By the looks of this year’s Zagat 30 Under 30 list, there is no shortage of hot young hospitality talent in the City of Angels. There are teams of young entrepreneurs taking the lobster roll, poke and falafel trends to new heights; a baker rising to the top with his authentic Austrian breads and pastries; a Nashville hot chicken master; and bar experts making sure we’ll never be without a proper old fashioned or innovative cocktail for many years to come. Once again we celebrate the trailblazers in beer, butchery, wine, food trucks and more, all nominated by their peers, bosses, us and you, Zagat readers. Here’s to the class of 2015!
-Story by Lesley Balla, photos by Ryan Tanaka
Mary Bartlett, 28Assistant General Manager, Honeycut, Training and Development, Proprietors LLC
The best part about working at a bar with a disco attached is getting the DJ to play your favorite bad dance-party music, says Bartlett. At Honeycut and for the Proprietors LLC team, she has her hands in everything, from bartending to helping develop new cocktails, training staff and coordinating events. When Maxwell Leer and Adam Vourvoulis roll through with their Wine Rave parties, they credit her for her “bioluminescent beverage” techniques, which just means lighting their wine cocktails in really cool ways. If you find yourself on the dance floor, she recommends sipping her Thug Passion, a Chardonnay-based blue drink on draft.
Nikki Booth and Chloe Dahl, 24 and 25Owners, Knuckle & Claw
Striking while the lobster roll craze is hot, Dahl and Booth took their farmer's market–tested concept to new heights with their charming New England–inspired seafood shack in Silver Lake. Dahl — her grandfather is beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl — grew up in LA, but summered on Martha’s Vineyard where lobster rolls are serious business. Booth got her degree in hospitality management in Hawaii and is an island girl herself. Now engaged, the two combined their talents (and Booth’s secret spice) to create one delicious lobster roll. Look for a Westside location soon.
Brittany Cassidy, 29Executive Sous-Chef, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen
While dancing professionally for a company in San Diego, Cassidy often catered intermissions during show performances, until finally someone suggested she go to culinary school. “Dance — the spatial awareness, flexibility, memory, all of it — set me up for a life in a kitchen better than anything else,” she says. She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2008 and landed at Rustic Canyon as a line cook, where executive chef Jeremy Fox promoted her to chef de cuisine to run the day-to-day operations for the ultra-seasonal California kitchen in Santa Monica.
Seth Cohen and Brett Nestadt, Both 27Co-Founders, Sweetfin Poké
Poke is everywhere right now, but it wasn’t so when Cohen and Nestadt were hashing out their idea for Sweetfin after graduating from USC. Their Santa Monica spot was the first chef-driven one to open, with Dakota Weiss creating recipes for the housemade sauces, toppings and fresh seafood combinations. They both learned the ins-and-outs of the restaurant business, and they’re now on the path to duplicate Sweetfin’s success across the country. “Poke is more affordable, customizable and portable than sushi,” says Cohen. “Hopefully our concept will be the one talked about from LA to New York.”
Will Daines, 29CFO/Founder, King Harbor Brewing Company
As easily as he left the Milwaukee snow for the South Bay, Daines ditched his financial consultant gig for the blossoming LA beer world. He wears many hats at the brewery, from being the numbers guy to overseeing tasting-room operations, sometimes bottling, manning the taps and even driving the delivery truck. “Beer is probably my second favorite aspect of the business,” he says. And the first? “I think back to the Milwaukee tasting rooms and talking to the people who made, served and drank their beer with pride. I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Ryan DeNicola, 28Executive Chef, chi SPACCA
DeNicola puts all of his experience — from his first job washing dishes in a Santa Ana restaurant to opening Son of a Gun as a line cook for Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo — to good use at Mozza’s meatier Hollywood sibling, where he’s continuing the whole-animal butchery and charcuterie programs and creating wood-fired masterpieces and seafood specialties. Simplicity is key. “I use a lot of fresh herbs, lemon, sea salt and an absurd amount of olive oil,” he says. “If you left me on an island with just these things, I'd probably just set up camp and start cooking.”
Michael Falso, 28Executive Chef, The Springs LA
As a classically trained chef who graduated from The Culinary Institute of America and an alum of Mario Batali’s Del Posto, Falso never imagined he’d become a raw-vegan chef, let alone adopt that lifestyle himself. But after losing 100 pounds, he committed himself to showing just how fun, innovative and delicious this way of cooking can be. At the health and wellness urban sanctuary in the Arts District, dishes like the nacho salad, made with cashew sour cream, tortillas, crunchy sunflower “taco crumble” and vegan cheese dressing, are winning over even the most die-hard carnivores.
