2017 Austin-San Antonio Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2017 Austin-San Antonio Rising Stars: Why They Shine

We’ve been gone too long, Texas. The Austin and San Antonio restaurant scene we explored in 2012 has diversified and blossomed like a field of wildflowers in spring. Food trucks aren’t gone, but Odd Duck is brick and mortar. The lines at Franklin’s are longer than ever, but there’s also a new wave of young pitmasters emboldened to share their own perspective on barbecue. The East Side has high-rise condos (and the diners who come with them). It’s heady times in the Wild West that is Austin. As money funnels in from tech and tourism, so are chefs and beverage professionals from all over the country moving to town and embracing the hyper-creative, casual spirit of the city.

In San Antonio, the Pearl has grown from a handful of restaurants to a vibrant campus of concepts, bars, and breweries—not to mention a luxury hotel. Along with the Pearl, young restaurant groups from Jason Dady, Chad Carey, Pieter Sypesteyn, and the Bakery Lorraine crew are injecting substance and fun into Alamo City. The fruits of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference have also manifested into a tight-knit, highly skilled community of bartenders. 

After meeting with 100 professionals—from chefs, brewers, and pitmasters to somms, butchers, and pastry chefs—the StarChefs team is honored to recognize the 2017 class of Austin-San Antonio Rising Stars. The two towns have distinct voices, as do the following professionals, who define a region electric with culinary energy. 

Chef: Tatsu Aikawa, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya

Tatsu Aikawa is a dreamer in every sense. He immigrated from Japan to Austin and rose from a paid-under-the-table dishwasher to Michelin-star sushi apprentice and now Austin’s king of Japanese cool. With the opening of Ramen Tatsu-ya, Aikawa was on a mission to build ramen culture from the broth up. With his follow-up restauant, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, he dropped izakaya-style dining down in the middle of Texas. His dishes—whether it’s brisket ramen or a sweet-sour-smoky octopus salad—rely on classic technique, refined knifework, and a full-on embrace of Central Texas smoke. With more ramen shops in the works and aspirations for a 10-seat omakase counter, Aikawa sets himself apart as a purveyor and juggernaut of Japan-meets-Austin culture.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • BBQ Tsukemen: Smoked Brisket, Pork Broth, Noodles, Onions, Chile Oil, Black Garlic, Smoked Jalepeno, and Soft Boiled Egg
  • Smoked Hamachi Collar, Charred Lemon, and Yuzu Salt
Concept: Charlie Biedenharn, Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell, Bakery Lorraine

Jeremy Mandrell and Anne Ng started with a single farmers market table, backed by years of work at Bouchon. Now, along with business partner Charlie Biedenharn, they’re the owners of a growing restaurant group fueled by macarons, cookies, croissants, and petit gateau. Bakery Lorraine stands on the foundation of Mandrell and Ng’s immense talent, with Biedenharn bringing the business acumen and pushing the couple beyond what they thought was possible. Now, Bakery Lorraine has three locations (with a fourth in Austin in the works), wholesale accounts, and a 24-hour commissary to keep up with demand. The trio also recently opened Maybelle’s Donuts in San Antonio’s first food hall. Mandrell, Ng, and Biedenharn are leading and creating a market for fine patisserie in South and Central Texas.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Strawberry Toaster Pastry: Strawberry Hero Jam, Italian Buttercream, Crushed Macaron Shell Sprinkles 
  • Macarons: Lavender-Dark Chocolate, Cookies & Cookies, Raspberry, Lemon, Pistachio, and Earl Grey 
Chef: Adam Brick, Vino Vino

Adam Brick is an Austin native who knows how to use food to weave a narrative. After cooking in New York and D.C., he took a decidedly rural turn to Apis Restaurant & Apiary in Spicewood (which he recently departed). Brick named his corn crepe "Farmer James Brown" after the supplier of the blue, white, and yellow corn that anchor the crepe. He served a tasting of GOS pig to glorify the animal who he visited every day and who ate scraps from Brick’s kitchen. Launching his first solo project, Vino Vino, he’ll take on the wine bar format with longtime Parkside Projects beverage director, Paul Ozbirn. With a list heavy on Old World bottles, Brick’s menu will reflect the cuisine of historic wine regions, hitting the Austin dining scene with an imaginative jolt. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Tasting of GOS Pig: Smoked Loin, Ras el Hanout Pastrami Belly, Pork Rillette Croustillant, Fennel, Eggplant, Peppers, Charred Honey Vinegar, and Green Harissa Yogurt 
  • James Brown's Heirloom Corn Crepe, Hominy, Sweet Corn, Jimmy Red Grits, Sweet Corn Butter, Roasted Farm Chile, Epazote, Hoja Santa, Black Garlic-Huitlacoche Puree, and Shaved Serranos 
Pastry Chef: Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Emmer & Rye

