Thirty years ago, Reagan was president. MTV was king. Madonna was a Material Girl. And none of the following people existed. For Boston’s 30 Under 30 class of 2015, we’ve once again scoured the city and triple-checked birth certificates to find the young power players who are innovating Boston’s dining culture. You’ll find chefs and bartenders galore, but also an interior designer, a responsible-farming duo and inventors of game-changing apps.
-Story by Scott Kearnan, Photos by Joel Benjamin
Daniel Amighi, 26Chef de Cuisine, La Brasa
With his arrival this year, Amighi gave East Somerville’s La Brasa — a promising but scattershot 2014 open — renewed focus that has reignited interest. With the cool head of a self-avowed “beach bum” but the steady hand of a well-trained chef (few bums can say they’ve staged at Le Chateaubriand), Amighi, fresh off a sous role at Ribelle, refined La Brasa’s too-global concept into a more directed and inventive upmarket Mexican menu. Meanwhile, Further Food Stuffs, his “coast modern” pop-up with Viale bar manager Patrick Gaggiano, lets his funky side (think blood sausage–stuffed apples) run free.
Tara Bresnick, 26Bakery Director, Blackbird Doughnuts
Bresnick wakes at 3 AM to fly over to Blackbird and oversee the daily production of over 2,000 donuts she devised in unique sweet and savory flavors unlike any other treats in town. We’re talking white pizza, jalapeño-pear and coffee-bacon to name a few. Managing that level of output (and a staff of 15) isn’t easy, but she trained with the best, working under icon Joanne Chang at Flour before taking a pastry chef role at Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant. Now Bresnick says there’s “talk about growth” for Blackbird, and if that happens, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Stefanie Bui, 29Sous-Chef, Deuxave
Take note, young chefs: assertiveness is everything. “The guy on the train was looking at food pictures on his phone. I asked him if he cooked,” recalls Bui, who struck up a conversation with Matthew Audette, then–chef de cuisine at Radius. Boom! She scored an internship at Michael Schlow’s late, great icon before three years at Barbara Lynch’s No. 9 Park, where she earned a sous role. Now she’s earned a big rep for strutting her impressive skills at Deuxave under 30 Under 30 alum, Chris Coombs. But her ultimate goal is surprisingly modest: she’d love to one day own a Vietnamese sandwich shop.
Corey Bunnewith, 27Co-Founder & Proprietor, Boston Harbor Distillery
Bunnewith studied baking at the CIA, but a cellar-master internship at Balthazar turned him on to the beverage biz. He cut his cocktail-world teeth at Barbara Lynch’s Drink, developed the bar program at Coppa, worked to launch onthebar — a smartphone app that tracks your favorite mixologists — and started his own brand management company, Inspired Beverage, to help clients like Four Roses Bourbon gain a toehold in the Hub. His just-debuted Dorchester distillery and tasting room now creates craft whiskeys and other unique American-style spirits — like Lawley’s, distilled from molasses and maple syrup — named for historic New England entrepreneurs.
Kelly Daigle, 26Co-Founder, Clothbound
Any chef-restaurateur will tell you two things: good help is getting harder to find, and staffing is a time-suck. Enter Clothbound, a just-launched hiring and professional-networking mobile app designed specifically for restaurant employees. Managers easily post prewritten job descriptions, workers create detailed profiles to be constantly scouted and Clothbound even emails alerts of potential hiring matches. Within months, 50 restaurants and 700 users were already on the app, and Daigle’s industry experience — she’s worked in marketing and managing roles for L’Espalier, Sel de la Terre and Island Creek Oyster Bar — ensures she and her team are poised to grow it fast.
