Dallas and Fort Worth are home to some of the brightest young hotshots in the food and beverage industry and for the first time ever, we’re introducing you to the best talent our cities have to offer. From a 16-year-old prep cook who cooks like an industry veteran to the husband-and-wife creators of some of North Texas’ most obsessed-over BBQ, these 30 rising superstars are on the path to becoming household names. A collector’s series of veggie-chopping, cocktail-shaking action figures might not be far off, either.
-Story by Steven Lindsey, Photos by Terri Glanger
Austin Bird, 28Bartender, Small Brewpub
Bird once toured as a guitarist with a band, but he soon learned being a rock star behind the bar was perhaps a more viable career move. He learned about the craft cocktail business from Brad Hensarling, owner of Fort Worth bar, The Usual. Though he was able to hone his skills with a shaker and muddler, it was the emphasis on customer service that stuck. He brings that attention to personal interaction to Small Brewpub, home to creative fare from James Beard Rising Star of the Year chef nominee, Misti Norris. The egalitarian atmosphere finds him not only setting up the bar and helping with front-of-house duties, but also flexing his creativity on Tuesday Tiki Night with three brand-new drinks.
Seth Brammer, 29Beverage Director, Filament
Brammer originally planned to be a chef, but after redoing the culinary program for Apple Inc.’s corporate offices in Austin, he moved back to Dallas and discovered bartending. He took over the beverage program at The Second Floor by Scott Gottlich, dramatically increasing their already impressive whiskey selection. Brammer says he hit it off immediately with Matt McCallister, the chef at Deep Ellum’s super-hot restaurant, Filament. He loves showcasing Southern ingredients and traditions in his cocktails, with whiskey front and center in many, including his very refined Whiskey Smash.
Yonathan Bustillo, 25Cook, Top Knot
One day, lifelong artist Yonathan Bustillo decided to trade his paintbrush for a knife and on a whim, enrolled in a Culinary Arts program at the Houston Art Institute. “I figured it's sculpting, just in a different medium.” His job path took him from saucier at P.F. Chang’s to chef at Tyson Cole’s Uchi Houston. A year later, he was at Top Knot, Cole’s casual Asian and Latin-influenced spot above Uchi Dallas. There, Bustillo says he admires chef Angela Hernandez immensely. His dream? To open a small restaurant where he can cook “something beautiful.”
Sarah Chastain, 29Chef de Cuisine, The Grape Restaurant
Sarah Chastain is one chef who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty – a quality she learned at an early age. As a farm kid in a small West Texas town, she raised livestock, grew vegetables and taught herself to cook by preparing summer lunches for her family. At a small mom-and-pop Italian in Addison, she worked her way into the kitchen and fell in love with pasta-making. Eventually she found herself working alongside celebrated chefs Andre Natera and Scott Gottlich before eventually landing at The Grape Restaurant where she uses the most local, seasonal ingredients to execute chef-owner Brian Luscher’s culinary vision.
Abigail De Jesús, 27Cake Decorator, Cake Bar
Abigail’s culinary journey started as a kitchen assistant at personal chef business, Pressed for Thyme, before entering the bakery world at Nestlé Toll House Café. Another friend told her about the decorator opening at Cake Bar, Trinity Groves’ by-the-slice or by-the-cake hot spot from longtime baker Tracy German. She interviewed and was hired on the spot. In order to keep up with demand for both the shop and special orders, she’s an amazingly fast decorator, knocking out cakes rapidly while consistently producing beautiful, sweet, triple-layer works of art.
Lyle DeShazo, 16Line Cook, Kitchen LTO
The youngest honoree on the list, DeShazo started working front of house at culinary event venue 3015 at Trinity Groves, but his first official restaurant job was at Rapscallion, where he shucked oysters and manned the garde manger station. When Nick Amoriello won the coveted spot at the helm of permanent pop-up Kitchen LTO for its sixth cycle, he asked DeShazo to come along to be a line and prep cook. He says both Amoriello and father Steve (Food and Hospitality Institute Director at El Centro College) are mentors, and he hopes to one day pass along his ever-expanding culinary knowledge to future generations of cooks.