As part of the trio leading Emmer & Rye, Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s pantry is gloriously hamstrung by sourcing standards: no vanilla, almonds, or far-flung fruit make it into his pastries. The only ingredient he imports is chocolate, and he exclusively uses freshly milled grains for his cakes and doughs. Instead of a side note to savory, Bristol-Joseph’s mise-en-place is fully intertwined with his savory-chef counterparts’. And he shares their mission to eliminate and transform waste. Bristol-Joseph’s just-set panna cotta is topped with wheat bran granola, the cast-off of Emmer & Rye’s milling program. Bristol-Joseph’s pastry program is a landmark, a laboratory in the possibilities of truly local food, generating innovation along with comfort and nostalgia. Mid-December he’ll take over Emmer & Rye’s second more casual concept, along with pastry-focused Honey Bit, cementing his status as a titan of American pastry.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Chocolate-Cheddar Tart: Orange Marmalade, Dark Chocolate Ganache, Candied Pecans, Deer Creek Cheddar Sauce, and Deyhrated Berries 
  • Cacao-infused Panna Cotta, Pickled Green Muscadines, Wheat Bran Granola, and Honeycomb 
Chefs: Kevin Fink and Page Pressley, Emmer & Rye

Kevin Fink and Page Pressley (along with fellow Rising Star Tavel Bristol-Joseph) have built one of the most important restaurants in America, where limitations unleash a tsunami of creativity and creation. Fink and Pressley source product exclusive to the Southwest and operate a no-waste kitchen that yields a mise-en-place not available anywhere else in the world. In year one, they dreamed up and served 400 different dishes for their fast-paced dim sum-style service. And while their food—unfussy, fermented, freshly milled, upcycled—reads geeky and austere, it strikes a comforting, emotional chord. Fink and Pressley aren’t just changing how people think about food, they’re proving that zero compromise principles are a viable, enviable business model. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • White Sonora Gondolini, Ricotta, Tomato Water, and Basil 
  • Red Shrimp, Cured Cabbage, Radish, Onion, and Garlic 



Chef: Damien Brockway, P6 at the Line ATX

In a town in love with the downhome and casual, Chef Damien Brockway makes luxury look easy. At Counter 3. Five. VII. (which he recently departed) and soon-to-launch P6 at the Line ATX, he takes common ingredients, with deep Texas roots, and transforms them into one of the city’s most spectacular tasting menus. Black beans, sunflowers, hoja santa, and chicken breasts are pampered to exaltation through precise technique and manipulation. Fermentation plays heavily in Brockway’s pantry and Central Texas—with its terroir, farmers, and artisan community—are a common, central thread in any Brockway meal. With his new project at the Line Hotel, he’ll continue to drive this food-truck-and-taco loving town into the polished arms of ultra fine dining. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Kanpachi, Lemon, Koji, and Native Sunflower 
  • Chicken Ballantine, Aged Balsamic, Lacto-Fermented Apple-Fennel Mousse, Fennel Frond Powder, Texas Olive Oil, Wild Sorrel, Mexican Marigold Mint Broth, and Braised Sweet Potato Leaves 
Pastry Chef: Daniela Herrera, Counter 3. Five. VII.