Ran Duan, 29Beverage Director, The Baldwin Bar
What a year. First GQ dubbed Duan “America’s Best Bartender” and featured him on its “Men of the Year” issue cover. Then his email exchange with a pretentious Harvard professor who threatened legal action over a $4 overcharge from Woburn’s Sichuan Garden II, Duan’s family restaurant, went viral. (It’s a master class in maintaining composure with even the worst customers.) Yet the media exposure never eclipsed the A-plus mixology plied at Baldwin, a suburban secret-no-longer that just unrolled a space-doubling upstairs expansion. Duan’s next big idea: to introduce a distinct rum bar at Sichuan’s sibling in Brookline.
Eric Frier, 27Sous-Chef, Ribelle
During a break from touring with his punk band, Frier took a job washing dishes at a Florida pizza joint to earn extra cash. But cooking is what rocked Frier’s world. So he pursued a culinary degree before blindly contacting Jamie Bissonnette — a name he knew from music circles — and scoring an internship at Toro. Frier rose to sous-chef at sibling spot Coppa before moving to wunderkind Tim Maslow’s Ribelle. Besides his sous role, he works on recipe development for its sister Strip-T’s, creating quirky plates like sweet creamed corn with shishito and crispy chicken skin. Rock on.
Sarah Hanson, 29Co-Owner, Five Horses Tavern and Worden Hall
If you need proof that persistence pays off, here’s Hanson. The beer and spirits lover rose from college-aged bartender at the late Flash’s Cocktails to general manager of Somerville’s Five Horses Tavern, then made managing partner of Five Horses’ South End. She’s also earned ownership stake in her group’s just-opened Southie gastropub Worden Hall, where brown-liquor lovers find a replication of the super-extensive, 100-variety-deep whiskey program she created at the original Horses. Her career as a restaurateur isn’t the only thing racing ahead: in April Hanson, who has already competed in a triathlon, will run the Boston Marathon.
Will Isaza, 24Spirits Whisperer/Manager, Fairsted Kitchen
Isaza doesn’t simply mix drinks, he performs. A competition-circuit fixture, he has twice been chosen as one of 10 U.S. contenders for the USBG World Flair Cocktail Championship, the Olympics for bottle jugglers. But showmanship never overshadows sophistication. Isaza, who also manages FOH, just launched a new dish-cocktail pairing program at Fairsted’s bar (think pork-stuffed cabbage alongside pear-infused cognac with Green Chartreuse and egg white), and he’s earned a rep for inventive communal drinks — say, an autumnal punch served tableside from a smoking decanter.
Julian Jung, 25Founder, Tablelist
In college, this enterprising disruptor brokered real estate over bottle service at nightclubs. From behind the velvet rope he conceived a killer idea: an app that would demystify the VIP experience, letting guests book tables, prepay covers and more with a few swipes. The result: Tablelist, which raised $4.5 million in funding since 2013 and now works with about 200 venues in nine cities. Locally that includes Empire and Red Lantern. Says Jung: “We’re building an ecosystem that answers the general question, ‘How do I go out tonight?’”
Mary-Kate Jurek, 27Manager, Alden & Harlow
Jurek, a former manager at well-rated local vegan chain Life Alive, brings her self-avowed hippie streak (she interned in herbal medicine for several years) to Harvard Square’s huge hit Alden & Harlow. In addition to helping run front-of-house, she’s making her own kombucha, now offered on tap and integrated into creative cocktails, and she’s impressed chef Michael Scelfo enough to become general manager of his highly anticipated Waypoint, a coastal New England–inspired restaurant coming to Cambridge in 2016. It’s a perfect fit: Jurek, daughter of a commercial Gloucester fisherman, dreams of running a sustainably sourced shoreside B&B.
Fanny Katz, 28General Manager, Central Bottle Wine and Provisions
After attending a performing-arts college in Chicago, Katz stretched her hospitality legs with a serving job at B&G Oysters, then rose through the ranks of Barbara Lynch’s high-end empire, eventually emerging as principal bartender at Menton and serving as assistant to the group’s wine director Cat Silirie — ordering, tasting and pairing varietals for a 5,000-bottle cellar. She moved over to Belly Wine Bar, overseeing its well-received beverage lists, and now sibling spot Central Bottle, where her informed gift for gab makes wine accessible to oenophiles of any stage. “Education,” says Katz, “is our greatest tool.”
