From a third-generation noodle master, to a self-made grilled cheese magnate, 2014’s crop of food world up-and-comers is more diverse and talented than ever. This year we also found our youngest-ever honoree, at just 19 years of age, our first-ever former tween TV star (he starred in the hit ‘90s show, All That) and our first-ever, well, taquito specialist. Read on for more about all of this year’s movers and shakers, including some of the city’s brightest young chefs, front-of-house gurus, coffee experts, spirits pros and more. We predict big things for this crew.
Story by Kelly Dobkin, James Mulcahy and Michael Endelman
Sara Bigelow, 28General Manager and Butcher at The Meat Hook
After moving to NYC in 2007, Southern California native Sara Bigelow never planned on a career in butchery, but after completing a charcuterie class that she received as a birthday gift, she fell in love with the craft. Bigelow then went for an internship at Marlow & Daughters, the Williamsburg meat shop that’s part of Andrew Tarlow’s empire. When Marlow butchers Tom Mylan, Ben Turley and Brent Young decided to open up The Meat Hook on their own, Bigelow came along too. For a while, Bigelow was their first and only employee, working seven days a week. Now Bigelow is known for her award-winning hams (her nickname is “The Ham Lady”) as well as her integral role in running the pioneering butcher shop. The brand also recently opened a full-service sandwich shop down the block.
Emma Blankinship, 29Coffee Director at Wythe Hotel
In her teenage years, Emma Blankinship worked in coffee shops as a way to help pay the bills. But after being exposed to the top echelon of the java world at the SF-based Blue Bottle Coffee, she became truly passionate about the job. Blankinship moved to NYC in 2011 to work in Blue Bottle’s wholesale department and eventually, one of her accounts, Andrew Tarlow, the Brooklyn-based restaurateur, invited Blankinship to oversee the coffee program at his new hotel, The Wythe. Here, Blankinship oversees a hotel and restaurant that serves top-notch coffee from early-morning room service to post-dinner espressos. She’s also passionate about educating consumers as well as aiding in the effort to ensure coffee farmers get fairly compensated for their product.
David Bouhadana, 28Executive Chef at Sushi Dojo
This young Florida native is not your average sushi chef — how often do you see someone rocking out to old-school disco while they prepare your omakase? Bouhadana's energetic personality has turned his East Village restaurant into a hit, but it's his technical skill that makes Dojo stand out in a city awash in the finest raw fish. His training took him to the Kansai region of Japan (where he worked for three years), California and into the kitchens of NYC Japanese restaurants including Morimoto and the speakeasy-style (and now shuttered) Sushi Uo. His future plans take him beyond sashimi —the team that owns the restaurant is looking to open Dojo Izakaya in Alphabet City. Hopefully he'll keep the tunes playing when he fires up the grills.
Cooper Cheatham, 26Proprietor of Double Barrel Consulting Founder of GLASS
When Cooper Cheatham started as a marketing assistant for a spirits company, he quickly learned that, “the liquor industry is very male, macho and hetero-dominated,” he says. Disappointed, he decided to do something about it. So Cheatham created GLASS (Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Spirituous Sipping), an industry group to bring LGBT spirit brand reps and bartenders together (and to raise money for LGBT charities). He’s also worked his way up, starting his own events, marketing and brand strategy company dubbed Double Barrel Consulting, which works with liquor brands and competitions like Speed Rack. “The community is much larger than I had initially thought,” says Cheatham, who plans to expand GLASS beyond NYC soon.
Crystalyn Costa, 25Owner and Manager at Onomea
True Hawaiian food is a scarcely found delicacy in NYC, but 25-year-old Big Island native Crystalyn Costa filled that void when she opened Onomea in Williamsburg last summer. Her motive, she admits, was partly selfish: Since it’s so difficult to get the ingredients to even make those traditional dishes in New York, opening a restaurant that served all her childhood favorites was a natural solution. Costa’s own mixed Portuguese and Filipino heritage is representative of the cuisine of Hawaii, which means that dishes that sound out-there (Spam musubi, shoyu chicken with macaroni salad) are actually as authentic as it gets.
Nick Curtin, 27Executive Chef at Rosette
After a summer working for acclaimed New England chef Matt Jennings after college, Nick Curtin returned to NYC with a single-minded focus: “All I could think about was food,” he says. He quickly set out to educate himself, working at Perry St and Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar. Then, at 23, he was offered a role as executive chef at Compose, a small, forward-thinking bar concept that launched with a limited menu. But he admits, “Our ambition began to exceed the space itself,” Curtin says of the 600-sq.-ft. sliver that eventually closed. After a stint at ACME, Curtin was hired to open Rosette, where he’s garnering critical acclaim for his open-flame cooking and innovative approach to seasonal American cuisine.
