Features The San Francisco Bay Area Rising Stars Award Winners & Why They Shine
The San Francisco Bay Area Rising Stars Award Winners and Why They Shine
April 2010

This is our third Rising Stars in San Francisco, and we thought it was time to reach beyond the seven-by-seven mile border of the city, and into the riches of the greater Bay Area, including Oakland and as far south as Los Gatos. The new generation of chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists are as a whole devoted to highlighting Northern California’s bounty of food, wine, and exceptional culinary skill.

We tasted food, pastry, cocktails, and wine pairings from over 90 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers from all over the Bay Area and bit beyond. Only 14 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 San Francisco Bay Area award winners: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of American food.

Chef Matthew Accarino of SPQR

CHEF: Matthew Accarrino, SPQR (San Francisco)
Matthew Accarrino’s trained under the who’s who of American culinary legends, including Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Trotter, Rick Moonen, and Tom Colicchio. Now at SPQR,Accarrino is turning out refined Italian food that blends Old World traditions with updated techniques and flavors; the end result is cuisine that’s both rustic and artistic and deeply satisfying through and through.. With Accarrino’s vision and finesse, bone marrow is transformed into a flan-like sformato that has all the rich flavor of marrow but with a light, silky texture.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Bone Marrow Sformato with Smoked Bacon and Onions
- Chestnut Nicci with Spigarello and Burnt Orange Sauce

CHEF: John Paul Carmona, Manresa (Los Gatos)
John Paul Carmona grew up on his father’s farm in El Salvador, watching his grandmother cook whenever she came to visit from California. That connection to the land made Carmona a natural fit for David Kinch’s farm-to-table mecca Manresa. Carmona’s dishes effortlessly infuse sophistication into the produce from Kinch’s Love Apple Farm. He focuses on the inherent purity of his ingredients and gracefully applies modern technique to create elegant dishes that are deceivingly simple—a stunning aesthetic that obscures their hidden complexity. Carmona’s dedication to the classics coupled with his desire for “ongoing” growth and practice are the stuff that future mentors are made of, and why he’s a Rising Star.

Chef John Paul Carmona of Manresa


The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Atlantic Cod and Young Carrots in a Broth of Sweet Onions and Marrow
- Boudin Blanc, Wild Watercress with Dates and Garlic

Louis Maldonado of Aziza


CHEF: Louis Maldonado, Aziza (San Francisco)
Aziza may be 2007 San Francisco Rising Star Mourad Lahlou’s Moroccan-inspired restaurant, but in the hands of Louis Maldonado the menu has a worldly feel, accented by the blossoms and wild lettuces he personally forages. That’s typical of Maldonado—always evolving and pushing to learn and do more when it comes to his cooking. He says he “hasn’t set a limit with my style” and that’s one of the things we love about him. Picking up influences from Japan, using local ingredients, and blending them with Lahlou’s native North African flavors, Maldonado creates dishes that are eclectic and sophisticated in the best possible way.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Marinated Striped Bass with Compressed Green Strawberries, California Caviar, and Brown Rice
- Braised Radishes, Pickled Pearl Onions, Compressed Cucumber, and Crispy Chicken Skins


CHEF: Thomas McNaughton, flour + water (San Francisco)
Just eight months in and Thomas McNaughton’s “intentionally small and focused” menu is studded with expertly made classic renditions of rustic Italian dishes. McNaughton’s concrete focus on seasonal and artisanal products, and his utter dedication to sourcing the best of local bounty—including hunting his own boar, and using every edible bit of it—made his cooking not only authentic, but soulfully delicious. He served us wild boar in four dishes, each using a different part of the animal, cooked in a different way, and with a distinct flavor and style—far from boring. With plans to open another three-in-one location (to house a restaurant, deli, and catering outfit), McNaughton is a chef on the rise.