Molly Hagler, 28Beverage Director, Stampede 66
For years there was a Dallas bartending school that advertised on the radio with a catchy jingle, promising a career in bartending and the secrets to creating dozens of cocktails. That was the siren song for Molly Hagler, who got her TABC certification there and started bartending at a pool hall in Arlington right after her 18th birthday. In 2011, she was part of the opening team at Oddfellows before eventually moving to celebrity chef Stephan Pyles’ San Salvaje restaurant to set up their beverage program. A year later, the ISG Sommelier level II moved to Pyles’ new home for modern Texas cuisine, Stampede 66, to run the bar and impart her knowledge on the staff in weekly wine and spirits classes.
Austin Gurley, 25General Manager, High & Tight Barbershop
At 17, Austin Gurley’s foray into the business was waiting tables at a burger joint. But, three years later he got a job serving at a new cocktail bar and subsequently found his passion. While bartending at Tate’s in Uptown he was introduced by a friend to Braxton Martin and Corey Good, and their concept of a barbershop with a speakeasy-style hidden bar in the back. Today he manages the day-to-day business and staff, leads the beverage program and keeps up with demand on busy weekend nights in Deep Ellum. His dream is to take his mixology mastery to an international level as a distilled spirits brand ambassador or large-scale bar consultant.
Phillip Halff II, 24Sous Chef, Blind Butcher
From a very young age, Halff says he knew he wanted to grow up and play with knives, thanks to time with his grandmother watching Paula Deen and Iron Chef America. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he moved back to Texas just as chef Oliver Sitrin was opening Blind Butcher, a hip meat den on Lowest Greenville known for housemade sausages and other carnivorous delights. He began as a prep cook nicknamed “Eggroll Boy,” but after two-and-a-half years, he’s been upgraded to “Mad Dog” in the kitchen. Once a month, he works toward a career goal of launching his own restaurant by preparing private three-course dining experiences for friends and family, challenging himself to elevate ordinary dishes.
Emma and Travis Heim, 28 and 26Owners, Heim BBQ
Shortly after getting married, Travis and Emma began experimenting with barbecuing meats and developing creative side dishes at pop-up dinners in their backyard, eventually hosting crowds of over a hundred. Modeling themselves after Texas BBQ royalty and Heim BBQ mentors, Aaron and Stacy Franklin, the couple used the little money they had to lease a food truck from Craigslist and purchase ingredients. Travis’ obsession with trying new techniques and immersing himself in BBQ education led to the creation of killer ‘cue favorites like bacon burnt ends and crowd-pleasing flavorful, juicy brisket. Long lines formed daily until they sold out, usually within hours. Thanks to the immense popularity, they are set to open their first brick-and-mortar within weeks.
Taylor Kearney, 27Executive Chef, Front Room Tavern
When Kearney was 13 years old, he got his first job washing dishes at a barbecue restaurant his brother managed, which led to kitchen jobs at other places around town. Since culinary school, he worked with some of the industry greats, including Charlie Palmer, Thomas Keller and Anne-Sophie Pic before leaving a chef de cuisine position at a friend’s restaurant to open a sister establishment, Boulevardier. At Front Room Tavern, the elegant gastropub in an updated former motel coffee shop inside Hotel Lumen across from SMU, he’s in charge of everything from scheduling to smoking meats. On June 14, he’ll add executive chef of Cedar Grove to his duties.
Christian Koelling, 24Sous Chef, TEN Ramen
The first time Koelling cooked for his friends, he knew he wanted to be a chef. Making people happy via food was an addictive feeling. He taught himself to cook by buying all the textbooks and watching video lectures from the Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park while working entry-level kitchen jobs. He landed his first big opportunity with chef Teiichi Sakurai at Tei An where he proved himself ready to tackle the sous chef position at Sakurai’s much-anticipated TEN Ramen, a tiny, modern, standing-only bar counter serving traditional ramen. “Teichii Sakurai is the little camera over my shoulder keeping me sharp. Chef Matt Hoa is the one constantly pushing me to get better every day. My spirit guide is Martin Yan.”
