They say that Austin is the next big food town, and this crew of youngsters is a big reason why. From a kickass female butcher to a death-metal-playing brewer to urban farmers changing the game for sustainability, here are the high-achieving chefs, bartenders and front-of-house stars who are making culinary waves all over the city.
Story by Megan Giller; photos by Jenny Sathngam
Logan Allender, 26Head of Production, Cuvee Coffee Roasting Co.
When Cuvee wanted to make a cold-brew coffee, Allender decided to take a crack at it. Using the skills he had honed as a home brewer, the Texas native went on to develop what’s become the shop’s signature beverage. Now he spends his days with a small team roasting, brewing and canning — think 4,000 pounds of beans and 1,200 gallons of cold brew per week — while also working closely with owner Mike McKim to source top-notch coffee from around the world.
Kerstin Bellah, 23Pastry Chef, Juniper
Bellah’s desserts are truly a work of art. The pastry chef cut her chops at Uchiko before opening St. Philip, where she developed the bakery’s menu, and now she’s going back to her fine-dining roots at Juniper, a highly anticipated Italian eatery slated to open this fall. What should diners expect? Sweets like the “lemon tart,” a sphere of mascarpone mousse and Meyer lemon curd in a jar with a “lid” of tart dough and meringue that’s meant to be interactive. “People like to smash things when they eat,” says Bellah.
Adam Brick, 27Chef, Apis Restaurant
Not many 13-year-olds get their first job in a fine-dining restaurant, but this Austin native started at one of the best: Backstage Steakhouse. After high school, he moved to New York to attend the CIA and then worked at Daniel, Aureole and Momofuku Ssäm Bar. From there, Brick opened a series of restaurants in DC for Top Chef star Mike Isabella (Kapnos, G Sandwich Shop). He eventually decided to slow down and move back to Austin, finding balance in a partnership with Apis chef-owner Taylor Hall. “It’s a synergy between his down-to-earth approach and my maniacal New York City drive,” Brick says.
Laura McIngvale Brown and Phillip Brown, Both 29Owner and Owner/Executive Chef, Vince Young Steakhouse
After college and culinary school, the couple had planned to open a “tiny cheese and charcuterie shop,” but Laura’s father (who owns Gallery Furniture in Houston) told them that wouldn’t be enough. This is Texas, after all, and their restaurant should reflect a bold attitude and a big space. So in 2010, the pair teamed up with family friend Vince Young to launch a high-end steakhouse in Downtown Austin that serves up classic dishes with a Southern twist. They followed that up with Brick & Mortar Kitchen in Houston, and they have their sights set on more projects.
Steven Carson, 26General Manager, Olamaie
Carson already had quite the résumé when a friend from culinary school approached him about opening a place in Austin: He had attended the CIA in New York, then worked at The Little Nell in Aspen and Quince in San Francisco. Carson’s charm and talent as assistant general manager helped the local spot skyrocket to national success, with James Beard nominations and recognition by countless publications. In June, he became GM, and though he’s invested in the restaurant for the foreseeable future, he’d eventually like to open his own place.
Kendall Dinwiddie, 29Wine Sales Manager, MAX’s Wine Dive – Austin
Dinwiddie never thought she’d become a wine nerd. But when she moved to town and got a job at MAX’s, the beer buff “became consumed” with all things vino. Having gone through the intense in-house education program, the wine enthusiast — she’s planning to become a certified sommelier — not only maintains the champagne-focused wine list but also educates the staff. “I cultivate the passion behind the wine,” she explains about her training methods. “And stories are what captivate people.”
Ben Doherty and Zac Maurais, Both 26Co-Founder/CEO and Co-Founder/CMO, Favor
It all started with a purchase of Coding for Dummies. “We bought one copy,” Maurais recalls, “and cut the book into sections with a bread knife so we could both learn at the same time.” That eventually led to the founding of Favor, an app that delivers food from any restaurant to your door. With 48 full-time employees and a shiny $13 million in venture capitalist funding, the company, which is now in several U.S. cities, has many more in the works. “We like to say, ‘Don’t stop till Tokyo.’”
