New Orleans, a city long beloved for its Southern hospitality, revered global cuisines and quirky Bayou spirit shares its home with a pool of youthful talent. These food and beverage stars have canvassed experience from top kitchens and chefs and in turn, have carved their own success with dedication, ingenuity, business savvy and some good, old-fashioned elbow grease. In our first-ever list in the Big Easy, honorees range from an unexpected raw food movement pioneer to an ice-cutting artisan to boutique coffee experts. From the front of the house, to behind the bar and inside the kitchen, these young superstars are at the front lines of one of the most exciting food scenes in the country.
-Story by Kate Donnelly, Photos by Craig Mulcahy
Alexandra Anderson, 28Bartender, Cure and Cane and Table
Hailing from Georgia, Anderson’s first job was at a pizza joint and afterwards it was straight to bartending – at, of all places, a Hibachi restaurant. Here, Anderson learned how to whip up a mai tai – a mishmash of rum, blackberry, orange liqueur and pineapple juice. Afterwards, she trained under Eric Simpkins at Atlanta’s Lawrence. She moved to New Orleans in 2014 and currently works at the highly touted Cane and Table and the James Beard-nominated Cure. She’s an expert in classic tiki drinks, reformatting older recipes from vintage cocktail books to suit modern palates. And, influenced by a recent Mexico sojourn, her “The Luck I’ve Had” blends Vago Elote (a mezcal distilled with corn), white Armagnac, Spanish dry vermouth, a hint of Crème de Cacao and habanero bitters.
Ruby Bloch, 27Pastry Chef, LeBlanc+Smith
Bloch’s first foray into sweets was a job at New Jersey’s famed Rita’s Italian Ice and in her spare time, she catalogued recipes from Food Network and Gourmet magazine. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in Elementary Education, Bloch faced teaching freezes, so she moved to New Orleans and landed her first job hosting at Coquette, which was “meant to be part-time.” After working the front of the house, chef Zak Miller trained Bloch, who was sans any pastry experience at the time, and taught her the importance of organization. She went on to serve as manager at SoBou and landed her first pastry chef role at Le Foret. Now, under the umbrella of LeBlanc and Smith’s boutique restaurant group, she whips up creations at Meauxbar, where many of Bloch’s favorite recipes “have developed from mistakes I've made.”
Austin Breckenridge, 27Pastry Chef, La Petite Grocery
Growing up in Maryland, Breckenridge’s extended family owned a bakery where he helped sell cakes by the slice at a local flea market. After high school, he attended Stratford University, received an associate’s certificate and traveled to New York to work at The Water Club under pastry chef Victoria Love. He spent a few years back home, cooking for students at the college-prep SEED school. When he arrived in the Big Easy, Breckenridge found work at La Petite Grocery under pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt who taught him the intricacies of the craft. When chef Wyatt left, Breckenridge assumed the head position, continuing his mentor’s tradition of serving simple, elegant desserts. “Since pastry comes at the end it’s the most important course: It’s what leaves the impression that you’ve had a great experience.”
Patrick Brennan, 28Sous Chef, Brennan's Restaurant
With a last name synonymous with New Orleans cuisine, it’s safe to say Brennan grew up with a love for cooking (his family is behind the beloved French Quarter family namesake, Brennan’s). He graduated from Washington & Lee University and attended CIA Greystone (where coincidentally, his dad Ralph was a keynote speaker at his graduation). Along with his sister, he helped in the 17-month renovation of their restaurant’s 1795-era building. He’s also helped bring old-school dishes into the modern age including Southern classics like the filet of beef Stanley and eggs Sardou.
Geordie Brower, 29Manager, Bourbon House
As a fourth generation New Orleanian, Brower’s first food memories stemmed from his grandfather, the prominent restaurateur. On his sixth birthday, they went to Commander’s Palace with a “handful of spoons in everything.” At 14, Brower was running trays and waiting tables. After college, he worked the line at his family’s restaurant, Palace Café and attended Johnson & Wales Denver College of Culinary Arts. In the Big Apple, Brower helped open chef David Waltuck’s Elan and learned the art of butchery at The Cannibal. Last summer, he returned home to work at Commander’s Palace and transitioned into front of the house roles. Currently he’s manager at the seafood and Creole grill, Bourbon House. Outside of the kitchen, Brower and his wife are known to pedal a tandem bike to a live music show.
Gavin Cady and Theresa Galli, 26 and 27Chefs/Owners, 1000 Figs
Eating at original Greenwich Village falafel shop Mamoun’s as a kid, Cady fell in love with the cuisine. In college, Cady met Galli at Colorado College and in the summer of 2012, they moved to New Orleans. Cady briefly worked at Domenica and Galli at chef Aaron Bargua’s Patois. A few months later, they opened their Fat Falafel food truck, an operation directly inspired by Cady’s love for his favorite hometown restaurant. After successfully running their namesake truck for a year, Theresa and Gavin opted for a tiny brick-and-mortar on Ponce de Leon. With scant seating, their 1000 Figs allows guests to nab a coveted seat or grab and go. And, a new restaurant is in the collaborative works with a local wholesale bread baker.