Landon Lee, 26General Manager/Wine Director, Bolsa
Making sure Dallas is a highly acclaimed and respected food city is one of Lee’s top goals, and something that drives the way he manages Bolsa, the highly regarded farm-to-table New American in a former Bishop Arts District auto repair garage. Lee started at the restaurant in July 2013 and quickly rose through the ranks from server to the dual roles he juggles today. He credits Jonathan Knecht and owner Chris Zielke with grooming him into a leadership role so quickly. He’s been curating the wine list since 2014 and as a self-taught wine connoisseur has proven that you don’t necessarily have to be a certified sommelier to have a great palate.
Neal Liston, 27Sous Chef/Butcher, Knife Dallas
Liston was bored to death as an accountant, but thinking back on the fun he had in restaurant jobs growing up, he switched from crunching numbers to cleaving beef and chopping vegetables as both butcher and sous chef at Knife, home of the famed 240-day dry-aged rib eye. He was butcher at the Mansion on Turtle Creek for five-and-a-half years prior, making him responsible for a fair percentage of the best steaks in Dallas. Monitoring Knife’s dry-aging room and keeping the steaks rotated is both science and art. Highlights of his tenure thus far are working alongside chef John Tesar, cooking at the James Beard House and traveling the country for food festivals.
Jonathan Meadows and Nathan Shelton, 27 and 28Co-Founders, Cultivar Coffee Bar & Roaster
Shelton and Meadows worked together as baristas at White Rock Coffee before deciding their passion ran deeper. Reading Barista Magazine taught them about the high-end side of the business. Meadows took an internship at an Indiana wholesale roaster before returning to Dallas to share his newfound knowledge with Shelton and bring a whole new level of quality to the scene. They started Cultivar rather primitively, roasting on a five-kilo roaster at a friend’s garage before opening a counter inside Good 2 Go Taco, moving the operation across the street early this year to a space inside Goodfriend Package. Last month, they opened their first stand-alone shop in Oak Cliff, taking the dream to a whole new level.
Khalil Miller, 19Floor Captain and Lead Prep Cook, Cafe Momentum
Cafe Momentum is unlike any other restaurant in town. At-risk youth released from the Dallas County Juvenile Justice Department enter the non-profit organization’s program as paid interns, gaining valuable hands-on experience by working all restaurant roles from waiting tables to cooking chef-driven cuisine alongside professionals. Miller is part of the first-ever graduating class since the restaurant opened and the first graduate hired full-time. Each morning he preps food for dinner service, at which time he shifts gears to interact with guests. His dynamic personality and enthusiasm make him a favorite among diners, plus he now gets to showcase his leadership skills with the new intern class as a mentor who’s been in their shoes.
Beth Moore, 27General Manager at Cane Rosso, Deep Ellum
Running one of Dallas’ most popular Neapolitan pizza joints isn’t easy, but Moore makes it look that way. She learned how restaurants worked at an Amarillo-based Tex-Mex and the Texas Roadhouse chain, a gig which lasted seven years and saw her rise through the ranks from server to bartender to bar manager. Making sure everything runs smoothly, that all product is up to Cane Rosso’s high standards and that everyone is working to give customers the best food and service possible requires a lot of multitasking, but she has the system down. Plus, her husband is manager of another Cane Rosso so they often compare notes to come up with better ways to succeed at a company out to “conquer the pizza world.”
Matthew Orth, 29Craft Spirits Specialist, Glazer's Distribution Co.