Rob Drennan, 27Sous-Chef, qui
Drennan blames his mom for his love of cooking: it was her terrible family dinners (like baked cod topped with Rotel) that first inspired him to get behind the stove. The Oklahoma native built up his culinary chops at Uchiko and helped chef Paul Qui open his flagship restaurant, where he worked his way up from line cook to sous-chef. Drennan just staged at Maaemo in Norway and plans to do the same in Kyoto. “I want to understand the fundamentals that make old-school Japanese cooking unique,” he says.
Brett Esler, 27Barman, Whisler's
Esler knows a thing or two about cocktail competitions. The talented bartender won the 2014 Broker’s Bowler Cup Nationals and placed as a finalist in countless other matches thanks to his classic style. So it’s no surprise that one of his favorite drinks to make at Whisler's is a straight-up old fashioned — he fires up about 200 of them on a weekend night. “It’s nice to make it simple and show someone how good it can taste when it’s done the right way.”
Nora Hamerman, 28Founder-CEO, Great Bean Chocolate
Plenty of chocolate comes in pretty packaging these days, but not many are designed by the chocolatier herself. But that’s the case at Great Bean, founded by Hamerman, a Rhode Island School of Design grad who went from playing around with raw cacao in her dorm room to rolling truffles at Daily Juice Cafe. In 2012, she launched her own company, pushing out bars that meld chocolate with herbs like maca root, ginkgo biloba and kava kava. And just like the charming labels, each item is handcrafted with care by Hamerman herself.
Michael Hanan and Lloyd Minick, 27 and 28Co-Founders, Ten Acre Organics
The produce used at some of Austin’s hottest restaurants is coming from the yards of this green-thumbed duo. Neither had a background in agriculture, but an interest in farming led to the founding of Ten Acres in 2012. Using aquaponics, Hanan and Minick are able to minimize the amount of water typically needed for farming. “Every head of lettuce that we grow saves over 24 gallons of water,” explains Hanan. Plans to expand to a 36,000-sq.-ft. facility in Bastrop County means that locals — and not just Dai Due and Hopdoddy — can eventually purchase the sustainably grown goods.
Adam Jacoby, 28Owner-Operator, Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile
One of Jacoby’s earliest memories took place on his family’s West Texas ranch. “I remember sitting in the back of my grandpa’s pickup and feeding the cows,” he says. That childhood experience served as the inspiration for his East Austin restaurant, which serves up Southern comfort food with a twist, often showcasing meat sourced from the farm. On the cusp of its one-year anniversary, Jacoby’s continues to grow, adding lunch to the roster with more ideas in the works.
Harman Singh Johar, 24Food Tech Operations Consultant
Walking into Johar’s college dorm room was quite literally entering a bug farm: bored with biotechnology, the first-generation Punjabi started an edible-insect company, extending the Sikh principle of langar (“open kitchen”) to mean feeding the world. Since selling the company, World Ento (which provides crickets and cricket flour to restaurants like Odd Duck), just a few months ago, Johar is diving into the world of food tech headfirst, consulting for edible-insect and 3-D-printing tech companies in Austin and across the globe.
Chris Kelly, 28Beverage Director, Lenoir
Three years ago, Kelly walked into Lenoir to check out the then-unopened restaurant and ended up talking with chef-owner Todd Duplechan for an hour. The Colorado native had moved to Austin for both music and wine, and he immediately found a fit at the South First Street charmer, where he serves as beverage director. He’s since taken his two passions to new levels: the talented folk musician just released his second album, and he’s also studying for the level 3 advanced sommelier certification.
