Here it is, folks — DC’s first-ever Zagat 30 Under 30! We’ve searched high and low to come up with this list of outstanding young chefs, restaurateurs, cocktail gurus and all-around superstars who make this one of the most exciting dining cities in the country. From a fourth-generation farmer to a pair of young coffee connoisseurs, here are DC’s up-and-coming movers and shakers.
-Story by Rina Rapuano, Photos by Brian Oh
Craig Allen, 28General Manager, Brookland's Finest Bar & Kitchen
Like many Washingtonians, Allen landed in DC for college — and never left after graduating. He cut his teeth as a bartender, host and server at places like Zaytinya and Matchbox before finally ditching his original idea of becoming a corporate lawyer and taking the job as general manager at Brookland’s Finest. He enjoys problem-solving, the job's spontaneity and the neighborhood, as well as working for a growing company. Eventually, he’d like to own his own place. “I would love to open up a BBQ restaurant in the city,” says the St. Louis native.
Ben Arnold, 29Head Baker and Pastry Chef, Bread Furst Bakery
DC baker Mark Furstenberg smartly tapped Arnold to help open Bread Furst last year, utilizing both his experience with opening Range and Aggio and his shared passion in revitalizing the artisanal bakery craft. “There’s a lot of collaboration,” says Arnold. “It’s not 100% me, and not 100% Mark. But if I have an idea, he’ll say, ‘Go for it.’” The young baker — who also worked at Restaurant Eve and Society Fair — oversees a team that bakes some 1,500 loaves on heavy days in addition to the wildly popular pastries, bagels and English muffins.
Matt Baker, 28Chef-Owner, Gravitas (Opening Fall 2016)
While Baker’s first solo restaurant won’t open till fall 2016, he’s been cooking locally for about four years at such places as Minibar, Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck before serving as opening chef for City Perch last November. And you’ll have plenty more chances to try his cooking before the opening of Gravitas: Baker hosts pop-ups at least once a week, sometimes with a theme like gluttony or veganism. He says Gravitas will offer a set four-course menu for $60 per person that will change weekly and pull from his time spent in Singapore, Houston, the Caribbean and DC.
Jared A. Barker, 28General Manager, The Red Hen
Barker earned a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales and continued cooking even while making the switch to front of the house after his boss at New Heights offered him a serving job. He loves it — in the kitchen, he says, “you never get to see the payoff.” He’s been with Red Hen since the beginning, staining the bar top, painting and doing whatever else it took to get it ready. Now he’s working with the team to open All Purpose, and hopes to partner with the owners down the line for his own concept, perhaps a Carolina BBQ joint.
Jenna Brownell, 28Farmer in Residence, The Inn at Little Washington
As the daughter of third-generation dairy farmers, farming is definitely in Brownell’s blood. After getting the job at Inn at Little Washington two years ago, she has settled into a rhythm of working 70-hour weeks all summer and sleeping all winter. Last year, she harvested about 7,000 pounds of produce from her half-acre, working to cultivate unique varietals — like white pickling cucumbers — both for the kitchen and the guests who tour the space. “Everybody and their mom has yellow crookneck squash, so what can I do that’s different?”
Photo: Inn at Little Washington
Kamran Fazil Cheema, 27Founder, Grand Trunk Restaurant Group
Cheema knew he wanted to be a restaurateur back in middle school. And though he dutifully studied political science at Vanderbilt, he came right back to his hometown to open up Grand Trunk with his brother, Salman. Now he spends most days in his energetic Penn Quarter spot serving fast-casual versions of South Asian family recipes to tourists and locals into the wee hours. Though the restaurant’s only been open since January, he’s already looking to expand the concept locally and internationally. “I think it’s something that could only have been born here in our nation’s capital,” he says.
Andy Clark, 26Executive Chef, Eat The Rich/Mockingbird Hill/Southern Efficiency
If MasterChef Junior had been around when Clark was a kid, chances are he would have pined to be on it — even then preferring Julia Child to Spider-Man. The Marylander returned to the area following culinary school, working as sous-chef at Fiola and DBGB. A year ago, Derek Brown tapped him to cook at Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency. The wildly popular yet tiny bars foster creativity: “I have to take into account the small kitchen, and that’s made me think and conceptualize a little more,” he says of menu writing.