Photo via Nick Curtin
Natasha David, 29Co-Owner and Head Bartender at Nitecap
Natasha David was trying to make it as an actor and working at a bar at night when she had an epiphany: “I decided I really hated the acting world,” she says. “And I really loved being in restaurants and behind the bar.” After deciding to get serious about the biz, she worked at spots owned by Keith McNally and Danny Meyer before helping to open Maison Premiere. At Nitecap, her newest venture co-owned by 30-Under-30 alum Alex Day, she makes sure pretension doesn't get past the bouncer, aiming for a spot that had “no password, no feeling that only certain people can get in — it had to be accepting to everyone.” Knock back one of the venue’s “Shortys” — aka shot and beer combos — and you’ll see what she’s talking about.
Dillon Edwards, 24Founder at Parlor Coffee
An espresso bar in the back of a barbershop? It’s that kind of out-of-the-box project that Nashville native Dillon Edwards had been dreaming up while working at places like Stumptown Coffee (in Portland, OR, and NYC) and Blue Bottle Coffee. In 2012, Edwards approached the owner of Williamsburg’s Persons of Interest barbershop (where he got his hair cut) with the idea. Soon enough, the city’s tiniest coffee shop was born — though the barbershop’s owner took a lot of convincing. Since opening, Edwards had been roasting at Red Hook’s Pulley Collective but recently he has opened his own roastery and tasting room down by the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Yoni Erlich and Donna Magen, 27 and 29Founders at Schnitz
In Israel, schnitzel is a national obsession, but Israeli brother-and-sister team Donna Magen and Yoni Erlich were very disappointed with the fried cutlet scene in NYC. So the pair — whose father owns NYC’s Thalia — decided to do something about it. They started selling their schnitzel sandwiches at the Hester Street Fair and then Smorgasburg. The crowds loved the fare (Mario Batali was an early fan), so they decided to open an East Village storefront in March. Next up, the team hopes to expand, but first they want to teach New Yorkers a little bit more about their beloved comfort food. "Our biggest challenge is customer education,” says Donna. “It’s not like opening a burger joint. So many people come in and ask, ‘What is schnitzel?”
Leslie Feinberg and Brooke Siem, 29 and 28Owners/Co-Founders of Prohibition Bakery
Leslie Feinberg and Brooke Siem came up with the idea to combine liquor and cupcakes at an appropriately boozy and girlie event: a bachelorette party. Siem, who went to culinary school, then tested out the idea and made a Cosmo-flavored dessert with a cranberry-vodka filling, and the concept for Prohibition Bakery came to life. Now you can get their potent creations — they add the booze after cooking, so it doesn’t bake off — at a sliver of a shop on the Lower East Side. Up next: a line of alcoholic candies dubbed Rum Drops.
Brad Holtzman, 28General Manager/Partner at Taquitoria
Brad Holtzman has worked at some of Manhattan’s most esteemed restaurants — Del Posto, Maialino and Marc Forgione — but he’s betting his future on a more humble style of food establishment: a take-out taquito joint. Holtzman, along with partners Barry Frish and 30 Under 30 alum Matthew Conway, is the co-founder of NYC’s only restaurant dedicated solely to the taquito (a tortilla wrapped around a filling and deep fried), which Holtzman fell in love with on a trip to San Diego. At their LES storefront, the trio is elevating the gas station staple by using top-notch ingredients. The success of the tiny shop has the team thinking about expansion possibilities, both in NYC, and Holtzman hopes, around the world.
Joseph "JJ" Johnson, 29Chef de Cuisine at The Cecil
JJ Johnson was already a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and had worked in several busy NYC kitchens (Tribeca Grill, Centro Vinoteca) when he won an episode of Rocco’s Dinner Party. But that reality TV appearance caught the attention of veteran chef-restaurateur Alexander Smalls, known for his mastery of Lowcountry cuisine. Smalls took Johnson to Ghana to explore the cuisine of Western Africa and upon returning the duo came up with the menu for The Cecil in Smalls’ apartment kitchen: an innovative mix of African, Southern American and Asian cuisines that’s helping to revitalize the Harlem dining scene.