Every bartender loves to flex his creative muscles, but Orth is like a bartender on steroids. His role at Glazer’s takes him to restaurants and bars all over the city where he educates bar staffs about various spirits and liquors, as well as developing drink menus. His first behind-the-bar job was at a Frisco sushi place before moving south to work for Shannon Wynne at Meddlesome Moth. He then opened Wynne’s LARK on the Park, his first job at a truly cocktail-focused bar. He credits a variety of people from his career who taught him that it’s more than making a perfect drink, but creating an entire experience that brings guests back again and again.
Hugo Osorio, 25Liquid Artist, The Theodore
Some go by bartender, others mixologist, but Osorio’s official title is Liquid Artist. He fell in love with bartending while at Bolsa where he learned the technical aspects, but also creative freedom. Bar Manager Kyle Hilla didn’t have an opening when Osorio applied, but saw his eagerness to learn so he created an apprenticeship program that taught him both the craft and hospitality. When Hilla moved to The Theodore, a NorthPark Center restaurant with an on-site bakery and craft cocktail-focused bar, he brought Osorio with him, but challenged him to earn the lead position, and that’s exactly what he did. “He’s a great boss who pushes me to be better.”
Suki Otsuki, 28Executive Chef, Mudhen Meat & Greens
Suki was first exposed to the restaurant industry working at ice cream shops and fast-food joints as a teen. Jump to more than a decade later and Otsuki’s heading up the kitchen of a clean-food, veggie-centric Dallas farmer's market spot with gourmet tendencies. Her culinary externship was at Uchi in Austin under Philip Speer. “Stepping into that kitchen was like culture shock and made me realize how much I had to/wanted to learn.” At Mudhen Meat and Greens she’s taken everything she’s learned and gets to truly focus on the food, cultivating relationships with local growers and ranchers to create delicious food that makes people happy.
Hunter Pond, 28East Hampton Sandwich Company
Pond’s journey from law school to lobster rolls started as a daydream but quickly came to fruition after he dove into the culinary industry head first. With less than six months’ experience as a dishwasher and prep cook, he planned to spend a few years learning the restaurant ropes, but his excitement to launch his East Hampton Sandwich Company concept put his life change on the fast track. Now with four locations and three more underway, the hands-on CEO says overseeing both corporate operations and the culinary side of things can be challenging, but the hard work is worth it when he sees his regular customers order their “usual” or a transplanted New England couple tell him that the lobster roll tastes just like home.
Calvin Pravongviengkham, 23Cook, Uchi Dallas
Anthony Bourdain’s gritty tales of working in the restaurant industry in Kitchen Confidential might scare most people away, but for Pravongviengkham it was both a challenge and an inspiration. Having worked as a “jack of all trades” for his mother’s Asian-Cajun restaurant, he thought about food all the time, but it was during school for nutrition and food science that he knew his ultimate direction. With barely any kitchen experience, he interviewed with Uchi Dallas, saying he’d do anything from washing dishes to cleaning restrooms, as long as he could learn to cook, too. Today he leads the prep team and cooks, absorbing everything from the seasoned pros around him. Hungry for knowledge and held to high standards, “chef” will be in front of his name in no time.
Ian Reilly, 27Beverage Supervisor, The Joule
Reilly’s early days at an Austin cantina preparing five-gallon batches of prickly pear margaritas is a far cry from his new role at The Joule, downtown Dallas’ chic hotel in a 1920s Neo-Gothic building. While continually working to improve the hotel’s beverage program, he created an innovative mobile craft cocktail service that rolls into the lobby just in time for happy hour Thursday–Saturday. The cocktail cart experience is highly improvisational as he creates custom drinks based on each guest’s personal preferences.
Rico Reyes, 25Executive Chef, Salsera
At 16, Reyes applied to Le Cordon Bleu and never looked back. Positions at Pappasito’s Cantina and Saint Ann gave him the real-world experience he needed to progress and evolve, but his greatest success to date started when a kitchen opportunity opened at Salsera. The vibrant addition to the Deep Ellum dining scene features a morning coffee window, nighttime dancing with live flamenco bands and the opportunity to create dishes inspired by iconic flavors and ingredients from all over Latin America. Reyes made such significant changes that he was promoted to executive chef after only a couple of months.
