Features The Los Angeles – San Diego Rising Stars Award Winners & Why They Shine
 
The Los Angeles San Diego Rising Stars Award Winners & Why They Shine
February 2010

This is our third Rising Stars in Los Angeles, and we are thoroughly impressed with the way the city has matured as a food town. The new generation of chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists are young risk-takers who are not afraid to experiment and step outside the box. LA has also developed one of the best pastry scenes in the country, with an innovative group of peers who play with flavors, textures, and techniques to create sensational desserts. The downtown mixology scene has grown up as well, with a classic cocktail movement in full swing and market fresh drinks that highlight the best local, seasonal produce.

And for our first time in San Diego we were blown away by the incredible talent that is packed into a small city. From La Jolla to downtown San Diego, the culinary scene is taking off. Chefs in this city stick together, which is making them stronger as a whole.

We tasted food, pastry, cocktails, and wine pairings from over 100 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Malibu. Only 20 earned the title of Rising Star. So what makes them shine? Creativity, ambition, exquisite presentation, and, most importantly, a stellar dish win each up-and-coming culinary star the Rising Star Award.

What's more, each Rising Star has attributes that make us believe they will be the future leaders of the country's culinary scene. Here's an introduction to the 2010 Los Angeles – San Diego award winners: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of American food.

chef William Bradley of Addison, San Diego

CHEF: William Bradley, Addison (San Diego)
Set in the Grand Del Mar Hotel, Addison is a fine dining French restaurant with local California influences. Chef William Bradley, who is self-taught and has been cooking since he was 16, was inspired early on by the work of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Alain Passard. Today his dishes reflect these influences, displaying all the elegance and sophistication that he learned from studying them. Bradley utilizes a range of ingredients that marry to create layers of flavor in every bite, as in a simple Dover sole that is thoughtfully combined with Meyer lemon and Vin Jaune. What sets Addison apart, though, is the relationship between Bradley and Sommelier Jesse Rodriguez who work together in such an impressive way that while each dish and glass of wine is superb on its own, together the food and pairings not only shoot for, but reach the stars.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Moulard Canard Rotie, Crystallized Ginger, Chicory, Port Wine Glacage, Foie Gras, and Albufera Sauce
- English Dover Sole with Dutch Asparagus, Vin Jaune, and Brioche “Crotte”

CHEFS: Vinny Dotolo & Jon Shook, Animal (Los Angeles)
Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook met in culinary school in Florida and have been partners ever since. They have forged their own path to culinary success, throwing the standard script out the window. After working in a number of restaurants across the country together, Dotolo and Shook started a catering company, starred in their own food television show, and wrote a cookbook before opening their first restaurant. Now at Animal, the duo has become known as chefs’ chefs for their no-frills preparations that highlight meat and showcase off-cuts (you’ll be hard-pressed to find any vegetarian items on the menu—bacon even makes an appearance on the dessert menu). Even something as simple as poutine is taken to a new level with fries that manage to stay unbelievably crispy under a mound of tender oxtail gravy and curds of Cheddar cheese

chef Vinny Dotolo & Jon Shook of Animal, Los Angeles

 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Poutine with Oxtail Gravy and Cheddar
- Sweetbreads with Creamed Spinach, Capers, and Hen of the Woods

 
Rory Herrmann of Bouchon Bistro, Los Angeles

 

CHEF: Rory Herrmann, Bouchon Bistro (Los Angeles)
After paying his dues at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York, Rory Herrmann was tapped to be the opening chef de cuisine at the Los Angeles outpost of Bouchon Bistro. At the recently opened restaurant the humble young chef has made a menu that fits what diners have come to expect from Bouchon, but with flourishesof his own. As a bistro-style restaurant, the dishes at Bouchon are humble at heart with lavish touches that suit the Beverly Hills locale, like a soft-boiled egg served with lentils, sausage, and Bordelaise sauce topped with a luxurious spoonful of foie gras mousse. As a newcomer to LA, Herrmann is working to be involved in the local community by participating in charity events and forging relationships with his farmers and purveyors.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Oeuf Poche: Soft-Boiled Hen Egg with Braised Lentils du Puy, Saucisson a l'Ail, Foe Gras Mousse, and Sauce Bordelaise
- Herb-Roasted Veal Rib-Eye with Crispy Sweet Breads, Celery Branch, Celery Root, Glazed Chestnuts, and Perigourdine