Sal Lamboglia, 29Chef-Partner at Bar Primi
This New York City native comes from a long line of Italian artisans — Lamboglia’s father was a chef in Little Italy in the late ‘80s and his uncles are butchers and bakers. With knowledge of Italian food in his blood and a culinary school education to back it up, he was ready when he finally got a chance to meet chef Andrew Carmellini face to face. “I had one glass of wine too many,” Lamboglia said, remembering when he spotted Carmellini serving meatballs at the James Beard Awards. He opted for a bold strategy, telling the chef: “I can cook pasta as good as you can.” Carmellini decided to give the brash young cook a chance, and Lamboglia worked at The Dutch and Lafayette before his mentor gave him the chance to showcase those pasta skills at Bar Primi, the affordable Bowery pasta bar that was an instant hit after opening this spring.
Steve Laycock, 28Partner at Ducks Eatery and The Gilroy Brand Ambassador at Illegal Mezcal and Spring 44
Boozehound turned businessman, this young entrepreneur was inspired to enter the food and beverage world by an unfortunate incident: a broken femur on a ski trip in Colombia. While recovering in the Big Apple, Laycock worked at 169 Bar and SPiN, where he found a new summit to reach for: restaurant ownership. Partnering with fellow SPiN alum Will Horowitz, Laycock opened Ducks, a Cajun spot in the East Village that’s popular with the industry set. While not behind the bar there, he was charming connections on behalf of Illegal Mezcal (and more recently Spring 44 Gin) and revolutionized the UES nightlife scene with the opening of Negroni-centric The Gilroy. His next frontier? “I want to get back to the mountains,” he says. Denver, get ready.
Brian Loiacono, 26Executive Chef at DB Bistro Moderne
Brooklyn-born Brian Loiacono went to culinary school for three weeks before declaring it a waste of time and moving to France and England to work in kitchens as a teenager. Upon moving back to NYC he met Daniel Boulud via chef Kirk Avondoglio (his father’s college roommate) and went to work at Daniel, where he eventually became sous-chef for a total of three years. After another jaunt to Italy for a few months, Loiacono returned and worked as the chef at Montauk resort Ruschmeyer’s and even worked briefly as a personal chef for NBA star Tyson Chandler. But Boulud called again, and this time it was to head up the kitchen at DB Bistro Moderne, which relaunched with a new design and menu last fall. Brian has put his own touches on the menu like his lump crab linguini with squash blossoms and cherry tomatoes and roasted chicken with tandoori rice, grilled peaches and shishito peppers.
Shane Lyons, 26Chef-Partner at Distilled
Colorado-born Shane Lyons has been a prodigy in more than one field. First, he had success as a child actor in LA before attending the Culinary Institute of America and becoming their youngest graduate ever at the age of 18. He appeared on Next Food Network Star and cooked in Colorado Springs before making his way to NYC. Lyons worked at Craftbar and Cafe Boulud before getting a call from his partner, Nick Iovacchini, and Drew Nieporent, which led to his current gig as executive chef at Distilled in TriBeCa, a gastropub where Lyons uses highbrow cooking chops on bar food standards like Buffalo wings and popcorn. “Success happens if you’re persistent and diligent and are executing regularly,” Lyons says of his career philosophy.
Marcella Perego, 19Retail Manager at Dominique Ansel Bakery
If you’ve ever wondered how the Cronut line doesn’t explode into chaos, there’s one person to thank: Marcella Perego, the retail manager at Dominique Ansel Bakery, and the one person charged with managing the pastry fiends who flock to the SoHo bakery every morning. Growing up in a restaurant family in Florida, Perego knew she wanted to pursue a job in the field from a young age. When she moved to NYC at 18, she wandered into Dominique Ansel Bakery and snagged a job as a cashier/barista, two months before the launch of the Cronut. She quickly worked her way up to the role of assistant manager and then retail manager where she now oversees 15 people as well as directs up to 1,000-plus customers on the bakery’s busiest days.
Jonah Miller, 27Chef-Owner at Huertas
Most 14-year-old NYC high school students do not spend their summers toiling away in Downtown kitchens. But after a meal at Chanterelle at age 13, Jonah Miller became obsessed with the restaurant world and determined to find his place in it. “Everyone would say, ‘what are you doing? Go have fun with your summer,’” he recalls. While attending NYU, Miller worked with Peter Hoffman at Savoy, and then, after graduation, at Gus & Gabriel and Maialino, where he spent three years. A trip to Spain during college and another more recently inspired Miller’s Basque-style insta-hit Huertas. Passed pintxos in the front and a four-course menu del dia in the back have both critics and locals buzzing only three months in.