Rene Felbermayr, 25Head Baker, BierBeisl Imbiss
When Bernard Mairinger, a 30 Under 30 alum, moved BierBeisl from Beverly Hills to Downtown, he had more space to build a bakery. And to make the traditional Austrian breads and pastries he desired, he needed a real Austrian pastry chef. Enter Felbermayr, who grew up near Linz and has been baking since he was a teenager. By creating items like a bread made with Grist & Toll milled organic rye, pork lard, caraway and coriander, and schaumrolle (puff pastry filled with super-airy meringue), Felbermayr has helped make this one of the most unique bakeries in town.
Kelsey Glasser, 26Wine Director, E.P. & L.P.
Finding wines to pair with chef Louis Tikaram’s modern Asian cuisine at West Hollywood’s E.P. & L.P. is Glasser’s biggest career challenge to date. But thanks to her background — she grew up in Oregon wine country, spent time in France and Italy, learned Spanish wines at The Bazaar, and got to know California varietals at Eveleigh in West Hollywood — she nails it. “The easy answer is pairing spicy food with off-dry whites,” Glasser says. “But it’s more than that. It’s experimenting and discovering fun and unusual pairings like aromatic whites, rosés and light herbaceous reds.”
Karen Grill, 28Beverage Director/General Manager, Sassafras Saloon
Grill began her career as many top LA cocktailians have: under award-winning mixologist Julian Cox’s tutelage. Starting out at Rivera and Playa and then moving to Bestia and Sotto, Grill worked her way up from prep girl to bar manager, honing her techniques and developing her own style along the way. At the Southern Gothic–inspired Sassafras in Hollywood, she pays homage to New Orleans flavors with housemade sodas, jams, bitters, shrubs and syrups. “I left the music industry to bartend full time, so I love that Sassafras marries my two loves: live music and cocktails.”
Andy Jin, 24Pastry Chef, Patina Restaurant
Jin knew he wanted to be a chef since baking with his mom at age five. The LA native hightailed it to New York for culinary school and moved swiftly through kitchens at Bouley, SHO Shaun Hergatt (where he got his taste for sweets), and Eleven Madison Park. At Patina Downtown, he incorporates savory ingredients into his seasonal creations for the New American menu, especially salt and pepper. "Salt turns the ordinary into extraordinary,” he says. “And pepper — black, pink, long, Sichuan, cayenne, all kinds — is completely unexpected but fruity enough to make sense.”
Emily Johnston, 29Wine Director, Toscana Restaurant Group
Johnston learned about wine among the vines in the Central Coast and studied to be a sommelier with Italy’s ALMA Scuola Internazionale di Cucina’s Wine Academy. So it makes sense that she balances her love of Italian wines and California gems for Toscana and Bar Toscana in Brentwood and S.Y. Kitchen in Santa Ynez. Being fluent in Italian and French doesn’t hurt either. In her spare time, you might find Johnston rock climbing in Joshua Tree or deciding whether to keep or drink her favorite Nebbiolos this fall.
Colin Kerr, 27Area Director, Development & Operations at Public School on Tap
Kerr is a self-described “beverage nerd” — he's a certified sommelier and spirit specialist and is studying to become a cicerone, which is a bit like a beer sommelier. At the growing Public School gastropub chain, he develops drink menus for every location. Not bad for someone who started as bar manager with Grill Concepts, who owns Public School on Tap. “You have to know how to approach each style of guest,” he says. “And ingredients and accessible beers, wine and spirits vary in each city, so it’s fun to study and incorporate cocktail trends around the U.S.”
Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, Both 29Chefs-Owners, Madcapra
Before Kramer embarked on a career in food, she was performing in "Mamma Mia!" on Broadway. Hymanson landed in the restaurant business while living in New York after college. The two Brooklynites worked together at Glasserie, a highly acclaimed Middle Eastern–inspired seasonal restaurant in Greenpoint. “She came to my rescue,” Kramer says of Hymanson. Ready for a change of scenery, the two came to LA to join the burgeoning culinary scene, bringing their loaded falafel sandwiches and vegetable-heavy combinations to the ever-expanding Grand Central Market. A full-scale restaurant is next.