 

CHEF: Jason Knibb, Nine-Ten (San Diego)
We’re always on the lookout for chefs with soul, and Jason Knibb pours his heart into combining flavors and textures in each dish he cooks. He even infuses soul into his whimsical presentations, which conjure images like a meandering path through a forest or a garden, a la Michel Bras. Born in Jamaica and raised in Southern California, Knibb is now the chef at Nine-Ten in La Jolla, CA where he is also responsible for supplying the food to the adjacent Grande Colonial Hotel. His Jamaican background shines through in his Rising Star dish, an exciting modern rendition of Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly incorporates classic Jamaican flavors with cutting-edge techniques.

Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten, San Diego

 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly with Baby Carrots, Swiss Chard, Plantains, Black-Eyed Peas, Spicy Jellies, and Sweet Potato Puree
- Braised Lamb with Ricotta Agnolotti, Mint, Chocolate, and Parmesan Powder

 
Walter Manzke of Church + State, Los Angeles

 

CHEF: Walter Manzke, Church + State (Los Angeles)
Walter Manzke is the unassuming, happy-go-lucky chef of Church + State, a restaurant every other chef in town loves because of Manzke’s straightforward preparations. He makes high quality ingredients shine by leaving them virtually unadulterated, like his simply roasted marrow bone or Santa Barbara Spot Prawns that are complemented with a light splash of brown butter, lemon, and capers. His food sounds deceivingly simple, but the flavors that he coaxes out of each ingredient are complex and immensely satisfying. Utilizing traditional French techniques, Manzke takes great pride in making everything himself—from a wide selection of charcuterie and pates to the rustic wooden boards they’re served on.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Moelle de Boeuf: Roasted Marrow Bone
- Gambas a la Grenobloise: Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with Brown Butter, Lemon, and Capers

 

CHEFS: Zachary Pollack & Stephan Samson, Pizzeria Ortica (Costa Mesa)
Both Ivy League graduates, Zachary Pollack and Stephan Samson first met while working with Chef Neil Fraser at BLD and later worked with Chef David Myers at Sona. Samson recognized great potential in the younger chef and the two became chef-partners when Myers and Samson launched their pizzeria concept in Costa Mesa. Now the pair are an unstoppable duo, cooking rustic Italian food, including pizzas with imaginative toppings, impeccably prepared pastas, and well-executed house-cured meats. Samson channels his Italian heritage and Pollack draws upon his time spent in Italy to create dishes that are comforting, done well, and keep you coming back for more.

Chefs Zachary Pollack and Stephan Samson of Pizzeria Ortica, Costa Mesa

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Guanciale, Ricotta, e Cipollotto: Fresh Ricotta, House-Cured Pork Cheek, Scallions, and Fennel Pollen Pizza
- Tortelli di Pere e Pecorino al Burro e Salvia: Pear and Pecorino Tortelli with Brown Butter and Sage


 
chef Diana Stavaridis of BLD of Los Angeles

 

CHEF: Diana Stavaridis, BLD (Los Angeles)
BLD, which stands for “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner,” is a comfortable neighborhood spot full of locals, regulars, and chefs. The sister restaurant to Rising Star Chef Neil Fraser’s Grace is helmed by Chef de Cuisine Diana Stavaridis, who has worked closely with Fraser for the last eight years. Stavaridis has learned a lot from her mentor, but every menu item at BLD has Stavaridis’ personal stamp and each dish is made with heart and soul. Her food is comforting and extremely well executed, and her simple flavor combinations are exquisite. Dishes range from a creative, colorful squash salad with pumpkin seed pesto and ricotta to mammoth Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes that are light, fluffy, and to die for. Stavaridis puts herself on the plate, and reminds us that sometimes simple is better.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Warm Kabocha Squash Salad with Wild Arugula, Shaved Fennel, Dried Cranberries, Ricotta, Pumpkin Seed Pesto, and Maple-Balsamic Dressing
- Crab-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Goat Cheese and Blood Orange Vinaigrette

 

CHEF: Ken Takayama, Melisse (Los Angeles)
Ken Takayama wanted to be a basketball player growing up but found the teamwork of a kitchen to be more his pace as an adult. He knocked on Chef Josiah Citrin’s restaurant back door two times—and was turned away—before finally getting a shot the third time. Starting as a sous chef, Takayama climbed the ranks to chef de cuisine over the course of nine years. At Melisse, Takayama has refined his cooking style to fit the two Michelin-starred contemporary French restaurant. His dishes are elegant in presentation and flavor, as in Serrano-Wrapped Monkfish with Maitake Mushrooms, Celtuce, and Mustard Sabayon. Takayama is shy and soft-spoken in person, and his food is similarly delicate with sophisticated touches.