Tyler Kinnett, 26Executive Chef, Harvest Restaurant
“The first time I put on a chef’s jacket, I had this feeling I can’t describe,” says Kinnett, whose teenage job at a golf club’s restaurant spurred him to culinary school and an internship under Boston legend Gordon Hamersley. Next came Sel de la Terre and Harvard Square’s Harvest, where a sous role (plus sabbaticals at Publican and Per Se) prepped him to replace longtime executive chef Mary Dumont this year. Adding a handmade pasta section and decadent 6-course tasting menu were his first imprints, but Kinnett says he’s proudest to simply be part of the 40-year-old restaurant’s legacy.
Michael Lombardi, 29Co-Executive Chef/Partner, SRV
SRV, the South End’s highly anticipated new Venetian bacaro, feels like a full-circle accomplishment for Lombardi. He always dreamed of owning a restaurant, but first wanted to understand the inside of a kitchen. Studies at the CIA led to an internship in Italy, where he met friend Kevin O’Donnell, with whom he’d continue to work at Paris’s L’Office, NYC’s Del Posto, Boston’s The Salty Pig and now SRV, where Lombardi says the Italian small plates and wine program are designed to encourage a social scene.
Nicole Losada, 23Truck Boss, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese
Roxy’s was one of the first and most popular entries in Boston’s still-growing food-truck fleet, and Losada keeps the mobile operation moving smoothly. The former fry cook oversees all operations — from scheduling to filing for permits to changing the occasional tire — for a staff of 30 at 12 different food-truck sites per week (plus special events and catering), feeding about 250,000 guests per year. The Roxy’s brand continues to grow: its Allston brick-and-mortar has a Lynnfield sibling and Seaport shipping-container kiosk coming, plus there’s an upcoming restaurant-arcade venture with Cambridge’s Area Four. Losada is sure to grow with it.
Ryan MacKay and Tom Corbett, 25Owners, Lilac Hedge Farm
They’re poster boys for the young farmer movement, launching their responsibly raised meats farm while still in college. Now Lilac operates on multiple properties, mainly a just-acquired 350-acre historic Holden farm, has a dozen people on payroll and is one of Massachusetts’s largest livestock producers, retailing through wholesale accounts, CSAs and farmer’s markets — including the new Boston Public Market, America’s first year-round, entirely local-foods market. They also advocate for farming’s future: both sit on the Massachusetts Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, and MacKay is on the Livestock Committee and the Farm Bureau Federation’s board of directors, working toward legislative policy changes like the legalization of raw milk.
Mareena McKenzie, 28Pastry Consultant, Shepard
McKenzie brings beautiful new projects to life. In 2013, while launching the now-lauded Ribelle as its (very pregnant) opening pastry chef, her water broke during service. (At least husband Peter, chef de cuisine, wasn’t far.) While devising desserts for Shepard, the highly anticipated inheritor of the Chez Henri space, McKenzie discovered she was pregnant again. Balancing restaurant launches with motherhood is hard, but each project is the product of McKenzie’s love for cooking, honed everywhere from Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts to Nantucket’s Provisions. And her blossoming from-home cake biz even has its first staffer: “I already bake with my son. He’s a restaurant kid, after all.”
Evie Noël, 27Owner-Operator, Sabertooth Vegan Bakery
She once worked as a baker in Portland, Oregon, and as a bike messenger in Philly. So naturally, Noël launched a one-woman vegan bakery biz out of a bicycle-pulled cart on the streets of Burlington, Vermont. She gained a cult following for cookies, cupcakes and her now-primary focus, donuts (made in fascinating flavors like horchata and lavender–white chocolate), while baking out of Jamaica Plain’s Fazenda Coffee Roasters. But this year she partnered with fellow vegan concept Taco Party on that food truck’s first brick-and-mortar eatery; now based entirely out of their shared Somerville spot, Sabertooth is taking an even bigger bite out of Boston’s vegan scene.