Zenai Leal, 22Pastry Chef, Salt’s Cure
When Leal’s internship fell through after culinary school, she answered a listing for a bakery assistant at Salt’s Cure and was hired on the spot. Four years later, chef and owners Chris Phelps and Zak Walters rely on her for everything, from making those addictive biscuits to the sweet date pudding with sticky toffee. When the restaurant moves to a much larger space on Highland Avenue later this year, Leal is excited to expand the dessert and pastry program. “And I get to use a much bigger ice cream maker!”
Mei Lin, 29Chef-Owner, TBA
Most people were introduced to Mei Lin’s cutting-edge cooking style when she won Top Chef: Boston. But those lucky enough to have dined at Michael Voltaggio’s Ink while she was there reaped the rewards of her deft hand. She switched Voltaggio brothers after Top Chef, spending time with Bryan at Volt in Frederick, MD, before landing back in LA to pursue her own project. Until she finds just the right space Downtown, Lin keeps her knives sharp while cooking with friends, including a series of special dinners called CO+LAB with another show contestant, Melissa King.
Darwin Manahan, 28Beverage Director and General Manager of Cliff’s Edge and OSSO
Manahan finds inspiration in everything from his Filipino roots to a chef’s mise en place, which makes drinking at any bar he mans a treat. When he was head bartender at Corazon y Miel in Bell, the spot was named one of Esquire’s Best Bars in America. Now he takes his skills even higher at Cliff’s Edge in Silver Lake and Osso Downtown, where his cocktails match the chef-driven cuisine. In choosing spirits with “funky flavors,” like Lambanog, a Filipino liqueur made from distilled coconut sap, he’s one of the more adventurous barmen on the scene today.
Julia Mande, 27General Manager, Jon & Vinny's
Mande didn’t just land at Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s newest restaurant on Fairfax after working at Blue Hill New York; she specifically sought them out. “I knew I wanted to work within the Animal Group. They are ideas people, big or small. They'll entertain an idea and try to execute it, and having that kind of opportunity to think big is really exciting.” In addition to front-of-house duties like setting up guest databases and reservation systems and helping at Helen’s Wines within the restaurant, she’s researching how local vineyards are dealing with the California drought.
Nick Meyer, 29Director of Beverage Operations, Sprout Restaurant Collective
Meyer approaches a new bar program like it’s a woodworking project (he’s been building with his dad since he was young). “I love conceptualizing from scratch and making it happen,” he says. “I try and plan as much as I can, but a project will always end up teaching me something in the end.” He’s constructed cocktail lists with Julian Cox for places like Bestia, Sotto, Petty Cash and Redbird, and he also teaches Cox’s intensive, six-week bar class to budding bartenders. His interests are diverse — he’s on a sherry kick and always has a soft spot for mezcal.
Kirk Plummer, 26Chef de Cuisine, Sāmbār
When Plummer enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu in Hollywood, he never imagined that he’d one day be running a modern Indian restaurant. He started his career at Akasha Richmond’s first restaurant, Akasha, and moved through the ranks before being asked by Richmond to helm Sāmbār in Culver City. “It has been one of the best learning experiences to date, as far as having to learn a completely new cuisine and then train a whole kitchen staff,” he says. Richmond gives him full credit for creating culture-blending dishes like the pork shoulder vindaloo, a sort of porchetta by way of Goa.
Megan Potthoff, 29Executive Pastry Chef, WP24 by Wolfgang Puck
Having worked with legendary pastry chef Sherry Yard at Spago, Potthoff can’t imagine a better mentor. “She taught me how to plate, how to properly poach an apple, and taught me the basics in the kitchen,” she says. After leading the pastry program at Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, and now his modern Chinese restaurant Downtown, Potthoff incorporates Asian ingredients into traditional desserts, like a deconstructed banana cream pie made with coconut-lemongrass cremeux, rice shortbread, finger lime, Thai basil, brûléed bananas and cocoa nib ice cream. She hits up Santa Monica Farmers Market for inspiration.
Michael Priore, 25Sous-Chef, Bestia
Mikey, as chef Ori Menashe and everyone at Bestia call him, credits being at the right place at the right time when he started cooking. His first job out of culinary school was staging at Angelini Osteria, and Gino Angelini hired him shortly after. “I was completely lost but tried my hardest to figure things out,” he says. “I loved the way chefs Gino and Ori ran the kitchen.” When Menashe opened Bestia Downtown, Priore was on board as sous-chef and is now his right-hand man, whether it’s running the show when Menashe isn’t there or helping construct new dishes.
