the details – whether it’s forgoing the mass produced yellow stuff to mix a curry powder that suits his palate or whisking a perfect sabayon to compliment the season’s first asparagus. James’ range of high-concept technique and ability to manipulate products don’t conflict with his obvious appreciation for his ingredients. It just goes to show that with the right chef, even in San Francisco, the two concepts don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Roasted Sweetbread with Mustard Chlorophyll
- Tempered Foie with Dates, Sweet Vermouth, and Hazelnut

Chef Seiji Wakabayashi of Bushi-Tei on StarChefs.com

CHEF: Seiji Wakabayashi – Bushitei
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: As a boy growing up in Japan, Seiji Wakabayashi was inspired by watching the interaction between his mother and her guests at their small family restaurant in Japan. He knew immediately that he wanted to become a chef and skipped school to work at a French restaurant in Japan. He claims his two years spent with Wolfgang Puck at Spago in the nineties reinforced his already established commitment to starting everything from scratch each day. From Kihachi in Tokyo, Seiji learned how to be a free spirit in the kitchen and cook without boundaries. Today, armed with his long metal chopsticks, Seiji plates his dishes precisely and layers them with flavor and texture. Seiji applies his Japanese sensibilities to European technique and ingredients for beautiful and delicate dishes like his quail confit, Serrano ham, soft-boiled quail egg, and shaved almonds that come together to compliment Shimeiji mushrooms.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Pan-Seared Sea Robin, Tomato Fondue, and Saffron Beurre Blanc
- Quail Confit, Hon Shimeji Mushrooms, and Soft Boiled Quail Egg

Chef Laurence Jossel of NOPA on StarChefs.com

CHEF: Laurence Jossel – NOPA
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Laurence Jossel got into the restaurant business as a teenager, dishwashing, bussing tables, and waiting on them. By the time he was 18 he knew that food was his passion and enrolled at the Culinary Academy in San Francisco to get behind the line. After school Laurence spent time at La Folie and The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco under Gary Danko. From there Laurence opened Kokkari, Chez Nous, and finally Chow, where he met the partners for his current project: NOPA. Together with fiancée Allyson Woodman and Jeff Hanak, Laurence has built a neighborhood restaurant that’s making simple, hearty, accessible food with local ingredients and a focus on sustainability. You won’t see it advertised on the menu because part of his philosophy is to carry out his philosophy without making a fuss. Dishes like his simple but perfectly executed White Beans with Feta and Oregano do the talking. But behind-the-scenes at NOPA, menus are recycled, food waste is composted, and absolutely all the ingredients are organic. Laurence sets the standard very high when it comes to sustainability, committed to leaving the smallest imprint possible as a restaurant.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- White Beans, Feta and Oregano
- Calamari with Olives and Capers

Chef Peter Rudolph of Campton Place on StarChefs.com

HOTEL CHEF: Peter Rudolph – Campton Place
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Peter Rudolph graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 1995 and began as a pastry cook at the Brasserie Savoy in San Francisco under Dean Max. From there, ten years of hotel fine dining with The Ritz-Carlton followed as Peter was mentored by Joel Antunes, Gunter Seeger, Troy Thompson, and Xavier Solomon. Since leaving his chef de cuisine position at Navio in The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, and moving to Campton Place in 2007, Peter has immersed himself in high-concept technique and developed a talent for stunning plating. Peter’s sense of playfulness is evident in dishes like his squid risotto, which isn’t a risotto at all but actually tiny rice grain-size pieces of squid cooked in their own inky sauce. He pairs it with a slow-poached egg yolk that breaks over the rice for depth, richness and color and garnishes with a delicate parmesan tuile that shatters into pieces to season each mouthful.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Lamb Three Ways with Pistachio Cream
- Striped Bass with Foie Gras Sauce

astry Chef Belinda Leong of Gary Danko on StarChefs.com

PASTRY CHEF: Belinda Leong – Gary Danko
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Belinda Leong started her culinary career with an 8 month internship at Aqua under Pastry Chef Jason Gingold. Before she could graduate from the San Francisco City College’s Hospitality and Restaurant Program, she began an internship at the newly opened Gary Danko. Belinda slowly moved through the ranks and experimented at the different stations in the savory and pastry kitchen. As she learned the techniques of working in the pastry department, mentor chef Danko entrusted Belinda with the creation of parts of the dessert menu. By 2001, Belinda was recognized as the Pastry Chef and now uses her experience in the savory kitchen to create well-balanced desserts like her Ants on a Log, a sweet reinterpretation of the classic kids’ snack of peanut butter in a celery stick studded with raisins. Belinda applies refined technique and clean modern plating to create a whimsical, but elegantly composed dessert: a layered chocolate mousse bar with concentrated raisin puree and pale green celery gelee that recreate the flavor-profile of the snack all-the-while adding her signature depth and style.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Blueberry French Toast with Salted Almond Ice Cream and Maple Foam
- Ants on a Log