Brant Cotter, 27Executive Chef, Food, Wine & Co./Fish Taco/City Burger
Cotter got into cooking for less than noble reasons: in high school, he picked the elective he thought would result in the least homework. He was wrong about the homework — but was hooked. The former sous-chef was promoted to lead Bethesda favorite Food, Wine & Co. in January; meanwhile, he’s spearheading the opening of at least one new Fish Taco location while overseeing City Burger. “You could say it’s challenging, but not in the sense that I don’t want to do it,” he says. “If you’re not learning, then I really don’t know what you are doing.”
Carlos Delgado, 25Executive Chef/Partner, Ocopa
This Peruvian-born chef is not only making waves with delicious dishes at Ocopa, he’s also teaching Washingtonians a thing or two about his culinary heritage and propelling a wave of interest in South American flavors. In particular, he wants folks to know that incorporating Asian ingredients and techniques has a long history in Peru. “People don’t really understand and think it’s fusion, but it’s really all one culture,” he says. He’s also in the process of launching an artisanal pisco company and expects his product to land in DC in the next couple of months.
Robert Elias, 26Partner, R&D Supper Club
Elias captured our attention as the talented beverage director at Big Bear Cafe, where he expertly paired and poured wines. But he recently left to lift a new business venture off the ground: R&D Supper Club, which will serve five courses to 25 diners several nights a week starting in mid-October. He and former Big Bear chef Quinten Frye will go beyond local ingredients by using locally made ceramics and glassware, making the endeavor “a highlight of everything in the DC area.” In his spare time, he’s finishing up a second book of poetry.
Austin Fausett, 29Executive Chef, Trummer's on Main
Fausett’s impressive culinary resume includes gigs in both NY and SF kitchens before he landed in DC to be with his wife, Morgan (also on this list). Previously he was sous chef at Citronelle and The Inn at Little Washington before joining the acclaimed Trummer’s. Earlier this year, he received the ultimate honor when asked to cook at the White House. But he hasn't let it go to his head: “I’m just really proud of the team I’ve built there and really excited and challenged by work every day,” he says.
Morgan K. Fausett, 28Sommelier, Proof
Fausett intended to use her degrees in international affairs and German to change the world through politics, but after a year in Austria (with husband Austin) on a Fulbright scholarship after graduation, it was Fausett who had changed. “When I came back, I decided to pursue becoming a sommelier full time,” she says. She now presides over a wine list at Proof that ranges from $45–$18,000 a bottle, but tries to make all wines more relatable for guests. “They’re here for dinner and not to agonize over what kind of wine to drink,” she says.
Devin Gong, 29Owner, Copycat Co.
If it weren’t for a bartending job at Founding Farmers, this successful bar owner might be a painter instead of shaking and stirring some of the best cocktails in the city. But working with Sasha Petraske acolyte David Strauss was a huge influence on Gong — so much so that he worked with Strauss again at Barmini before opening Copycat Co. on H Street less than a year ago. He’s already got another venture in the very early planning stages: “I want to model a bar after the old Waldorf-Astoria bar in New York with a martini-lunch vibe.”
Kendra Grieco, 29Pastry Chef, Fiola
Even though she began cooking at age five and worked as a cake decorator as a teen, Grieco didn’t immediately pursue baking right out of high school. But after just one semester of anthropology at Penn State — ”I absolutely hated it,” she says — she moved swiftly toward her true passion. She’s been at Fiola for about four years now, working her way up the ranks to pastry chef. “We’ll make spheres out of sugar and hide the whole dessert in the sphere,” she says of her playful style. “I like the desserts to be interactive.”
Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, 28 and 27Co-Founders, Compass Coffee
After the duo bonded over coffee while serving in the Marines, they’ve taken DC’s java scene by storm since opening their first location of Compass Coffee in Shaw last fall. Two more cafes are on the way as well as another roastery/cafe combo headed to Ivy City; they also sell beans to restaurants and retail outlets like Whole Foods. “We’re really focused on meeting people where they are,” says Suarez. “If you just want a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, we’re your spot. If you really want to geek out on coffee, we’re with you there, too.”