Ken Takayama of Melisse, Los Angeles

 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Serrano-Wrapped Monkfish, Maitake Mushrooms, Celtuce, and Mustard Sabayon
- Japanese Wagyu Beef Filet, Braised Short Rib, Cote de Boeuf, Bone Marrow, and Red Wine-Herb Jus

 
Chef Michael Voltaggio of The Dining Room at the Langham, Pasadena

 

CHEF: Michael Voltaggio, The Dining Room at the Langham (Pasadena)
A Maryland native, Michael Voltaggio started cooking in high school so he could buy a car, and he’s never been paid to do anything else since. Now, having worked with some of the best chefs in the world (Charlie Palmer and Jose Andres to name two), Voltaggio is the executive chef at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena where he is making waves with his out of the box approach to modern cuisine. He has a penchant for creative deconstructions of classic dishes, like a pastrami sandwich re-imagined as Pastrami of Pigeon with Sauerkraut Jelly, Swiss Cheese, Mustard Greens, and Wine-Infused Squab Jus whimsically presented on the plate. Other times Voltaggio plays with just one or two ingredients, incorporating them in different ways throughout the dish, as in Langoustine and Porcini Lasagna with Bisque and Porcini Cracker.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Langoustine and Porcini Lasagna with Bisque and Porcini Cracker
- Australian Wagyu Pot Roast with Confit Potato, Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes, and Braised Carrot


 

CHEF: Kuniko Yagi, Sona (Los Angeles)
Before moving to Los Angeles, Kuniko Yagi worked as a banker in Tokyo. But Yagi “didn’t like working in a box” so decided to move across the globe to pursue a career that allowed her to be creative. At 26 years old and with no cooking experience, Yagi was given the chance to prove her culinary mettle in 2004 StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef David Myers’s kitchen. Now, six years later, Yagi has worked her way up to be chef de cuisine at Myers’ flagship restaurant, Sona. Her culinary ethos echoes that of her mentor’s, but with her own style worked in. French technique meets an unusual combination of distinctive Japanese flavors in dishes like Foie Gras with Corn Puree, Roasted Plum, Pineapple, Green Tea Mochi, and Okinawan Black Sugar. The flavors of each dish are sophisticated and understated, making you savor each and every bite

Chef Kuniko Yagi of Sona, Los Angeles

 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Foie Gras with Corn Puree, Roasted Plum, Pineapple, Green Tea Mochi, and Okinawan Black Sugar
- Sake and Harissa-Marinated Cod with Sunchoke Puree, Dehydrated Black Olive, Cippolini Onion, Shishito Pepper, and Crystalline

 
Pastry Chef Jordan Kahn of XIV, Los Angeles

 

PASTRY CHEF: Jordan Kahn, XIV (Los Angeles)
We have been following Jordon Kahn’s career for years, from his savory days at The French Laundry, to his time as a waiter (and later in the kitchen) at Alinea, and his work at Per Se and WD-50. Today he has grown to be one of the most talented, imaginative young pastry chefs in the country. At Michael Mina’s XIV, Kahn is part mad scientist and part artist, creating inventive desserts that resemble modern art and are anything but traditional. Kahn’s techniques are remarkably innovative, highly modern, and flawlessly executed. Each of his pastry creations follow a theme, as in a study of strawberries that includes Strawberries with Elderflower Meringue, White Chocolate Sphere filled with Frais de Bois Puree, Cacao Fruit Sorbet, Violet Sauce, and Beet Genois. No ingredient is too foreign for Kahn, who is constantly playing and experimenting; he even makes “wood” ice cream that has been infused with applewood.

