2019 Philadelphia Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2019 Philadelphia Rising Stars: Why They Shine

If you’re a young chef, pastry chef, or baker, there’s room to grow in Philadelphia. Without investors (gasp!), you can find spaces and rents low enough to get loans (or bootstrap it) and dive in. Just don’t count on a liquor license unless you have access to cash. Historically expensive, the price of a license in Philadelphia has risen to $170,000-ish. BYO culture, as you might imagine, is alive and well.
Restaurateurs, including Ellen Yin and Eli Kulp, Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook, Nick Elmi, Greg and Julie Vernick, Nick Kennedy and Greg Root, and Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh, have built a helluva infrastructure. In a city that Starr built, it’s these mid-sized restaurant groups that are giving cooks opportunity for growth and the dining scene character.
Philadelphia restaurants have a French pedigree, but our team ate Malaysian kebabs grilled over imported coconut charcoal, fiery Thai herb salads, crispy fried bao, piping hot pita, Filipino blood sausage, pastrami-stuffed bing, and Tokyo-style sushi. After years of chasing white tablecloth dreams, it’s a food city that reflects and embraces its own diversity.
If you visit, save room for carbohydrates. Philadelphia has one of the most vibrant bread scenes in the country, an abiding devotion to doughnuts, it’s own bagel style, and perhaps the best babka in the country. In general, artisans are thriving. Looser brewing rules have led to a fresh crop of Philly-proper breweries, and there are far more homegrown coffee roasters in town than in similar sized markets.
Philadelphia’s best and brightest culinary talent is constantly pushing for change. In addition to making extraordinary food and drink, the 18 Rising Stars Award winners are upending formats and establishing foundations strong enough to support continued evolution. We present the winners here, along with why they shine.

Chef: Tyler Akin, Stock
Tyler Akin has a lot of restaurant to give. From two locations of Stock, he’s serving bright, herb and chile-laced dishes with roots in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, and further afield in Southeast Asia. His wild boar laap is cooked in a style from Northern Laos, and a homey, spicy kuai tiao rice noodle soup is inspired by his Thai mother-in-law’s home cooking. As a partner at tiny Res Ipsa Cafe, he helped give fellow Rising Star Michael Vincent Ferreri a platform for unabashed Sicilian cuisine, and he has more projects in the works. Akin, a Zahav alum, is an adept chef across cuisines, and he’s using his immense talent to build hit-making restaurants with character and an independent spirit.
Dishes that clinched it:
  • Yam Samun Phrai: Herb Salad with Basil and Culantro, Minced Pork, Shrimp Paste, Red and Yellow Onion, Cashews, Carrots, Fried Shallots  and Coconut Milk Vinaigrette
  • Khao Tod Neua: Beef Salad with Red Curry Jasmine Rice Cakes, Cilantro, and Mint
Chef: Matt Harper, Kensington Quarters
Philadelphia, are you ready for Southern food? The real chef-driven kind that’s more than a cliché riff on fried chicken and biscuits? Go to Kensington Quarters, where Chef Matt Harper, an Arkansas transplant by way of Atlanta and then Zahav in Philly, has taken over the kitchen and is applying a boundaryless Southern aesthetic to Pennsylvania product. Start with a generous charcuterie board that, on any given night, might have turkey country pâté, goat rillettes, coppa, lardo, and dry-cured pepperoni. The $20 skillet of cornbread: it’s both grounded and decadent topped with mushrooms, radicchio, and buttermilk dressing. You can tackle the night with small plates or roll with a meaty entrée for which the restaurant’s known. Whatever your plan, know that you’re eating some of the city’s most original food from a chef who’s just breaking out on his own.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Crispy Pig Ears, Barbecue Spice, Celery Root Purée, Cranberry Beans, Shiitake Mushrooms, Shaved Celery Root
  • Red Wine-braised Short Rib, Mole, Fermented Aji Dulce Chiles, Beef fat-confited and Roasted Carrots, and Mustard Greens
Chef: Jesse Ito, Royal Sushi & Izakaya