Chef Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water


The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Bollito Misto: Braised Wild Boar Shoulder with Warm Potato Salad, Poached Egg, and Salsa Verde
- Ravioli Doppio Stuffed with Wild Boar Ragu and Pumpkin Puree with Fried Sage and Roasted Chestnuts

Chef Scott Nishiyama of Chez TJ


CHEF: Scott Nishiyama, Chez TJ (Mountain View)
Chez TJ has turned out some of our favorite chefs, including 2009 Napa-Sonoma Rising Star Christopher Kostow, and now Scott Nishiyama. The native Hawaiian’s pedigree is impeccable, having worked under the likes of Laurent Tourondel, Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller, as so is his technique. Foie gras and sablefish have never been so luxurious as in the deft hands of Nishiyama. His dishes are at once classically French and modern American, and given an ever-appropriate local terroir with the addition of herbs and greens from his restaurant garden. Although Nishiyama is “at home” at Chez TJ, he hopes to open his own place in the future—either in California or in Hawaii.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Moulard Duck Foie Gras, Niege, Blackberies, and Sunchokes with House-Made Mustard Bread
- Sablefish with Leeks Fondue, Manila Clams, Perigold Truffle, and Potatoes Salardaise


CHEF: Maximilian DiMare, Wood Tavern (Oakland)
This wickedly talented Boston boy draws on his Italian heritage, and years of experience in other Italian-leaning kitchens, at the bustling neighborhood haunt Wood Tavern. Straightforward dishes like DiMare’s Crispy Pork Belly with Bacon Braised Red Lentils, Spinach, Soft Poached Egg, and Chives and a hearty Bouillabase are the boldly flavored stars of his American brasserie menu. DiMare’s unassuming and casual approach to his cooking reflects his own friendly and unpretentious demeanor—it’s a magical thing when the food captures the soul of chef so deliciously. Simple classics with big flavors never tasted so good.

Chef Maximilian DiMare of Wood Tavern

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Crispy Pork Belly with Bacon Braised Red Lentils, Spinach, Soft Poached Egg, and Chives
- Pan Roasted Half Chicken with Fingerling Potatoes, Grilled Radicchio, Spinach, Garlic Confit, Bread Crumbs, and Lemon-Rosemary Jus

Chef Josh Thomsen of Clarmont Hotel


HOTEL CHEF: Josh Thomsen, Claremont Hotel (Berkeley)
Josh Thomsen just might be the ideal hotel chef. He worked at The French Laundry, where he refined his technique. He spent time at Tao Las Vegas where volume is the name of the game, and toiled in several hotel kitchens before landing at Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel nine months ago. Since his arrival, Thomsen’s transformed the hotel’s food and beverage program into something fresh, elegant, and delectable. He manages all aspects of food for the room service, banqueting, and several public and private restaurants and cafes between two properties. What’s more, he’s overhauled the F&B program without losing a single staff member—evidence of his first-rate leadership skills.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Braised Beef Short Ribs with Seasonal Vegetables
- Sonoma Goat Cheese-Potato Terrine with Baby Beets and Aged Balsamic Syrup


PASTRY CHEF: Melissa Chou, Aziza (San Francisco)
Melissa Chou’s talent with pastry belies her five years of experience in the kitchen. The one-time art history student’s delicate desserts are packed with big flavors but still balanced and somehow subtle. She eloquently slips nuances of Moroccan flavors (rose water, honey, and mint) into her dishes that are natural finales to Executive Chef Mourad Lahlou and Chef de Cuisine Louis Maldonado’s entrees. Her goat yogurt panna cotta with rose gelee is a sublime combination of tangy yet luscious dairy with a sweet floral accent. Chou’s only just getting started, but she has her sights set on landing a gig in Paris and a dream to have her own restaurant.

Pastry Chef Melissa Chau


The Desserts that Clinched It:
- Goat Yogurt Panna Cotta with Rose Gelee, Strwaberry Merengue, Compressed Green Strawberries, Mint, Hibiscus Soup
- Chocolate Sorbet, Vanilla Ice Cream Sandiwch with Ginger Snap, Almond Granita, and Gingered cherries

Pastry Chef Catherine Schimenti


PASTRY CHEF: Catherine Schimenti, Michael Mina (San Francisco)
Catherine Schimenti doesn’t like to take herself too seriously… despite the fact that she’s working in one of the top restaurants in San Francisco, and trained under pastry great Claudia Fleming, and spent time in the kitchen at Thomas Keller’s Per Se. Her lighthearted and “natural with a little something extra” approach to pastry, paired with her expert technique, make for imaginative flavor combinations that highlight seasonal ingredients. Schimenti’s heirloom squash cheesecake was the perfect picture of autumn with tangy cranberry and rosemary accents that put her at the top of our list.