Shiraz Noor, 26General Manager at Perry St Restaurant
A first generation American — his parents are from India and Singapore — Shiraz Noor went against his family’s wishes by going into the service industry. “My dad is very conservative,” says Noor. “He worked his way up from nothing. So there’s no way in hell he was supporting that.” Finally, after graduating from CIA, and working in some of NYC’s most respected restaurants as both a cook and a server (Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern), he earned his family’s stamp of approval. After traveling home to Singapore for a while, Noor was lured back to work at Perry St, within the Jean-Georges empire, where he continues to shine as a consummate host and manager, though only his closest friends and customers know he is truly a jack of all trades.
Grant Reynolds, 26Wine Director at Charlie Bird
Just four years out of college, Grant Reynolds has already worked at a blue-chip wine estate in Burgundy, Copenhagen’s Noma and now at Charlie Bird, the incredibly delicious SoHo Italian restaurant that’s jam-packed every night. Among the throngs, there are always a clutch of hard-core wine geeks, who know that Reynolds (and Charlie Bird’s co-owner Robert Bohr) have assembled one of the coolest wine lists in the city, “whether you want to spend $50 or $200,” Reynolds says. It’s also the rare Italian restaurant where classic Barolo sits alongside radical California bottlings. “We don’t want to be dogmatic about wine,” he tells us. “In NYC, you have access to wines from all over the world — it would be a shame not to try them all.”
Spencer Rubin, 28Founder and Managing Partner at Melt Shop
Gotham native Spencer Rubin has been plotting out his multi-restaurant success from an early age. “When I was about eight or nine, I decided I wanted to own a restaurant one day. I made it my goal to learn whatever I could about it.” Upon graduating high school, Rubin attended the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and held internships at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and Restaurant Associates. After graduation, he worked at managing chain restaurant projects at BCD Development, which is where he met his current partner, Josh Morgan, and his grilled cheese dreams were born. He opened his first Melt Shop at age 25 and the chain, which serves items such as a fried chicken grilled cheese, has now expanded to three more locations in Manhattan with plans for more by the end of 2014.
Matthew Rudofker, 27Executive Chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar
One day at the age of 16, Philly native Matthew Rudofker knocked on chef Marc Vetri’s door. “I started going there a couple days a week after class,” he recalls of the unpaid internship. When he turned 18, he moved to New York and worked unpaid again at Cru before leaving for Oceana to work under Cornelius Gallagher. Gigs at Cru (paid, this time), Daniel and Blue Hill at Stone Barns followed but Rudofker didn’t really lay down his roots until signing on at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in 2010. There he worked with chef-owner David Chang to help develop the lunch program and add his own touches to the menu. As for his signature dishes: “[David Chang] would say the best dishes I’ve ever made are the beet salad and the sardines. I’ll go with his answer.”
Ashley Santoro, 29Wine Director at Narcissa & The Standard, East Village
As the wine director at John Fraser’s Narcissa, Ashley Santoro is doing something kind of radical: She’s highlighting American wines. “John’s food is so American- and Californian-focused that I wanted my list to match that point of view,” she says. “I also try to focus on wineries that are preserving the land for the future — something that also mirrors the ingredients in our kitchen.” Santoro, who previously worked at tapas spot Casa Mono, hasn’t totally given up on one of her Continental passions — sherry. Narcissa also has an unusually long list of sherries by the glass, and she’ll eagerly pour tastings or pairings for anyone willing to experiment. “With lighter food — salads and seafood — it’s one of the best things you can have.”
Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske , 29 and 24Chefs-Owners at Contra
The duo behind the buzzy LES eatery Contra is proving you can still get delicious and interesting food for a fair price ($55 for a five-course tasting menu) in Manhattan. Jeremiah Stone (savory) and Fabian von Hauske (bread and pastry) met while working on events at the International Culinary Center under mad cocktail scientist Dave Arnold and kept in touch after both of them headed off to Europe (Stone to France and von Hauske to Copenhagen). When they returned, they created a restaurant that joined their common backgrounds to serve progressive, experimental cooking to a downtown crowd — without uptown prices.