It’s wild to think that Philadelphia, Morimoto’s U.S. launching pad, didn’t have a traditional omakase experience until 2016. But that’s when Jesse Ito opened Royal Sushi & Izakaya, a chef’s dream of a restaurant with a rollicking bar out front and an intimate, fully booked sushi counter in back. From that counter, five nights a week, Ito serves 20 to 30 diners an impeccable 18-piece omakase. And with the experience, Ito has brought Tokyo traditions (and fish) to a city that didn’t quite know what it was missing until it ate caviar-topped toro nigiri with its hands. Ito’s hallmarks are craftsmanship, restraint, and a slight mischievous wink, and he’s creating a market in Philadelphia for one of the world’s most revered cuisines.
Dishes that clinched it:

  • Kumamoto Oyster Nigiri with Sudachi, Soy Sauce, and Chives
  • Toro Nigiri with Caviar and Chives


Chef: Michael Vincent Ferreri, Res Ipsa Cafe

Much of what we know of Italian culture and cuisine on the East Coast is really Southern Italian and often Sicilian. But there are few chefs quite like Michael Vincent Ferreri on this eggplant parm-soaked seaboard. Ferreri is revisiting and enlivening Sicilian cuisine at Res Ipsa Cafe, where the food is bold in its simplicity. A wide strand of fazzoletti coated in preserved citrus, olive oil, oregano, chiles, and bottarga is a revelation. His caponata is an all-white celebration of the agrodolce life made of celery root, olive caramel, fennel, onion, and sesame. At its outset, Res Ipsa Cafe was supposed to be a simple all-day coffee shop, but Ferreri’s drive and heart-filled cooking destined, willed it to be so much more.
Dishes that clinched it:

  • Monkfish Cavatelli, Orange, Saffron, Breadcrumbs, and Parsley
  • Fazzoletti, Preserved Citrus, Oregano, Chiles, and Bottarga
Chef: Alexander Yoon, Little Fish

Alexander Yoon is cooking beyond his years at Little Fish. He bought the seafood-focused BYOB when he was just 24 years old. Still a few years shy of 30, his food is confident and subtle. Crispy fluke with broccoli rice, almonds, and brown butter is a big hug. Branzino with maitakes and frissée gets a flash of intrigue from charred scallion vinaigrette spiked with gochujang and tamari. But nothing quite steals the show from the pristine, expertly prepared fish that he gets in four to five days a week from up and down the East Coast. It’s the stuff of a regular’s dreams. And while Yoon has worked in sleek million dollar kitchens—notably Mirazur and Benu—he’s keeping the digs humble with a tight pass and 24 seats, as he establishes the rock solid foundation of one of Philadelphia’s formidable (future) restaurant groups.
Dishes that clinched it:

  • Fluke, Broccoli Rice, Shishitos, Almonds, and Brown Butter
  • Grilled Lobster, Charred Jalapeño-Kewpie Mayonnaise, Radishes, and Brik
Chef: Chad Williams , Friday Saturday Sunday
When Chad and Hanna Williams bought, gutted, and renovated Friday Saturday Sunday, they risked it all and decided to build something timeless. That choice is also reflected in Chad’s food, which has singular depth and character. A bowl of roasted sweet potatoes is nostalgic for anyone who grew up eating candied yams, but he serves the whole potato split and dressed with sorghum-miso vinaigrette, toasted coconut-coffee oil, caramelized onion sauce, and pretty popped sorghum. Brussels sprouts are a royal centerpiece, arranged artfully atop preserved citrus chawanmushi, smoked celery root, sunchoke chimichurri, and mushroom-Sherry broth. Friday Saturday Sunday is a Philadelphia institution in the making, and as Chad’s food and the dining experience continue to evolve, it will show the city (and country) the magic that happens when you put your whole self into a restaurant.
Dishes that clinched it:
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Smoked Celery Root Purée, Preserved Citrus Chawanmushi, Sunchoke Chimichurri, and Mushroom-Sherry Broth
  • Roasted Sweet Potato, Sorghum-Miso Vinaigrette, Toasted Coconut-Coffee Oil, Caramelized Onion Sauce, Popped Sorghum, and Parsley
Sustainability: Judy Ni and Andy Tessier , bāo • logy