Pound for pound, Austin has one of the country’s most exciting pastry communities, and doing more than her share to elevate its status is Daniela Herrera. At home at Counter 3. Five. VII, one of the city’s few tasting menu restaurants, Herrera exercises the uncanny ability to marry the seemingly incompatible in her desserts. Popcorn, cheddar, chamomile, and caviar are newfound friends in her hands. And where the technician comes across as studious and shy, a bowl of Chartreuse ice cream, daisy granita, green apple, and seaweed is a riot flavors and textures. Herrera’s desserts are avant-garde but grounded and always rousingly fun and memorable. She has the skills to match her flavor ambition, and the commitment, zeal, and hunger to propel her career and the city’s pastry scene to the fore of American fine dining.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Popcorn Ice Cream, Caramel, Cheddar Snow, Caviar, and Black Lime 
  • Chartreuse Ice Cream, Copper Canyon Daisy Granita, Fresh Green Apple, Seaweed Milk Vail, and Daisy Leaves 
Artisans: Bryan Butler and Ben Runkle, Salt & Time

Austin is proud to know its butchers. Bryan Butler, “Best Butcher in Texas” winner and member of the six-man Butchers of America team, breaks down whole animals every day and pushes lesser-known bavette and under blade steaks to his customers. The rest goes to the kitchen, where Ben Runkle uses trim to make one of helluva cravable burger. All the magic for their shop starts on local ranches, where they visit the farmers and animals, and inspect conditions to make sure they’re products adhere to strict animal-welfare standards. Butler and Runkle collaborate on an extensive charcuterie program, drawing flavor influences from Texas, and host classes on butchery, curing, and sausage making. They’ve heightened standards and drawn in a community of meat believers by keeping the spirit of the old school butcher shop alive. 

Dish that clinched it:

  • Salumi Board: Coffee Lomo, Chile Pequin Salami, Desert Oregano Salami, Crespone, Tuscan Salami, Hunter's Salami, Beef Liver-Bacon Pâté, Pepitas, House Mustard, and Sourdough
  • Butcher's Burger, Swiss Cheese, Aioli, Brioche Bun, Sour Pickles 
Restaurateur: Chad Carey, Empty Stomach Group

Has someone taken your joy? Do you want it back? Then Chad Carey is your man. He believes in fun, convivial dining—not with a wink and a nod, but with a full-belly laugh. Chisme features gossip-filled guestbooks, cheeseburger tacos, and a Mariachi soundtrack. At Barbaro, share a clams casino pizza. At Asia-meets-Americana Hot Joy, cool ranch Doritos count as dipping sauce. Carey is growing his group from the inside out, investing in and developing staff, making sure his team is having as much fun as his guests. With an upcoming natural wine bar, Carey will continue to push San Antonio’s burgeoning restaurant scene with an ethos high on standards and low on pretense. In these dizzying times, Carey’s belief in the restaurant as joyous refuge is a model for the country. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Four Month Miso-aged Wagyu Ribeye, Brown Rice Risotto, Yuzu Kosho, Roasted Mushrooms, Sancho Butter, and Szechuan Peppercorns
  • Cheeseburger Spring Rolls and Thom Yum Cool Ranch Dip 
Sommelier: Steven Dilley, Bufalina

Bufalina’s formula is simple genius: fresh mozzarella, wood-fired pies, and a wine list printed on copier paper, stapled in the top left corner. It’s the work of Somm-Restaurateur Steve Dilley, who  has created a space that serves as both neighborhood restaurant and wine nerd clubhouse. With pizzas as the focus, guests can experience Chenin with taleggio-scallion-sausage pie or a juicy California Sangiovese with a margarita—or, if they’re in the mood for bubbles, take down a $35 bottle of Suisun Valley Malvasia Bianca pét nat. Dilley represents a new generation of sommeliers, one that eschews classic training and embraces dressed-down fun. Beyond his natural ease as a wine professional, Dilley has the business chops to build a restaurant group and serve as a model for somms bold enough to go out on their own. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Gnocchi, Nopales Pesto, Corn, and Chiles
  • Margherita: Tomato, Mozzerlla, Basil,and Grana Padano paired with Sangiovese, Love You Bunches, Stolpman Vineyards, Central Coast, California, 2016
Chef: Michael Fojtasek, Olamaie