The Desserts that Clinched It:
- Strawberry: Strawberries with Elderflower Meringue, White Chocolate Sphere filled with Frais de Bois Puree, Cacao Fruit Sorbet, and Violet Sauce, and Beet Genois
- Wood Ice Cream with Nutella Custard, Green Tea "Vines," Toasted Bread Streusel, Cocoa Sablis Crumbs, and Pistachio Crumble


 

PASTRY CHEF: Adrian Vasquez, Providence (Los Angeles)
After pursuing a career as a musician and a brief stint in architecture school, Adrian Vasquez realized that cooking would be the best way to channel his creative energies. He started as a cook in Chicago, but soon fell in love with pastry (we first met Vasquez at Bin 36, where he served us a playful cucumber pushup pop). Now, as the pastry chef at 2004 StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Michael Cimarusti’s Providence, Vasquez is constantly searching for new and exciting flavor combinations and techniques to refresh the palate. His Kalamansi Gelee with Lychee-Shiso Sorbet, White Chocolate Coconut Soup with Tapioca Pearls, and Chocolate Nougatine brings together fun and varied textures with surprisingly complementary flavors. With influences that range from Japan to France, Vasquez has fun exploring different ingredients; this versatile pastry chef also happens to be a master chocolatier and one day hopes to open an ice cream shop and chocolate boutique.

Pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez of Providence, Los Angeles

 

The Desserts that Clinched It:
- Kalamansi Gelee with Lychee-Shiso Sorbet, White Chocolate Coconut Soup with Tapioca Pearls and Chocolate Nougatine
- Canelé
 
Sommelier Christopher Miller, Spago Los Angeles

SOMMELIER:Christopher Miller, Spago (Los Angeles)
After growing up in New Orleans and earning a finance degree from Tulane University, Christopher Miller switched gears after visiting wineries in Washington. So enthralled with what he learned from his trip, Miller moved to Seattle to work at Canlis and take wine classes. The young wine sleuth has no shortage of accolades and certifications: He has passed two portions of his Master Sommelier exam and won the title of “Best Young Sommelier in America” in 2007 and later “Best Young Sommelier” in a 2008 international competition. Now, as sommelier at Beverly Hills institution Spago, Miller ensures that every pairing complements the food in flavor as well as taste, often selecting funky, unusual wines to match the upscale French-inspired cuisine.

 
SOMMELIER: Jesse Rodriguez, Addison (San Diego)
As wine director at Addison in the Grand del Mar Hotel, Jesse Rodriguez (who has been with the restaurant since its opening), has worked to assemble the resort’s 35,000-bottle wine inventory, including a substantial collection of proprietary private bottlings available only at the property. Rodriguez works very closely with fellow Rising Star Chef William Bradley, and together the duo achieves what other teams strive for: ultimate ying and yang with their food and wine pairings. Bradley and Rodriguez are what make Addisonso special, and the food and wine pairings are the star of the show. Rodriguez’s pairings add to the food without overwhelming it, as in the Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner that was an ideal fit for Chef Bradley’s Dover sole. The wine’s high acidity matched the greenness of the asparagus in the dish and brought both the wine and the dish to a new level.
Sommelier Jesse Rodriguez of Addison, San Diego

 



Mixologist Eric Alperin of The Varnish, Los Angeles)
MIXOLOGIST: Eric Alperin, The Varnish (Los Angeles)
Since migrating from New York to LA three years ago, Eric Alperin has been a key player in the revitalization of the burgeoning classic cocktail scene in downtown LA. He got his start mixing drinks at The Screening Room and Mario Batali’s Lupa before going to work for mentor and friend Sasha Petraske at Milk & Honey and Little Branch. He and Petraske, along with LA cocktail maven Cedd Moses, opened up speakeasy-style cocktail lounge The Varnish in 2009. There Alperin brings his own touch to classics, like a cozy, wintry Hot Buttered Rum and a Gin Fix prepared with house-made seasonal pomegranate grenadine.
The Drinks that Clinched It:
- Hot Buttered Rum
- Gin Fix
MIXOLOGIST: Julian Cox, Rivera (Los Angeles)
Working behind the bar at Rivera, a contemporary Latin restaurant in downtown LA, Mixologist Julian Cox has mastered incorporating Mexican and Southwestern ingredients into cocktails. His concoctions highlight fresh, often savory, ingredients and combine unusual flavors for drinks that go down easy and often pack a little heat. His Barbacoa Cocktail includes mezcal, chipotle puree, agave nectar, and ginger syrup and is garnished with a large piece of beef jerky. And much like Chef Jon Sedlar’s dishes, Cox often has a story behind his cocktails: The Donaji was inspired by an ancient Oaxacan cocktail that was originally made for an Aztec princess who threw herself off a building because she couldn’t marry the man she wanted. For the finishing touch, Cox rims the glass with chapulin salt, which is made from a combination of salt and roasted crickets.
Mixologist Tom Julian Cox of Rivera, Los Angeles