Judy Ni and Andy Tessier have vision, and they’re living it. They believe chefs should be thinking about, talking about, and manifesting sustainability in their restaurants in a dynamic and comprehensive way—not just from an ingredient sourcing perspective. They believe chefs need to work harder to help guests understand the costs of providing a well sourced, well produced, high-quality meal. They believe in paying hospitality workers a wage befitting an esteemed profession. They have seen firsthand the costs of restaurants absorbed by those in positions that are already undervalued. They realize cheap food is a weight on the backs of farmers, purveyors, and restaurant folks. They’re for transparency and sustainable ecosystems for all stakeholders. bāo • logy is the change they want to see in the world. The welcome side effect: introducing Philadelphia to the nuances of Taiwanese cuisine.
Dishes that clinched it:

  • Gwa Bao: Roasted Heritage Pork Belly, Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Slow-cooked Grass-fed Beef, King Oyster Mushrooms, Tempura Fish
  • Haianese Chicken Dinner with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bok Choi, and Forbidden Rice
Pastry Chef: Camille Cogswell , Zahav

Zahav is a juggernaut of a restaurant, serving upwards of 300 diners a night, 80 percent of whom order the soulful, gleefully abundant tasting menu. As pastry chef, Camille Cogswell’s course comes dead last, and it has to be so damn good that diners are compelled to scrape their bowls clean after having consumed salatim, hummus, mezze, and some grilled deliciousness. Cogswell is up to the challenge—any challenge, really. Since arriving at Zahav, she has dived into Israeli cuisine, researching and learning so her desserts are authentic to Zahav’s riotous, joyful dining experience. In the coming months, Cogswell will open CookNSolo’s K’Far, an all-day restaurant and bakery, where her cooking won’t follow anyone’s else’s—just lead the way for outstanding pastry in Philadelphia.
Dishes that clinched it:

  • Pear Sorbet, Celery Granita, Aniseed Meringue, and Lemon
  • Chocolate Konafi, Charred Sweet Potato Ice Cream, and Candied Sweet Potatoes
Pastry Chef: Samantha Kincaid, Cadence

Sam Kincaid is a farmer first, by birth and by trade—from the Mid- and Pacific Northwest to the Pyrenees and Mallorca—and through relationships formed with small producers. Following suit, Kincaid’s pastry is grounded. It has roots. And from there erupts flavor. By harmonizing unusual combinations and creating playful textures, she simultaneously comforts and intrigues. Just as she experienced new flavors as a child pulling vegetables fresh from the dirt, she’s pushing Philadelphians to try something new with every dessert. Where diners see an inviting dish and dig into a cake with the glorious texture of an undercooked brownie, Kincaid sees the farmers, artisans, and purveyors whose hard work made it all possible. Her work is a thoughtful, delicious tribute to them, and example for progressive pastry chefs everywhere.           
Dishes that clinched it:

  • Kakigori, Dried and Fresh apple, Brown Rice Grits, Vinegar, Sake Lees, and Hazelnuts
  • Frozen Nougat, Rye Porridge, Cranberry, and Miso-Beet Cake
Pastry Chef: Tova du Plessis, Essen Bakery

Continuing a storied tradition, Tova du Plessis is sharing Jewish pastry and baked goods with Philadelphia. She’s also continuing a family tradition learned from her mother at celebratory meals every Friday night and Saturday … because every day is Shabbat at Essen Bakery. And although eating her chunky, halva-laden, salt-sprinkled chocolate babka may be a spiritual experience, du Plessis has technical precision and training from Meadowood, Zahav, Michael Mina, and Benu backing up her layers of heart and soul. Her yeasted rugelach? Almost as impressive as her business acumen. Du Plessis has plans for epic Essen expansion, including another shop, a commissary, and more retail and wholesale—a model for pastry chefs-turned-bakery owners everywhere. She’s enriching not just doughs but all of Philadelphia, where knish may soon be king (not pretzels) and du Plessis wears babka like a crown.         
Dishes that clinched it: 

  • Chocolate Babka
  • Poppy Seed Danish
Artisan: Alex Bois, Lost Bread Co.