New Southern cuisine is a term thrown around quite a bit. At Olamaie, Michael Fojtasek is cooking real Southern cuisine, with no need to throw in “new.” His food is rooted in flavor memories inherited from his Tennessee grandmother, refined by time spent cooking at Per Se, and grounded by devotion to beautiful Texas product. In Fojtasek’s hands, boiled peanuts metamorphosize from roadside snack to artful composition. Exemplified by a bowl of poached Gulf shrimp and Texas red rice laced with shrimp fat butter (and, oh my, his biscuits), he believes in decadence without a heavy hand. Aspiring to open more restaurants, and with a strong thread of mentorship in his kitchen, Fojtasek will be a defining voice in Southern food in America.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Boiled Peanuts, Benne Oil Honey Mustard, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Buttermilk, Austrian Green Pea Hummus
  • Texas Shrimp, Jefferson Red Rice, Paprika, Shrimp Butter Cracker, and Garlic Chive 
Bartender: Madelyn Kay, VOX Table

Madelyn Kay is show ready. She’s a presence behind the bar at VOX Table, where she’s taking risks and reveling in experimentation. Kay’s style is full-on culinary with a wink of Austin whimsy. She fat-washes tequila with burrata and makes a spiked juice cleanse with gin, makrut-infused honey, pilsner-chamomile syrup, pineapple, citrus, and beer foam—plus butterfly pea flower extract for flair. This lady has a palate, folks. Sit down at her bar and go along for the ride. Kay is making a name for herself in Austin with her cocktails and community spirit. Add to that her boundless energy, creativity, and polish, and you have a bartender ready to advance drink making in America.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Blueberry Yum Yum: Botanist Gin, Olorosso Sherry, Bols Genever, Blueberry-Rooibos Claret Syrup, Lemon, Orange, Bolivar Bitters, and Salt 
  • Hand Hugs and Cheesy Pick Up Lines: Burrata-washed Altos Tequila, Silencio Mezcal, Cantelope-Tarragon Syrup, Lemon, Grapefruit, Topo Chico, and Tarragon 
Bartender: Benjamin Krick, Juniper Tar

Benjamin Krick’s backbar is his passport. After traveling the world, he chose San Antonio as his professional home and Juniper Tar as the platform for his craft. Krick’s cocktails have a story and clear voice. They’re built from the well rather than a culinary pantry—he believes any bartender anywhere should be able to replicate his drinks. It also means fortified wines play heavily in his repertoire to sweeten and add nuance to drinks, as in his Kalimoxto variation with Olorosso and Fino Sherries and a red wine-Mexican coke syrup. Krick is making an impact on San Antonio’s small but mighty bar scene, and as he invests in his staff and his own growth with BAR 5-day, he’s set to bring his perspective and world of influence to the national bar community.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Portugese Gin and Tonic: Warre's White Port, Broker Dry Gin, Lime Cordial, and Fever Tree Indian Tonic 
  • Pamplona: Olorosso Sherry, Fino Sherry, and House Kalimoxto 
Artisan: Joe Mohrfeld, Pinthouse Pizza

Joe Mohrfeld is on a mission to redefine IPAs. At Pinthouse Pizza he highlights the aroma and flavor of hops rather than cranking up the IBUs. For beers as hop-focused as his Electric JellyFish IPA, Joe’s Magical Pils, and Hop Engine pale ale, Mohrfeld goes straight to the source—farms in the Yakima Valley—to hand-select plots, varietals, and processing methods to give him ultimate control over final recipes. Pinthouse’s brewpub business-model allows him to experiment with around 70 beers a year, and it’s helped to fund growth for the group: they have a third location with a production facility in the pipeline for 2018. Mohrfeld and his partners may have local, community-oriented ambitions, but they’re building a national destination for beer. 

Dish that clinched it:

  • Electric Jellyfish 
  • Joe’s Magical Pils
Artisan: Clancy Rose, Wild Gift

Clancy Rose has worked in Austin coffee since his days as a barista at UT. From that humble campus cafe, he put in six years of work as a roaster at Cuvee, where he built relationships and his own roasting perspective. All that community goodwill, coupled with an emphasis on wholesale customer service, has led to the rapid growth of Wild Gift, Rose’s roastery with business partners Jenee and Rob Ovitt. In a short three years, they have upgraded roasters and facilities, and are roasting 2,000 pounds of beans a week. From his playfully named espresso blends (Rude Boy and Trouble Maker) to a wild-blue-fruit-bomb Guji, Rose’s coffees make for a character-filled cup, and set Rose on a path to lead the Texas coffee scene.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Guji, Ethiopia, Shakiso
  • Espresso martini/coffee cocktail
Chef: Max Snyder, Pitchfork Pretty