Pastry Chef Nicole Krasinski of Rubicon on StarChefs.com
PASTRY CHEF: Nicole Krasinski – Rubicon
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Nicole Krasinski fell into pastry while at the Art Institute when she took a summer job at a bakery. Immediately she knew she’d found her passion and dropped out of school to cook. From Nancy Carey, owner of Red Hen Bread in Chicago, Nicole learned the principles of baking: to use a scale, to calculate her recipes, and to multitask efficiently. Now at Rubicon, Nicole creates unapologetically savory desserts that use surprising ingredients like aged Pecorino, olive oil, fennel, peppercress, and Szechuan pepper. The delicate floral flavor of rose petals is one of her favorites and isn’t lost in a meringue of pistachio and rose that leans on the savory side with yogurt-cardamom sorbet, honeycomb, dates, and pistachio oil. Nicole may be creating some of the most exciting desserts in the city but she’s modest and dreams of one day owning a restaurant with an integrated farm.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Pistachio Rose Petal Meringue
- Aged Pecorino and Walnut Cake, Seville Orange Jam, Arbequina Olive Oil Ice Cream

Sommelier Michael Garcia of XYZ on StarChefs.com
SOMMELIER: Michael Garcia – XYZ at the W Hotel
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Sommelier Michael Garcia’s thoughtful wine list reads like an ode to the little winemakers that help make it vast, quirky, and reasonable. Previously at Campton Place, Michael was mentored by Don DePaoli, from who he learned the pleasures of great food and wine. Now Michael makes a point to know and educate his entire staff by taking them to the vineyards to meet the growers and taste the wines on-site. With a focus on biodynamic wines Michael adds another story of flavors and terroir to each dish without stealing the show. When asked who he would travel back in time to share a bottle with, Michael immediately knew: Louis-Francois de Bourbon, the Prince of Conti. He would pour a Romanée Conti from a recent vintage to hear the Prince’s thoughts on a wine from a specific place that is now made so differently than it was in his era. The point? Rethink the idea of what’s “best” when it comes to red Burgundies in particular and wines in general. There may be dabbling in the world of distilling spirits in Michael’s future as he plans to produce a gin with 100% bio-dynamically grown botanicals.

Sommelier Becky Swanson of Delfina on StarChefs.com
SOMMELIER: Becky Swanson – Delfina
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Becky Swanson developed an interest in wine while working as a server. Loving food and loving wine went hand in hand for Becky, who didn’t feel the need to go to school or take courses but learned on the job from mentors Jim Kennedy and Jeffrey Meisel. At Delfina, Becky creates unconventional food and wine matches to enhance both elements of the dining experience. Her matches are as gutsy as she is: with a grilled octopus and warm white bean salad, Becky pairs a Contini, Vernaccia di Oristano from 1985. It’s an unusual pick and a brilliant pairing, with a light sherry flavor and buttery mouth-feel. While Becky’s Italian-focused list is modest, at only two pages, it’s also reasonably-priced and full of quirky, unexpected picks.

James TidwelBar Chef Jonny Raglin of Absinthe on StarChefs.com

BAR CHEF Jonny Raglin – Absinthe
WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE: Somewhere between lugging heavy kegs around Irish bars in Galway to exploring the world of beautiful and expensive bottles of single-malt scotch, high-end Cognac and grappa under Luigi Lezzi, Jonny Raglin began to take bartending seriously. The flaming clove-studded orange peel boat that he sinks theatrically in his cocktails suggests he’s not taking it too seriously. Mentored by Dan McCraken at Stars Bar and Dining, Jonny worked the longest bar in San Francisco and acquired a reverence for the classic cocktail through the use of fresh fruit juices and quality spirits. At Incanto Jonny spent a year working with Chris Cosentino who sourced interesting, fresh ingredients like Buddha Hand Fruit at local markets. Since 2004 he’s been developing the cocktail program at Absinthe where, in a system of trial and error, he uses fresh, seasonal ingredients and high quality liquors to move the bar forward with invention based on classic cocktails.

The Drink that Clinched it:
- Bengali Gimlet

 

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