Paige Russell, 25Pastry Chef, Hatchet Hall
Making her way to LA from Chicago’s Perennial Virant, Russell was baking with Christina Olufson for the Lucques Group before finding a home in chef Brian Dunsmoor’s kitchen at Ladies Gunboat Society and now Hatchet Hall in Culver City. Her homey, seasonal sweets with a twist are right at home with country ham and wood-fired feasts, especially winners like the strawberry cream float with honeycomb ice cream and the cookie plate with slushie vanilla ice milk, which are her style. “My favorites are simple, no fuss, flavor-forward desserts,” she says. “And ice cream all day every day.”
Dan Scott, 29Founder of The Whaling Club and Bartender at Upstairs at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles
For Scott, moving from the New York to the LA cocktail scene wasn’t just about being a part of the blossoming bartending industry on the West Coast. It was mostly for a girl, whom he married, and now they run The Whaling Club, a high-end cocktail workshop and bar catering business. When not hosting tastings in their Culver City warehouse or creating the perfect old fashioned — he prefers well-made classics — for a wedding, you’ll find Scott using his mixing talents at Ace Hotel’s rooftop Upstairs bar.
John Shaw, 28Chef de Cuisine, Steak and Whisky
Save for two years at Tavern on the Green in New York, this Huntington Beach native hasn’t moved far from the Westside for his culinary career. One of his first gigs was at Mélisse, which led him to various stints around LA and Orange County, including at Waterloo & City and Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern. What he’s picked up along the way — seeking out the best locally grown, seasonal ingredients and honing his technique — is perfect for the South Bay steakhouse, where classic dishes get a contemporary twist.
Jacob Shure, 29Partner, Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria
Shure went from being a short-order cook in college to opening a restaurant for SBE and Michael Mina (XIV) in a few short years. He’s now partnering with chef Ray Garcia at Downtown’s Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria, two of the most exciting Mexican restaurants of the year — the two first met at Fig at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel when Shure was general manager and Garcia was executive chef. Shure is a multitasking master who ensures that both Downtown spots run smoothly. Look for him at the taqueria, which he frequents for the beet torta.
Cameron Slaugh, 27Executive Chef, Osteria La Buca
When Slaugh took over at the long-standing Hollywood restaurant, he acquired a garden that grows ingredients exclusively for the restaurant. Since farming is second nature to the young chef — he grew up in rural Utah where his family raised everything from produce to poultry — La Buca fans reap the rewards of his expertise with seasonal ingredients. Throw in techniques learned at Alinea in Chicago and Eleven Madison Park in New York and from a roster of chefs at The James Beard House and the Bocuse d’Or team, and he’s hard to beat.
Lamar Valladares, 24Executive Chef, Diablo Taco
After getting a start with Patina Catering, Valladares made a promise to his mentor and 30 Under 30 honoree Ricardo Morales that not only would he be a sous-chef by the time he was 21, he’d also make this list by the time he was 24. He accomplished both: first when Morales hired Valladares as sous-chef at SteingartenLA, and later for his work as executive chef at Silver Lake’s Diablo Taco. There he’s taken nuevo Mexican cuisine by the horns, creating things like jamaica-cured salmon tostadas, and peanut butter, banana and pork belly chimichangas.
Yael Vengroff, 28Beverage Director, The Spare Room
A former New York City waitress, Vengroff once copied notes from bartenders, and now she oversees one of LA’s most prolific cocktail programs. Her drinks at this slick bar inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel lean toward the whimsical and tiki-inspired, but that doesn’t mean overwrought with too many ingredients. You’ll see it in things like the Lucky Smoke, made with whiskey, rum, Giffard Banane du Brésil, vanilla and coconut-pandan bitters and served in a glass wrapped in a pandan leaf. “It’s one of the most elegant drinks I’ve ever created,” she says. And just the thing to drink while bowling on the bar’s vintage lanes.
Johnny Zone, 28Chef-Owner, Howlin' Ray's
The way Zone makes Nashville hot chicken, you’d swear he was from Tennessee and not LA. And because it’s from a truck, you’d never guess that he’s worked with chefs like Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa. But it’s all true. That fried chicken with a spicy, vinegary coating is some of the hottest on this side of the Mississippi, and it’s sided by dishes only a Californian could create: potato salad with mustard emulsion and macaroni salad with ramps. He attributes Howlin’ Ray’s success to his wife Amanda: “She’s the boss that everybody knows is running the show.”