Austin is a homecoming for Chef Max Snyder, and an opportunity to fully flex his talent. In 2017, Snyder moved from the Bay Area back to his childhood stomping grounds to open Pitchfork Pretty, an East Austin restaurant that’s as casual as it is ambitious. Snyder didn’t just take on a new restaurant, he and his wife also started a small farm that supplies his kitchen with a bumper crop okra, eggplant, squash, and all manner of heat-loving vegetables. His re-acclimation was quick and thorough. His dishes at once embrace Austin’s quirkiness, down home traditions, and its growing cosmopolitan sensibilities. Pitchfork Pretty is a restaurant for this moment in Austin, and Snyder is a chef with enough talent to shape the city’s dining trends as it continues to grow.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Yuca Dumpling, Oaxaca Cheese, Roasted Carrots, Potato, Red Radish Escabeche, Coconut Oil, and Wild Oregano 
  • King Salmon Crudo, Watermelon, Aloe Vera, Lemon, Lime, and Fish Sauce / Local Snapper Crudo, Yellow Melon and Cantaloupe, Aloe, Basil, and Fish Sauce 
Community: Pieter Sypesteyn, Cookhouse

Ask any chef in San Antonio where he eats on his nights off, and he’ll point you to Cookhouse. Run by Chef Pieter Sypesteyn, Cookhouse is headquarters for community—and also happens to serve the best dang Cajun and Creole food outside New Orleans. From po’ boys to boudin balls and eggs rockefeller, Sypesteyn’s food is high level Louisiana with heart. In addition to Cookhouse, brunch spot NOLA, Bud’s Rotisserie, and the Where Y’at? Food Truck, Sypesteyn and his wife Susan run Third Coast Charities to build relationships between residents and businesses and provide education, financial relief, and physical assistance to neighbors in need. Sypesteyn believes that for people to embrace a restaurant, the restaurant must embrace the community first, making him an ideal chef-leader in any city.

Dish that clinched it:

  • Boudin Balls 
  • Blackened Catfish, Dirty Rice, Creole Green Bean and Potato Salad
Community: Fiore Tedesco, L'Oca d'Oro

Fiore Tedesco is a punk rock drummer turned chef who caught the industry bug working in New York City for Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern and then at Roberta's in its infancy. Having come into the industry a little later in life, Fiore also brought a fresh perspective when he opened L'Oca d'Oro in Austin in 2016. More than a source of income, he saw it as a chance to rethink the restaurant model. L'Oca d'Oro is gratuity free. He pays a $14-hour minimum wage, and when the federal government threatened to round up immigrants, Tedesco made L'Oca d'Oro a sanctuary restaurant. He also works with ROC United to raise wages, benefits, and industry standards nationwide. All the while, he’s behind the pass every night, stacking eggplant parm like poetry, cooking responsibly sourced, progressive Italian dishes that would make any nonna proud.

Dish that clinched it:

  • Eggplant Parm: Black Jewel Eggplants, Mozzerella, Pomodoro Sauce, Fermented Chile, Fermented Tomato Water, Juniper, and Basil 
  • House Burrata, Pickled Banana Peppers, and Jimmy Nardello-Pine Nut Romesco
Artisan: Miguel Vidal, Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ

South Texas barbecue has infiltrated Austin with Miguel Vidal sharing Mexican-American barbecue traditions at Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. When it came time for Vidal to open his own restaurant, he wanted to represent the food he grew up making and eating at every quinceanera, birthday party, and family get together: smoked meats and warm flour tortillas. Now with a successful smokehouse and catering operation, he’s feeding greater Austin 400 pounds of melting brisket and 200 pounds of pork a day—with the dry-rubbed meat sidled up to fresh salsas, guacamole, and soul-in-a-bowl charro beans. Mexican influence on barbecue has always been present in Texas, and Vidal is expanding its reach and giving it a proper showcase with showstopping Valentina’s.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • The Real Deal Holyfield 
  • Pulled Chicken, Charro Beans, and Slaw