Khushbu Shah is the Restaurant Editor at Food & Wine.
Over the past three years, the hospitality industry has been to hell and back several times over. We’ve all heard the stories: the endless stream of pivoting, closing, restructuring, reopening, and reacting to labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and perpetually shifting local laws, all in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. We talk a lot about how resilient restaurant people are. But this year, above all, it seemed to me that restaurants began to find a new kind of freedom in the midst of all the turmoil and trouble: when they stopped playing by everyone else’s rules and started writing their own.
As I ate my way through 24 cities across the country, I saw chefs running bold, visionary concepts that held nothing back. They were unapologetic about the style of food they served and uncompromising in the workplace culture they wanted to cultivate. They’d dropped the shackles of customer expectations: Instead of bending over backward to please every possible customer, they focused on creating the kinds of places that they wanted to see most in this world.
This year’s class of Food & Wine Best New Chefs embodies this movement, delivering flavor, joy, and wonder on their own terms. It includes people like Justin Pichetrungsi in Los Angeles, who cooks his father’s legacy Thai recipes while also serving dry-aged fish tacos out of the restaurant’s back alley, and like Genie Kwon and Tim Flores in Chicago, who whip up mind-blowing breakfast sandwiches by day and an elegant Filipino tasting menu at night. In Washington, D.C., Rob Rubba cooks a menu that centers the environment—his vegetarian dishes will make diners question if they really ever need to eat meat again—while down in New Orleans at Lengua Madre, Ana Castro weaves her Mexican heritage and fine-dining pedigree into a menu that’s full of whimsy, while also cultivating a workplace that fosters communication and growth for her team.
Welcome to a new era of chefs who are refusing to compromise with the old status quo. Welcome to a rising generation of culinary talent that’s committed to leading and feeding others with a deep sense of integrity and hospitality—and to cooking up incredibly delicious, deeply personal, culturally grounded food. Welcome to the 2022 Best New Chefs.
PHOTO: AUBRIE PICK
To chef Melissa Miranda, the location of her restaurant, Musang, feels like an act of fate. The periwinkle blue house at 2524 Beacon Avenue South once served as a community center and temporary housing center for Asian immigrants, says Miranda. “A lot of Filipino elders, many of whom are customers, have actually lived in this house.” It’s located in Beacon Hill, one of the few Filipino enclaves in Seattle and the neighborhood where her father settled when he first arrived in the city from the Philippines.
See Melissa Miranda’s Seattle City Guide here.
The most exciting table in the country right now is the large round wooden one that sits in the front right corner of Bonnie’s, chef Calvin Eng’s Brooklyn paean to Cantonese American cooking. It’s especially thrilling at the moment when the generous lazy Susan that sits in the center is quivering under the weight of the food. The table, which seats up to 10, is the only one in the restaurant capable of holding the entire menu—which is the only way you’ll want to order. Read more.
See Calvin Eng’s New York City Guide here.
PHOTO: ALEX LAU
It’s unclear which is more epic: the considerable swoop of chef Caroline Schiff’s coif or the dramatic arc of torched, glossy meringue that’s swirled around her baked Alaska. The dessert at Gage & Tollner, the opulent steakhouse in Brooklyn where Schiff runs the pastry and bread programs, takes three days to construct. To make it, housemade ice cream is swirled with amarena cherries, topped with chocolate cookie crumble, and frozen overnight. During service, each baked Alaska is crowned with an airy French meringue that’s torched to order. Read more.
See Caroline Schiff’s New York City Guide here.
Damarr Brown never imagined that the most rewarding days of his career as a chef would be spent cooking dishes from his childhood. “The food that I’m cooking now is food that I ate growing up, which, when I first started, I wanted nothing to do with—at least professionally,” he says. At Virtue, in a kitchen that pays homage to the craft, tradition, and flavors of Southern foodways, Brown turns out plates of silky grits swirled under tender shrimp and crawfish and gizzards embracing a hefty serving of dirty rice.
See Damarr Brown’s Chicago City Guide here.