Alex Bois purchased 40,000 pounds of Mid-Atlantic grains last year. That’s a far cry from his early days at High Street on Market when there were few sources, if any, for local flour. Bois has since established a supply chain, refined technique, and created a demand for high-quality bread. He launched Lost Bread Co. in 2017, and he’s pushing the category with innovative products and thinking. In addition to outstanding breads—all made from freshly milled flour—Bois has invested in a pastry program that develops kouign-amann and croissants from whole grains. He’s started a grain share that educates consumers on one grain variety per month via bread, pastry, pantry items, and a ’zine. Bois opens wide the possibilities for grains, farmers, and baking in Philadelphia and beyond.
Breads that clinched it:

  • Beet Rye Bread
  • Barley Baguette
Roaster: Evan Inatome, Elixr Coffee


With three Elixir cafes, a partnership with Double Knot, and beans on the shelves of Philly’s most loved eateries—Essen Bakery, Middle Child, Federal Doughnuts—Evan Inatome is bringing to greater Philadelphia nuanced cups of speciality coffee. He’s also pushing boundaries with his five-course coffee omakase and making a national name for Elixr in competitions as a roaster and investor in barista talent. T. Ben Fischer was runner-up at the 2018 Barista Championship, and Elixr hosted the inaugural Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp, a program that coaches baristas from communities who may otherwise have less access to training. Evan Inatome saw opportunity when he moved to Philadelphia back in 2010, and he’s still seizing and creating it through Elixr and exceptionally roasted coffees.
Coffees that clinched it:
  • La Palma y El Tucan Neighbor and Crops
  • Espresso Sour: La Palma y El Tucan Natural Gesha, Lemon, Egg White, Simple Syrup, and Strawberry Essence
Sommelier: Alexandra Cherniavsky, The Love
Alex Cherniavsky’s wine program at The Love is a bridge between old somm and new. She’s classically trained with Master’s pin ambitions. She competes in TEXSOM and facilitates tasting groups in Philly, but her menu also has sections entitled, “Nice Cans!” and “Wines of a Certain Age.” Cherniavsky is also Pennsylvania wines’ biggest cheerleader, showcasing on her menu Nebbiolo, Grüner, Riesling, and a Barbera field blend from the Keystone State (who knew?!). She values wines for their stories, which she brings to her guests at The Love, imparting her passion for each bottle onto every table she touches. Cherniavsky is a force in the Philadelphia beverage scene, and from her position within Starr Restaurants (and with that pin oh so close!), she’s set to define good drinking with a much wider audience. 

Pairings that clinched it:
  • Bohemian Curry, Striped Bass, Pineapple-Habanero Shellfish Sauce, Spinach, and Plantains paired with Grüner Veltliner, Galen Glen, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, 2017
  • Veal Breast Fazzoletti, Rosemary Pasta, Overnight Tomatoes, Parmesan, and Veal Jus paired with Cabernet Franc, Night Heron, Onabay, North Fork, Long Island, New York, 2015
Sommelier: Samantha Germani , Lacroix
Samantha Germani comes alive when connecting with guests at Lacroix, three-quarters of whom choose to her beverage pairings to accompany their meals. It’s a rare job in Philadelphia to weave one’s wine perspective so intimately into a dinner. Germani excels in it, having come from a line of exceptional Lacroix sommeliers who preceded her and nurtured her talent. After taking over the Rittenhouse Hotel’s beverage program in 2018, she’s making her own mark. Austrian and German wines have stolen Germani’s heart—and also play to the delicacy of Chef Jon Cichon’s cuisine—but she’s not afraid to dip into New Zealand’s Kumeu River or flash her cool-kid credentials with Cali’s Las Jaras wines. She can sell you a $1,000 bottle of Burgundy, too, but Germani’s true gift is leading guests through a brilliant, fun wine experience.
Pairings that clinched it:
  • Kampachi, Oro Blanco Grapefruit, Aguachile, Fresh Herbs, and Tomatillo paired with Dürnsteiner Riesling, Weingut Alzinger, Federspiel, Wachau, Austria, 2015
  • Comté Soufflé, Mustard, Black Truffle, Fondue, Orange, and Truffle paired with Savagnin Ouillé, Domaine de Pelican, Arbois, Jura, France, 2015
Bartender: Paul MacDonald , Friday Saturday Sunday