Megan Parker-Gray, 27Beer Director, Row 34
She once worked in the photography archives of Polaroid — but now Parker-Gray curates her true passion: beer. Brew geeks keep raving about the constantly changing list of 24 taps (and single cask selection) Parker-Gray helms at Row 34, where she landed following a management role at chef Jeremy Sewall’s other restaurant Lineage. Hundreds of varieties have flowed since it opened two years ago (this year a second location debuted in Portsmouth, New Hampshire), each a discovery: from funky American wild ales to unfamiliar smoked beers and esoteric European suds unearthed during scouts to Belgium, Denmark or Sweden.
Nicholas Peters, 27Executive Chef, Sea Glass at The Castle
“I wasn’t the kind of kid who was good at sports, but in culinary classes I fit in,” says Peters, who was nonetheless one tireless competitor on Hell’s Kitchen (he made the final five). A former sous at Cambridge’s Harvest, Peters left the show with renewed confidence, returning to his native North Shore to open Salem’s Sea Level Oyster Bar and nab his first exec chef role at Sea Glass inside a historic Gloucester inn. His own place, of course, is the dream: “I want to design everything from menu to decor.”
Alex Pineda, 25Executive Sous-Chef, Scampo
Don’t hand a seven-year-old a kitchen knife — unless you’re Lydia Shire, matriarch of Boston’s dining scene. Her son (with butcher and kitchen manager Uriel Pineda) took his first steps in the kitchen of Shire’s legendary BIBA, where he was making pizzas at seven. He’s since cooked for Wolfgang Puck Catering and at Waterhouse in the New Hampshire mountains. Now at Shire’s Scampo, Pineda is both proud of his legacy and looking to carve his own path. To that end, he plans to eventually reopen BIBA, where his journey began.
Hana Quon, 28Pastry Chef/General Manager, Café Madeleine
At a young age, Quon has already found peers in the old-world masters of her craft. The L’Academie de Cuisine grad studied and worked in Paris under macaron masters Jean Michel Perruchon, MOF and Sebastian Bouillet; spent two years at Wellfleet’s PB Boulangerie & Bistro with chef Philippe Rispoli; and is now entrusted by Frederic Robert, who spent 25 years as pastry partner to Alain Ducasse, to represent his work and run day-to-day operations at his South End patisserie. Quon’s French technique–focused approach to pastries, from jam-stuffed flaky brioche feuilleté to classic chaussons aux pommes, manages to meet the high bar set by star mentors.
Nicholas Rellas and Justin Robinson, Both 26Co-Founders, Drizly
Since 2013, $18 million in funding has been raised for Drizly, brainchild of these Boston College classmates, an innovative app letting users in 18 cities order beer, wine and spirits for immediate home delivery. (It’s based in the heavily regulated Bay State because “if we could make it happen here, we could make it happen anywhere,” says Rellas.) And Drizly is just starting to scrape the surface of working with restaurants and bars. A new partnership with Food & Wine now produces original content for the platform, but Rellas teases a “holy grail” functionality that would “let you try something from a restaurant at your doorstep.”
Colin B. Roy, 29Sous-Chef/Kitchen Manager, Commonwealth Kitchen
As Commonwealth Kitchen, a nonprofit, social justice–minded incubator for artisanal-food makers, was preparing for its 2015 move to a massive new Dorchester facility, tripling its operations, it relied on Roy to keep things running smoothly. Roy, alum of the start-up success story Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, oversees Commonwealth’s kitchens used by 45 different entrepreneurs, from food-truck operators to small-batch macaron makers. He offers recipe development, helps newbie business owners (many of whom reflect diverse communities subjected to social inequalities) navigates bureaucratic mazes and connects them with farmers and like-minded collaborators, all with the end goal of helping each artisan realize a dream.