Chloe Kennedy, 25General Manager, Épicerie
There’s no question that Kennedy is chef-owner Sarah McIntosh’s right-hand woman. Beyond running the restaurant, the multi-talented GM also buys cheese for the famous cheese counter, trains staff and helps McIntosh taste new dishes. Not being able to afford culinary school turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Kennedy decided to work front of house, and now she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Managing is my strongest trait,” she says.
Justin Lavenue, 27Owner/Beverage Director, The Roosevelt Room
Just two months into Lavenue’s first bartending gig, the owner asked him to create a new cocktail list. He not only revamped the menu but also created an impressive 40 drinks. That fire in the belly still drives the young barman, who, along with partner Dennis Gobis (a 2014 30 Under 30 alum), just opened The Roosevelt Room as a placeholder for De Rigeur, a 10,000-sq.-ft. spot that’ll be the biggest cocktail bar in Texas.
Oscar Martinez, 24Brewer, Independence Brewing Co.
Martinez moved to Austin to play death metal. But when a friend handed him a Stash IPA from Independence Brewing, he knew he wanted to learn more. He started volunteering on the bottling line just two months shy of his 21st birthday and worked his way up to brewer. “Now I live by the code of IPA,” he says. Even though beer’s his full-time job, Martinez hasn’t given up on his music: you can find his band, Manifest Insanity, rocking out Downtown several times per month.
Christopher McGhee, 28Pitmaster, Freedmen’s
McGhee moved to Austin for barbecue. After perfecting his techniques with his dad in North Carolina, the pitmaster worked at Lambert’s and La Barbecue before landing at Freedmen’s, where he has more control over both the pit and the finished product, like that peppery brisket. A onetime aspiring engineer, he still does a lot of tinkering on his own time. When McGhee isn’t manning the fire six days a week, he keeps busy by building his own smoker “piece by piece.”
Roman Murphy, 28Executive Chef/Pastry Chef, Bess Bistro
Murphy has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in town (Jeffrey’s, Congress, Second Bar + Kitchen). But his most impressive task? Reconceptualizing the menu at Bess Bistro, which recently shifted from a classic French bistro to a more contemporary New American focus. Now that he’s finished reworking the pastry program, Murphy has another challenge to take on: developing a few acres of farmland with fresh produce as well as its own beehives.
Bradley Nicholson, 29Sous-Chef, Barley Swine
The Jackson, Miss., native had cooked in diners all through high school, but it took him a few more years to consider cheffing as a serious profession. After attending Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, he worked at Enoteca and Vespaio for a year, but he’s spent most of his time at Barley Swine, where, thanks to chef-owner Bryce Gilmore’s mentorship, he’s had a big hand in shaping the menu, from brainstorming ideas with the team to creating his own dishes.
Patrick Pierce, 29Co-Founder, Fleet Coffee
Pierce knows coffee. He learned the ropes from the owner of Cuvee, helped grow Caffé Medici and won the first-ever South Central Regional Barista Competition in 2007. Now he’s striking out on his own with fellow Cuvee alum Lorenzo Perkins with a new concept that focuses on house specialties rather than classics. “People in the industry take it way too serious, and it should be fun and educational,” says Pierce. Case in point: their signature is a drink called the East Austin Special, made with orange cream citrate, tiki bitters, club soda, espresso and vanilla-lemon syrup. Try it starting in September.
Julia Poplawsky, 27Head Butcher, Dai Due
During an internship at 4505 Meats in San Francisco, Poplawsky “fell in love with butchering,” she says. Instead of returning to the CIA in New York to finish culinary school, she stayed in SF to hone her craft. In 2014, the native Texan came to stage at Dai Due — and ended up staying on full-time. In addition to breaking down hundreds of animals a week, the ambitious young butcher will start teaching classes with Dai Due chef-owner Jesse Griffiths soon and plans to start an educational outreach program too.