Paul MacDonald has built a destination bar program at Chad and Hanna Williams’ Friday Saturday Sunday, drawing regulars and industry peers with hospitality and a constantly evolving roster of drinks. MacDonald thinks in terms of body-ody-ody and texture, and marries disparate flavors so they unfold on the palate in meandering succession. Take his Assassin’s Handbook with aged rum, Cognac, Averna, mulled wine shrub, and habanero tincture. It first punches high acid, then bitter and bold, and at the last moment, your throat lights up with a chile tingle. It’s a thrill. Aged Ovaltine milk punch smells like a Tootsie Roll and unfurls as a full-bodied, bone-dry dessert cocktail. With imagination overflowing, MacDonald is defining good drinking in Philadelphia.
Drinks that clinched it:

  • Assassin’s Handbook: Appleton Jamaican Rum, Cognac, Amaro Averna, Mulled Wine Shrub, and Habanero Tincture
  • Clarified Ovaltine Milk Punch: Bols Genever, Lemon Juice, Red Wine, Raw Sugar, and Ovaltine
Community: Matt Cahn, Middle Child
Matt Cahn captures the spirit of Philly and heart of the industry with Middle Child. It’s a come-as-you-are diner with a dash of fuck you and a seat open for old and new friends. Oh, and the food? Cahn and Chef Keith Krawjewski are serving downright deliciousness. The vegan Phoagie reps Philly’s Vietnamese community, and served on a sesame Sarcone’s roll, pays respect to the Italian market, too. The Herschel Waker with corned beef, fluffy scrambled eggs, and sharp American cheese is the breakfast sandwich of your drooling dreams. They don’t limit their fun to breakfast and lunch: through chef collaborations and events, Cahn is expanding what a diner and restaurant and should be. With a fiercely loyal following, Middle Child is the first of so much joy to come from Cahn.
Dishes that clinched it:
  • Herschel Waker: Corned Beef, Scrambled Eggs, Cooper Sharp American Cheese, and Rye Bread
  • Phoagie: Roasted Eggplant, Hoisin, Sambal, Avocado, Cilantro, Yellow Onion, Crispy Fried Onion, Pho Sauce, and Sesame Hoagie
Restaurateurs: Nick Kennedy and Greg Root, Defined Hospitality
Nick Kennedy and Greg Root are just getting started. Before partnering to open Mediterranean Root in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, Starr, Vongerichten, Conant, and Ladner shaped they’re collective résumé. They’ve since transformed Root into modern cocktail bar, R&D, and opened Suraya, a 12,000-square-foot Lebanese restaurant with exquisite design and food. Kennedy manages all things culinary and Root drives operations, and they’ve made smart decisions from the start. With Suraya, they collaborated with Nathalie Richan and Roland Kassis, siblings raised in Beirut, whose mother helped workshop dishes. Root and Kennedy are also investing in good people: Bartender Aaron Deary has a stake in R&D, and they’re helping to open and run the new Pizza Beddia with pizza whisperer Joe Beddia. There’s a Mexican concept in the works, too, and we imagine, so much more for this new force in Philadelphia dining. 
Dishes that clinched it:
  • Halabi Kebab, Hummus, Charred Onions, Tomatoes, and Shishitos
  • Warm Chickpeas, Fried Pita, Tahini Yogurt, Fried Japanese Eggplant, Brown Butter, Cashews, Almonds, Green Onion, Aleppo Pepper, and Mint Powder
Concept: Nicole Marquis, HipCityVeg
HipCityVeg is more than a fast-casual restaurant. It’s Nicole Marquis’ mission-driven concept that’s spreading the gospel of sustainability, good health, and compassion through a plant-based diet. At HipCityVeg, vegan is delicious, even decadent with creamy parmesan ranch dripping down a fried “chick’n” sandwich. Vegan is fresh, accessible, and affordable with juices, salads, and wraps fueling hundreds of diners each day in five locations (four in Philly and one in D.C.).  With passion, warmth, and conviction, Marquis is helping to make vegan food an easy, everyday choice. She and her team are expanding HipCityVeg at a healthy clip with a goal of 35 additional outlets in five years—multiplying its direct and positive impact on our planet through the power of plant-based meals.
Dishes that clinched it:
  • Crispy HipCity Ranch: Battered Chick’n, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Pickle, and Peppercorn Ranch
  • Sweet Potato Fries with Sriracha Aïoli and Cilantro Black Bean Dip