Lea Sasportes, 29Franchise Developer, Amorino New England
For Sasportes, success can’t come fast enough. The French-born entrepreneur’s degrees in biotechnology and management led her to work on fascinating food-service projects: for instance, researching the right combos of desirable bacteria to preserve meats. But agro-industry breakthroughs move slowly, so Sasportes ditched the day job to start scooping at her favorite European gelato chain, managing three Paris branches with the intent to bring it stateside. She chose Boston, and March’s Newbury Street opening is slated to be her first of seven stores and kiosks in the Boston area; Sasportes is already eyeing opportunities in Cape Cod, Newport and other summer tourist–friendly spots.
Cory Seeker, 25Chef de Cuisine, TRADE
Seeker is only slightly older than Jody Adams’ iconic restaurant Rialto — yet Adams totally trusts her talented protégé at the helm of her younger TRADE. He landed in his high school’s culinary-arts program when his first choice, auto tech, was overenrolled. But passion and talent took him to kitchens in Key Largo and Cape Cod. Now Adams offers much autonomy: his menus earn her approval, his execution reflects her caliber of chef. And she is, says Seeker, the best teacher he’s had: “She’s helped me discover who I am and who I want to be.”
Justin Shoults, 29Executive Chef, Oak + Rowan
It’s ironic that an Ohioan would wind up a master of seafood, but so it is with Shoults. The CIA grad’s early work at Nantucket’s Oran Mor Bistro set him on a culinary course that truly flourished at Newburyport siblings Ceia Kitchen + Bar and BRINE. As opening chef of the latter, his sophisticated plates (and stellar caviar program) wowed diners. Now he’s set to open that restaurant group’s first Boston venture, Oak + Rowan, in Fort Point next summer. Expect composed seasonal surf ‘n’ turf and a replication of BRINE’s international caviar program, with a little extra city sheen.
Peter Szigeti, 26Beverage Director, Committee
Budapest-born Szigeti pursued a passion for photography before catching the bartending bug. He was hitting the global cocktail competition circuit by age 19, and now at the Seaport hot spot, he approaches mixing drinks like composing a photo, filling unique vessels (think shark-shaped stemware) with lusciously layered spirits, seasonal housemade tinctures (brown sugar and butternut squash purée, anyone?) and attention-grabbing garnishes, from candied bacon to dehydrated fruits set aflame before guests’ eyes. His dream: to found a bartending school that teaches the unique histories of cocktail cultures from cosmopolitan cities around the world.
Alex Tannenbaum, 28Co-Owner, Naco Taco
This Newton native’s first career was in commercial real-estate development, but once he connected with Brian Lesser, the restaurateur and investor whose Speakeasy Group has had its hands in the launch of countless Boston venues, he discovered his true passion. He helped Lesser open the W Hotel’s subterranean nightclub Tunnel and Harvard Square’s breakout hit Alden & Harlow, whose chef Michael Scelfo developed the menu (including one helluva pig’s head torta) for the quirky Naco Taco, Tannenbaum’s first venture as an owner. Next up: plans to expand the taqueria.
Piya Wiwatyukhan, 25Project Manager/Designer, Sousa Design Architects
Sousa is responsible for some of the city’s most eye-catching restaurant interiors, and Wiwatyukhan is a star on its team. Tavern Road, Blackbird Doughnuts and Basho Japanese Brasserie owe their aesthetic to his work, and this year he conquered two major projects: transforming the South End’s old-school Hamersley’s Bistro into the contemporary pan-Asian Banyan Refuge & Bar, and assuming project management for all franchisees of the fast-growing Wahlburgers chain. His ultimate goal: to design a stylish new spot for his parents, who own Little Duck Thai in Quincy.