 

 

 

The Drinks that Clinched It:
- Blood Sugar Sex Magic
- Donaji
Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles

 

RESTAURATEURS: Josh Loeb & Zoe Nathan, Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon (Los Angeles)
Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan are the couple behind Santa Monica’s Huckleberry bakery and Rustic Canyon. Each place differs in concept, but they share a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere and superb food. The husband and wife team put a bit of themselves into each of their restaurants; at Huckleberry, for example,they included little elements to make it more like home: Nathan’s mother did the art on the walls, the bud vases are just like the ones she grew up with, and both sets of parents come into the bakery daily. Nathan, also a gifted baker and pastry chef, heads up the pastry program at Rustic Canyonand is behind all the food at Huckleberry. Loeb and Nathan are working with their talented chef, Evan Funke, to put together a Rustic Canyon cookbook and have a third concept, an ice cream parlor called Sweet Rose Creamery, set to open later this year.

RESTAURANT CONCEPT AWARD: Adam Fleischman, Umami Burger (Los Angeles)
The concept of Umami Burger is fresh, exciting, and thoughtful. Adam Fleischman started out in wine and owned his own wine business before his entrepreneurial spirit led him to open Umami Burger, which now has three locations throughout Los Angeles. Inspired by umami—the concept of the fifth sense—Fleishman wanted to introduce the concept to people using common American foods that were already umami-rich, like burgers. He uses modern techniques and applications to get the burgers just right like adding sodium nitrate to cheese to make the texture like that of American cheese and using C-Vap combi ovens to cook the burgers. He has recently expanded the concept to include cocktails as well. We didn’t believe Fleischman when he told us that Umami Burgers have a three-day craving period, but he was right.

Chef Adam Fleischman of Umami Burger, Los Angeles

 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Umami Burger
- The Manly Burger
 
 Chef Ray Garcia of Fig, Los Angeles



SUSTAINABILITY AWARD: Ray Garcia, Fig (Los Angeles)
In Southern California there is such a bounty of local and organic ingredients that it’s hard not to be sustainable in that sense. But at Fig, located within the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, Chef Ray Garcia goes much further than just shopping at the nearby farmer’s market. The restaurant employs a forager, all beef and poultry comes from California, Garcia uses many lesser cuts to discourage waste, the seafood is all endorsed by Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the menus change seasonally. Garcia even includes a section on the menu that reads “Just Arrived,” “In Peak Season,” and “Coming Soon” with the produce that has just arrived, is in its prime, or will be in soon. They recycle, compost, filter their own water, and are working on turning their fryer oil into hand soap. The restaurant also valets bicycles to encourage local customers to bike instead of drive. And on top of Garcia’s commitment to sustainability, he also makes killer food, from a seasonal red quinoa salad to a devilish Bacon-Wrapped Bacon that can only be described as a deconstructed (and much more sophisticated) BLT.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Warm Quinoa Salad
- Chef's Salad: Braised Bacon Wrapped in Bacon with Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Mousse
COMMUNITY AWARD: Roy Choi, Kogi BBQ (Los Angeles)
Kogi BBQ, which serves Korean-inspired tacos to 8,000 people a day out of four trucks around LA, has become a phenomenon that has reached far beyond the city. Roy Choi, the chef and one of the originators of Kogi, is a CIA-trained chef who spent time at Le Bernadin and Aureole in New York before shifting to the street food lifestyle. From the beginning Choi has used Twitter in creative ways to communicate with Kogi followers. For him and the rest of the Kogi team, community refers to the relationships they’ve developed with their customers and the neighborhoods to which they travel. When they roll up to a block, suddenly the street is crowded and people have made an impromptu dining room, creating a micro-culture and community. Choi makes everything for Kogi from scratch and wants to change the paradigm of how people—especially urban youth—eat. Choi believes that Kogi can make a difference by having the food “speak to them on the same level their skateboards speak to them.” And to think that a taco could change a life.
Cef Roy Choiof Kogi BBQ, Los Angeles

 


 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Black Jack Quesadilla
- Mini Short Rib Tacos