Abby Swain, 29Pastry Chef at Craft and Craftbar
As a kid, Abby Swain had two life goals: 1) To own a bed and breakfast; 2) To become a pastry chef. Thankfully, she’s made one come true. Swain is in charge of pastry at Craft and Craftbar, creating desserts that meet the high expectations set by chef-owner-TV star Tom Colicchio. “I try to be approachable, creative and delicious,” says Swain, whose menu keeps the Craft classics — donuts in cinnamon sugar, tarte Tatin — while adding fun twists, like making profiteroles from peas and strawberries (and filled with strawberry sorbet), or replacing the apples in tarte Tatin with butternut squash. Still, you’ll never see over-the-top garnishes on her plates. “For my style, less is more,” she says. “I want to be able to look at a dish and know exactly what it is. It’s dessert.”
Aaron Taber, 26Chef at Grindhaus
A California native, Taber made his way to the NYC culinary scene after stints in Bay Area kitchens like Benu and Tartine. An offer to come work at The Pines in Gowanus convinced him it was time to settle down in the Big Apple, and now you can find him running the show at Red Hook gem, Grindhaus. It’s a tiny operation, and Taber does just about everything in the kitchen, or “a four-by-four room with three induction burners,” as he describes it. The only other back-of-house employee is a dishwasher, so all of the prep, production and plating at the restaurant comes courtesy of the young chef, whose DIY ethos fits well with the scrappy neighborhood. The food Taber is turning out — beautifully composed, produce-driven plates — is polished enough for anywhere in the city.
Kenshiro Uki, 28General Manager at Sun Noodle NJ & Ramen Lab NYC
A third generation noodle master, Kenshiro Uki is a driving force behind the ramen boom that’s brought porky tonkotsu broth and tender chashu pork to nearly every corner of New York City. Born and raised in Hawaii, Uki moved to New Jersey in 2012 to help his family business — Sun Noodle, one of the country’s top ramen noodle producers — open an East Coast factory. He quickly established himself as the go-to noodle whisperer to chefs like David Chang, Ivan Orkin and Danny Bowien, who he works with closely to craft custom recipes (like Orkin’s rye-heavy version). His next venture is a full-on restaurant — the Ramen Lab — a 400-sq.-ft. space in NoLita with a lofty goal: “To create a true NY-style of ramen.”
Megan Vaughan, 28Operations Manager at Made Nice: Eleven Madison Park & The NoMad
For a professional in the restaurant industry, Megan Vaughan has not succeeded at several key positions. She graduated from the CIA, but didn’t thrive in a professional kitchen. She worked as a server at Eleven Madison Park, but “was terrible,” she says, and was quickly demoted to back waiter. But her losing streak didn’t last long. “I talked a lot about cheese with [EMP co-owner] Will Guidara, and realized, I could grow here.” She ended up working every position in the dining room — including starting its cheese program. Now working for both NoMad and EMP, her day-to-day consists of “whatever comes up,” from HR and accounting to heading up the service side of the EMP-Alinea swap that was the hottest table in NYC for its short run.
Titus Wang, 29Sous-Chef at Morimoto
Taiwan-born Titus “Danny” Wang knew as a kid he was either going to be a chef or a cop. But a family history and passion for food eventually won Wang over. After moving stateside, Wang’s first kitchen job was at Anita Lo’s Annisa; after a staff shake-up, he was offered a grill position as an intern. “Anita asked me: ‘Do you know your meat temperatures?’” Wang recalls. “I said ‘yes.’ I didn’t tell her until six years later that I had lied.” After five years at Annisa, Wang moved on to Delicatessen, where he managed 40 cooks and sharpened his business skills. Two years later, Wang took on his current role as sous-chef at Morimoto under chef (and 30 Under 30 NYC alum) Erik Battes, where he and the team are engineering mind-bending presentations like the levitating plate.
Samantha Wasser, 27Creative Director and Partner at ESquared Hospitality
The daughter of ESquared Hospitality CEO Jimmy Haber — founder of the BLT Steak empire — Samantha Wasser, didn't want to "go into the restaurant business by default." But after a sideline in celebrity marketing, she decided to embrace the inevitable and join the family business. Now Wasser is charged with the youth-ification of the company’s holdings. She helped launch nightlife concept Bar Nana in the Meatpacking District and most recently opened Horchata, a Mexican spot in the former BLT Burger space. "I had zero budget and zero time," she says, describing how she had to do everything from conceive the branding to paint the bathrooms. Asked if she’d like to take the reins of ESquared one day — which is launching BLT restaurants from White Plains to Hong Kong — Wasser responds with a shrug, a chuckle and a strong "maybe."