There are few perfect croissants in the world, yet I found one in Philadelphia at Machine Shop, the boulangerie and bakery run by pastry chef Emily Riddell. As I sliced through the golden pastry at its most bulbous point, flaky shards flew in every direction, a hurricane of crisped dough shattering across the table. The cross section revealed dramatically spacious air pockets, with enough lift between the tender layers that one could almost mistake each bubble for a cozy studio apartment. Read more.
See Emily Riddell’s Guide to Philadelphia here.
PHOTO: AUBRIE PICK
The most painful thing about eating at Kasama, the debut restaurant from chefs (and couple) Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, is deciding what time of day to visit. By day, Kasama is part fast-casual operation, part bakery. At night, it transforms into a fine-dining restaurant. The power move? Pop in during the morning for breakfast and pastries (you might kick off the day with one of Kasama’s extraordinary breakfast sandwiches), and return in the evening for the restaurant’s thoughtful, highly calibrated tasting menu. Read more.
See Tim Flores & Genie Kwon’s Chicago City Guide here.
PHOTO: ALEX LAU
Lengua Madre lives in an unmarked building on Constance Street in New Orleans. From the moment you glimpse the glow of the hot pink light emanating through the small window on the door, you know you’re in for an adventure. There are no giant goblets of frozen margaritas here, or gargantuan menus of combination platters, or giant vats of bubbling queso. Instead, you’ll find sophisticated cocktails that highlight more obscure Mexican spirits like pox, Mexican corn whiskey, and Oaxacan gin, and chef Ana Castro’s affordable five-course tasting menu. Read more.
See Ana Castro’s New Orleans City Guide here.
As a child in Algeria, Warda Bouguettaya was often in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother, pestering them to let her pitch in. When she was a teenager, her mother finally gave in and began teaching Bouguettaya how to cook. The first dish she mastered was chocolate mousse. These days, Bouguettaya is still whipping up batches of it in her sun-dappled Detroit bakery, where a silky chocolate-pear mousse is just one component of her multilayer pear and chocolate entremet, a stunning dessert that takes three days to make. Read more.
See Warda Bouguettaya’s Detroit City Guide here.
There is exactly one piece of animal protein on the menu at chef Rob Rubba’s restaurant: a single oyster tucked under a duo of razor-thin sheets of kohlrabi holding a fresh filling of turnip and apple, swimming in a pool of bright green cilantro oil. It’s slippery and salty and tastes of the sea. It’s also half of his restaurant’s name, Oyster Oyster, which refers to Rubba’s passion for both the bivalve and the mushroom (and for their roles in our food systems). Read more.
See Rob Rubba’s Washington, D.C. City Guide here.
PHOTO: AUBRIE PICK
Justin Pichetrungsi has only ever worked in one professional restaurant kitchen, but it’s the one he literally grew up in. He stands on the same tile floor that his father, Ricky Pichetrungsi, stood on for nearly four decades. Ricky opened Anajak Thai in 1981, in the quiet, family-friendly neighborhood of Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles. Justin was born five years later and experienced many of his formative childhood moments in the restaurant. “I brushed my teeth in the bathroom more than once,” says Pichetrungsi with a laugh. Read more.
See Justin Pichetrungsi’s Los Angeles City Guide here.
FOOD & WINE chooses the Best New Chefs after a monthslong selection process. Chefs who have been in charge of a kitchen or pastry program for five years or less are eligible for the F&W Best New Chef accolade. The process begins with F&W editors soliciting and vetting nominations from food writers, cookbook authors, Best New Chef alums, and other trusted experts around the country. Then, Restaurant Editor Khushbu Shah travels the country this year, visiting 24 cities in 3 months and dining out anonymously in dozens of restaurants in search of the most promising and dynamic chefs right now. After the chefs are notified of their BNC award, F&W conducts background checks, and requires each chef to share an anonymous multilingual survey with their staff that aims to gauge the workplace culture at each chef’s establishment. F&W follows this process with the Best New Chef Mentorship Program. The purpose: help empower new BNCs to grow personally and professionally as they face new challenges and opportunities in their careers.
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