Matthew Reynolds, 29Head Brewer, Malai Kitchen
You don’t have to be a mechanical engineer to brew beer, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Reynolds started home brewing and touring local and regional microbreweries after earning his degree, and while he says “of course” he fell in love with the different flavors and types of beer, it was the engineering principles that truly fascinated him. When Malai Kitchen decided to start its own on-site brewing program, he ditched his five-year gig as a design and test engineer to become the restaurant’s first dedicated brewer. He spends his days making the signature Thai-P-A and Bia Hoi Vietnamese rice lager, as well as seasonal beers that tap into his creativity and passion.
André Roberts, 29Senior Food & Beverage Manager, Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek
Long celebrated as one of Dallas’ premier culinary destinations, Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek is a standard bearer in the industry. Roberts is responsible for ensuring that superior service is provided every evening at The Mansion Restaurant and Mansion Bar, which is no easy task thanks to a local and global clientele with very discriminating tastes and expectations of perfection. Born on the island of Antigua, he grew up with a love of food and cooking that brought him to America and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. During his seven years with the hotel group, he’s traveled to California, Mexico, France, Italy and the United Kingdom and incorporates his experiences locally while refining his expertise.
Jessica Stampley, 23Sous Chef, Kate Weiser Chocolate
Stampley never imagined working in a chocolate shop. Mostly because she was the weird kid who ate around the chocolate chips in cookies. At age 18, she developed a taste, respect and appreciation for chocolate. Her first industry job was at a Minneapolis cupcake shop that won the Food Network Cupcake Wars championship, not a bad induction into the world of sweets. At 21, she landed her first executive pastry chef job at fine dining restaurant, Piccolo. A year later, she got the itch to move and came to Dallas where a friend’s Instagram post introduced her to Kate Weiser Chocolate, a hot spot for hand-painted chocolates within culinary mecca, Trinity Groves. She now makes chocolate, tests recipes and collaborates with Weiser to create innovative treats that are almost too pretty to eat.
Joshua Sutcliff, 26Executive Chef, Filament
At age 13, Sutcliff was a dishwasher intrigued by the chaos of the kitchen. A year later, he experienced the mania first-hand, cooking at the small North Carolina restaurant where he remained until high school graduation. He moved to San Francisco to prove that he could cook with the best in the country, which he did at Bix. When his wife’s job brought them to Dallas, he found a job with chef Matt McCallister at FT33 and a culinary camaraderie was born. When the executive chef position opened up at McCallister’s Filament, he approached Sutcliff to take it. In a short time there, he’s keeping morale high, mentoring and infusing his ideas into the menu while maintaining McCallister’s vision.
Carolanne Treadwell, 26Sous Chef, CBD Provisions
Treadwell traces her cooking start to an apple orchard outing with her mom and sister. After picking 60 pounds of apples, she brainstormed all the fruit-filled possibilities and got to work making breads, pies, jams and anything she could imagine. She worked in restaurants through most of high school and eventually ended up in New York at Ai Fiori and WD-50. After five years in NYC she moved to Dallas and was offered this job at CBD Provisions, downtown’s upscale all-day brasserie, after cooking there for a sous chef dinner. She juggles numerous responsibilities, which differ dramatically between morning and evening shifts, but gets to show off her cooking chops best when creating daily specials with often exciting ingredients.
Mat Urban, 27Sous Chef, Americano
A photo of Urban at 5 years old captures him standing on a step stool in front of the stove holding a spatula while cooking scrambled eggs. Fast-forward several years and Urban is volunteering at a food event at Charlie Palmer’s Dallas restaurant, working alongside the chef himself, something he didn’t expect right out of culinary school. That led to several kitchen positions until that restaurant closed and reopened as Italian-inspired Americano late last year. His duties find him collaborating frequently with chef Matt Ford for menu development and R&D, as well as creating daily features for which he involves all the cooks to keep everyone engaged in both process and success.