Catherine Ker, 26General Manager, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black Jack
As an alternative to working at CVS at age 13 (her parents’ idea), Ker instead went to work at a neighbor’s diner. Fast-forward through many restaurant jobs, two degrees from George Washington University and a job at an international law firm — Catherine realized her true passion was for hospitality. She quit to train at Blue Duck Tavern, later helped open Béarnaise and now juggles two staffs and two concepts under one roof at Black Jack and Pearl Dive, where her resourcefulness has gotten the attention of both co-workers and customers.
Liz Ker, 24General Manager, Béarnaise
Despite being an accomplished soccer player with degrees in business administration, marketing and management, Ker can’t shake the feeling that she’s a restaurant owner at heart. “I started working at Béarnaise part time and ended up staying here because I loved it so much,” she says. She and sister Catherine hope to open their own place — but first they want to learn everything they can from restaurateurs like Ker's bosses, Spike Mendelsohn and family. “That’s one of my favorite things about the place: the family comes in and out every day to check things out.”
Christine Kim, 28Lead Bartender, Tico Restaurant/The Riggsby
Kim has worked behind plenty of bars, but credits over three years at Lincoln with teaching her how to blend craft cocktails in a high-volume environment. She now shares those skills with guests at energetic Tico, where tequila and mezcal are the focus, and The Riggsby, where she revisits classics at the old-school spot. Kim is also a Ron Zacapa rum trade mixologist and ambassador in DC and serves as councilmember for the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild’s DC Chapter. “I love the grind. I love meeting new people. I love letting people try new things,” she says.
Margarito Lopez, 27R&D Pastry Sous-Chef, José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup
Lopez grew up cooking Mexican food with his family in California, inspiring him to enroll in cooking school. He made the switch from savory to sweet about five years ago, and these days works out of the test kitchen in ThinkFoodGroup’s Chinatown office. There, he helps develop recipes for everything from loukoumades for Zaytinya to suspiro de limeña at China Chilcano — and he says working with this group of chefs is also like cooking with family. His weakness? Chocolate. One day, he’d like to turn that weakness into a chocolate shop and bakery.
Colin McClimans, 27Chef de Cuisine, Equinox
Many successful DC chefs started out working at Equinox — perhaps because chef-owner Todd Gray allows young cooks to make their own mark, as with McClimans’ Sunday night adventure series. The native Washingtonian, who started working in restaurants at 13, says his weekly five-course tasting menu has included deep-fried garlic butter fritters and a chocolate fettuccine dessert. “It’s more out of the box from what we would [normally] do at Equinox,” McClimans says. “It’s on-the-fly cooking, super creative and interesting, so that’s really fun for me.” He also loves creating dishes for the vegan tasting menus.
Che McKissic, 28General Manager, Eatonville Restaurant
A casual meeting with Eatonville owner Andy Shallal ended with Shallal offering McKissic a job. He says it was luck, but everything he’s done after mashing sweet potatoes with his grandma at age three led to that point — a high-school culinary program; a hospitality management degree; and countless odd jobs in restaurants. He thrives off of sharing happiness through food: “Even when [customers are] having a terrible day, they can still feel good when they’re here with you,” he says. “That’s something special. There’s love in it, I think.”
Kwame Onwuachi, 25Chef and Co-Owner, The Shaw Bijou
True, The Shaw Bijou hasn’t even opened yet. But when asked what Washingtonians can expect, Onwuachi says, “My food philosophy is about telling a story through food.” Luckily, his is no ordinary story. He was a 10-year-old kid in the Bronx when his mother sent him to live in Nigeria, where he learned to slaughter goats and make palm oil for egusi stew. During culinary school, Onwuachi built a successful catering company in addition to staging at Per Se and cooking at Eleven Madison Park. The current ETA for Bijou is late November.