Susana Querejazu, 27Pastry Chef, Odd Duck
The native Austinite grew up eating at fancy restaurants like Chez Nous on special occasions, but it wasn’t long before she found herself cooking in some of those top kitchens. After graduating from the Texas Culinary Academy, Querejazu learned her way with sweets at Vespaio, Amity Bakery and Uchi before decamping for Odd Duck, where she founded the pastry and bread program. While she’s become known for her stunning composed desserts, Querejazu is just as passionate about the pastries rolled out during brunch, which are “relaxed, with more of an emphasis on baking.”
Carly Rossmeissl, 26Pastry Chef, Juliet Ristorante
Making good bread is anything but easy. Just ask Rossmeisl, the Ohio native who moved to Austin to bake at Easy Tiger. “It’s simple, but also complex, because it’s a living thing,” explains Rossmeisl, who’s currently spearheading the pastry program at Juliet. Along with all the desserts and loaves, the dough whisperer also works her magic on another crucial staple: fresh pasta.
Gilberto Solis, 28General Manager, The Peached Tortilla
Born in El Paso but raised in Juarez, Mexico, Solis returned to Texas in 2010 for culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. After graduation, he worked at several restaurants before finding his way to The Peached Tortilla as a line cook. He knew it was a fit immediately and helped the truck expand into a brick-and-mortar location in December 2014. The emphasis on modern Asian cooking has stayed the same, but there is one big difference between the two: “AC,” says Solis with a laugh.
Steven Stanwyck, 26Manager, Uchi Group
The California native has lived more lives than the average 25-year-old: he studied Japanese, trained as a sushi chef and worked for the Dallas Cowboys as a stadium manager. He’s also one of the only people at the Uchi Group who has worked at each restaurant, from Uchi’s various outposts to stand-alone concepts like St. Philip, where he’s currently the front-of-house manager. In fact, he’s so valuable to the group that it created a new position for him, where he’ll train other managers while helping out with the beverage program.
Ana Torrealba, 27Pastry Chef, El Naranjo
The daughter of acclaimed chef Iliana de la Vega, Torrealba has been working in her mother’s kitchen since she was 15, first baking bread at the family’s restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico, and now as the pastry chef at El Naranjo, where she turns out delicious plated desserts to match her mother’s modern Mexican menu. In between, she studied at the CIA in New York, and now she’s off to Mexico to study food engineering. But don’t worry: Torrealba will be coming back regularly to ensure that the chocolate cake stays as flawless as usual.
David Whalen, 29Chef de Cuisine, Jeffrey's
He may be one of the city’s hottest up-and-comers, but what Whalen eats at home is about as simple as it gets. “I make myself peanut butter and jelly,” he says. That’s quite the opposite of the upscale cooking that he does at Jeffrey’s and all the other prestigious kitchens (Abacus in Dallas, Spruce in the Bay Area) that he has passed through. When he’s not behind the stove, you can spot the chef dining around town at favorites like Dai Due, Odd Duck and Barley Swine.
Bonnie Wright, 27Chef de Partie, Olamaie
When Wright was growing up in rural Virginia, her mother grew most of their food and cooked all of their meals. That inspired the go-getter to join chef Grant Achatz’s team at Alinea in Chicago and then help out the Michigan farmer who supplies Achatz with much of his produce. From there, Wright moved to Austin and opened the Southern Asian fusion hot spot Kin & Comfort with Ek Timrerk (East Side King, Titaya’s). Now she’s cheffing at Olamaie as she prepares for a bigger project of her own.
Rania Zayyat, 28Lead Sommelier, laV Restaurant and Wine Bar
Only a handful of people in the country can boast the title of advanced sommelier, and lucky for Austin, Zayyat is one of them. Her indispensable knowledge is what caught the attention of laV’s owners when they dined at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, where she worked as a server and assistant sommelier. Tasked with promoting the wine program, the seasoned somm has helped the restaurant win awards for its robust list of more than 1,200 labels and plans on learning everything there is to know about wine, including how to make it.