The Desserts that Clinched It:
- Heirloom Squash Cheesecake with Cranberry Gel, Rosemary Caramel, and Honey-Pine Nut Ice Cream
- Creamsicle, Aperol Powder, Basil


SOMMELIER: Sarah Valor, Commis (Oakland)
Sarah Valor likes to say that she got into wine by accident, but her pairings are anything but an accident. She fell in love with the inherent social aspect of serving wine, and, as she puts it “the art of taking something from grapes and soil and turning it into something integrated and with a balanced palate of flavors.” A rhetoric major in college, Valor is a sucker for the story and history of the wines she serves—a bit of which she imparts to her guests as she pours. Her pairings are inspired and unpredictable in the best way; her choice of an off-dry sparkling rose with a goat milk panna cotta a beautifully matched play on the classic Moscato and panna cotta pairing.

Sommelier Sarah Valor


Mixologist Erick Castro


MIXOLOGIST: Erick Castro, Rickhouse (San Francisco)
Erick Castro is a mixologist on a mission. He wants to “do for cocktails what Starbucks has done for coffee” and introduce good cocktails with high-quality ingredients into every corner of the country. Castro has hit the ground running at Rickhouse, mastering the art of high-volume cocktails without sacrificing quality with a true systems approach that involves five identically stocked wells and a killer organizational system. And his cocktails are extraordinary and eccentric to boot—Prohibition era isn’t far enough back for Castro. This mixologist is delving into the 1800s and true to history, forbidding processed sugars and juice concentrates from his shaker.

The Drinks that Clinched It:
- Statesman
- Rye Maple Fizz


MIXOLOGIST: Brian MacGregor, Jardiniére (San Francisco)
Brian MacGregor is a second generation bartender. But he became a mixologist when he starting working behind the bar at Absinthe and fiddling with some of the old cocktail books. Soon, what started as an interesting exercise for MacGregor to learn the classics turned into a career obsession and deep-seated mixology philosophy. “We should constantly be challenging ourselves to produce a better drink,” he says. MacGregor, always on the hunt for obscure classics and even more archaic spirits, likes to push the mixology envelop—and his customers’ tastes—by blending things like Scotch, chamomile liquor, and Peruvian bitters, as in his Scorching Banshee. And that’s exactly why we love him.

Mixologists Brian MacGregor


The Drinks that Clinched It:
- The Bon Bon Biracha
- The Scorching Banchee
Joshua Skenes

CONCEPT: Joshua Skenes, Saison (San Francisco)
Joshua Skenes is no stranger to the ins and outs of the restaurant business. He’s a bit of a wunderkind, multiple-star reviews following him at every turn, from Chez TJ to Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern. So when it came time for him to open his own place—in the midst of the recession, no less—he decided to test out his concept with a pop-up restaurant one night a week in a rented event space. Saison was born. Skene serves his gorgeous uber-seasonal, luxury-studded dishes to just a handful of tables five nights a week. Now the concept is going from pop-up to permanent—year round Saison for all.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Whole Roasted Sonoma Lamb with Compressed Herbs, Dates, and Yogurt
- Little Roots with Caramelized Shoots and Leaves
RESTAURATEUR: Shelley Lindgren, A16 and SPQR (San Francisco)
Shelley Lindgren does it all: not only does she run two of the most successful restaurants in San Francisco, she’s also their wine director, she co-wrote one of the top cookbooks of 2009 and she’s working on SPQR’s cookbook, she teaches wine classes, consults on the side, and, by the way, she’s a mother to two kids. It’s not just Lindgren’s packed tables that make her a Rising Star Restaurateur, but the sense of community she engrains in her staff and customers, and her desire to invest in her staff’s future business endeavors.
Shelley Lindren