Ben Pflaumer, 26Executive Sous-Chef, Osteria Morini
Pflaumer cut his teeth working for Mark Vetri in Philadelphia and now works in Michael White’s DC kitchen — not bad for a kid who started out as a dishwasher at 15. He calls his time with Vetri an expansion of culinary school. “Working in such a small kitchen, I learned to make pasta and bread and spent some time making desserts, breaking down all our own meats and fish,” he says. At Osteria Morini, he puts that expertise to work by heading up the accomplished charcuterie program.
Jean Paul Sabatier, 28General Manager, Rappahannock Oyster Bar
Sabatier was on track to realize his dream of becoming a chef until a conversation with DC restaurateur Ashok Bajaj — who was convinced Sabatier was destined for front-of-the-house work — changed his trajectory. “Ever since then, it’s [been] what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he says. He’s been with Rappahannock Oyster Bar almost since the beginning, and co-owner Travis Croxton says Sabatier has been instrumental in both its daily success and in gaining national recognition for the chaotic Union Market space that can see up to 550 covers on a busy Saturday.
Adrian Salazar, 29Executive Chef, Mango Tree
Food-media folks weren’t the only ones surprised when Salazar was named executive chef at Mango Tree four months after its splashy opening. “It was a good surprise,” he laughs. “I think the owner just liked where I was going.” The former Zaytinya sous-chef (who has also staged at such places as Fiola, Iron Gate and Range) set to work forging stronger relationships with local farmers who grow Thai eggplant, chiles and basil exclusively for him. One of his main missions: to coax diners out of their pad-Thai and fried-rice rut.
Alejandro Sandoval, 29Sous-Chef, Right Proper Brewing Co.
Sandoval landed at Right Proper more than a year ago after stints with Neighborhood Restaurant Group, ThinkFoodGroup and Buck’s Fishing and Camping. In his current gig, he capitalizes on working closely with beer brewers by developing breads using their brews. “I’ve been using them as a big resource for my own inspiration and ideas,” he says. “It’s almost like working beside another chef — they have an entirely different product but the same appreciation for their craft.” The breads are currently used in specials, and he envisions them served with pâtés and terrines once perfected.
Ed Scarpone, 28Executive Chef, DBGB Kitchen and Bar
When Scarpone talks about what inspired him to become a chef, he mentions growing up clamming and fishing in Connecticut, hearing his father’s stories of eating around the world, eating his grandmother’s cooking and working teen jobs in a bakery and deli. But perhaps most influential was attending culinary school in Asia, where everything was filtered through a newly discovered Eastern lens. He’s also gleaned much from working with mega chef Daniel Boulud, starting as a db Bistro intern at 18 years old and now heading up the kitchen at DBGB. One of the biggest lessons Boulud taught him? “Everything can be improved.”
Andrea Tateosian, 28Lead Bartender, Urbana Dining & Drinks
This Rhode Island native may have landed in DC look to look for a finance job, but a four-year stint moonlighting as bartender at The Gibson put the cocktails maven on a different course. The two-time finalist for the sherry-focused Vinos de Jerez Cocktail Competition ditched the day job in April to take a job at Urbana, where she wants to share her fondness for low-proof cocktails. “I’m kind of an old lady at heart,” she says. “I always prefer to sip on something and savor it instead of it going to my head immediately.”
Nick Wiseman, 29Owner, DGS Delicatessen
After working on the line at Equinox at age 15 in DC, then Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiamma and Michael White’s Alto in New York, the third-generation Washingtonian — who also has a psychology degree from Berkeley — decided DC had gone long enough without a decent deli. He came home and opened DGS with his cousin David, incorporating family traditions with New York inspiration. He reveals that there’s a non-DGS project in the works, but can’t say more about it yet. Wiseman and his cousin are partners in Mokja Ventures, a $5 million investment fund for DC restaurants.
Robert Yealu, 29Restaurant Consultant
Yealu came to DC for work after college thinking he’d eventually attend law school — but he got the bug for hospitality and never looked back. After bouncing around a few Destination Hotels properties in the region, the he returned to DC to help open The Embassy Row Hotel in March following a $15 million renovation. He recently departed to launch his own restaurant consulting company focusing on events and beverage programs. His clients are as far-flung as San Francisco, but he plans to stay based in DC. “I have no intention of moving,” he laughs.