Hope Clarke, 28Ice Chef, Catahoula Hotel
One of the most unique job titles on the list, Clarke got her start as a teen working for beverage mavens Stacie Stewart (at Ed Lee’s MilkWood) and Micah Melton at Chicago’s swanky Aviary. At 22, she picked up status as a level 1 sommelier and after a quick stint in Houston, landed at New Orleans’s hip Catahoula Hotel. Alongside her boss Nathan Dalton, Clarke creates both hand-carved and flavored ice for original drinks. Right now, to help chill tiki drinks and '70s-style blender concoctions à la the Jungle Bird, Clarke features a frozen pineapple slice. And, even better: “A figure-out-a-way-to-do-it-attitude leads to bitter-jelly fish Popsicles and pickled-tomato slushies.”
Liam Deegan, 29Managing Partner, Barrel Proof
Raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Liam came to Loyola to study photography and in the evenings, worked as a bartender. He fell fast for the industry, starting as a food runner at Sylvain and was eventually promoted to bar manager. Deegan polished his booze education and procured a second level Certified Cicerone and first level sommelier. With the team behind Sylvain, Deegan jumped at the opportunity to partner and open Barrel Proof (2014), a hip neighborhood spot to drink no-frills cocktails, beer and whiskey. With 279 varietals of the latter, Deegan currently enjoys sipping newer American single malts like Westland and McCarthy as well as the classic label Old Granddad (which doubles as the house shot).
Maria Degtiarenko, 29Lead Barista, Mammoth Espresso
Born in Moscow, Degtiarenko came to the U.S. when she was six years old. In her early days, she recalls sitting with her parents for Turkish coffee or black tea with milk. Degtiarenko picked up an art history degree in Virginia and fell in love with local roaster Daily Grind – where she learned how to whip up espressos and procured a Barista Guild Level 1 at Williamsburg Coffee & Tea. After a brief stint in Austin, she returned to NOLA and joined the indie-flared Mammoth Espresso where she and owner Jonathan Riethmaier take turns creating specialty coffee drinks. Her current fave: Sweet Little Thing made with two shots of espresso shaken with ice, Mauthe Farm's half & half, a touch of vanilla and a drop of Bittermen's Burlesque Aromatic Bitters.
Zachary Engel, 28Chef de Cuisine, Shaya Restaurant
As a senior at Tulane, the Florida-born Engel interned with chef Alon Shaya and ironically told him he wanted to “open an Israeli restaurant” one day. Engel cites an early family trip to Israel with his rabbi father as his introduction to the cuisine. Years later in Philadelphia, Engel cooked for the “Jedi Master” Michael Solomonov. He then worked in Tel Aviv at Meir Adoni's Catit Restaurant and back in Philadelphia, helmed the first two locales of Federal Donuts with Solomonov and his partner, Steven Cook. Back in NOLA, after a short stint with chef Sue Zemanick of Gautreau's, Engel became sous chef at the James Beard award-winning Shaya Restaurant – just like he told his mentor years before.
Roger Eyles, 28General Manager, Meauxbar
Growing up, Roger’s fondest memories were of dining out. On this 18th birthday, his mom took him to Galatoire’s, which she deemed a right of passage for any young New Orleans’ gentleman. Almost ten years later, when he was promoted to GM at Meauxbar, the owner Robert LeBlanc took him back to celebrate. Eyles learned the intricacies of service at Brennan’s and the love of locally sourced food from Sylvain. After a set visit to Bourdain’s No Reservations, Eyles felt inspired to head to New York where he served at Torrisi Italian Specialties and Parm NYC. He headed home to take the managerial reigns at the popular neighborhood spot, Meauxbar.
Jeremy Fogg, 28Pastry Chef, Emeril's New Orleans
It’s family first for Fogg who used to make banana cookies with his dad and gathered with relatives on Sundays. As a boy scout, he nabbed the grub master title and made meals for every camping trip. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Fogg worked at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Hilton Orlando and fell in love with all things pastry. In New Orleans, he spread his baking wings at Emeril’s New Orleans as a pastry cook. Within months, he was promoted to Pastry Chef and oversees a small team and ever-changing dessert menu. His accolades include an award for Best Pastry Chef of Louisiana from the American Culinary Federation, New Orleans chapter.
Shane Hennessey, 28Brand Manager at French Truck Coffee
From rap to hostels to coffee, Hennessey’s professional road is as stimulating as a warm cup of joe. After graduating from Loyola, he toured with the popular Crescent City rapper, G–Eazy, doing marketing and photography. Later he managed youth hostels in Charleston which called for early hours and a lot of caffeine and it was there where he “fell down the specialty coffee rabbit hole.” Back in New Orleans, Hennessey connected with Geoffrey Meeker’s popular French Truck Coffee. As brand manager, he’s helped initiate the first direct trade relationship with Nicaraguan farms after visiting three coffee growing regions in Jinotega, Matagalpa and Ocotal. He also oversees rebranding, logo and retail packaging work as it continue to grow.
Myles Holdsworth, 27Director of Outlets, Windsor Court Hotel
As a young lad in New Orleans, Holdsworth was brought up with proper home-cooked Southern meals. Following high school and Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, he moved to Switzerland (for school) and for a taste of global cuisine. His sojourns took him to Kuwait for a kitchen training program at Radisson SAS. A graduate of the CIA, he moved to Chengdu, China, to complete the IHG Hotel Management Training program. He finished his education at Switzerland’s Les Roches International School of Hotel Management. Back in NOLA, Holdsworth worked at the Omni Royal Orleans and in June, celebrated his first year at Windsor Court Hotel overseeing the many concepts inside; he works on everything from budgets to product design, marketing and training.
Jonathan Klaskala, 27Sous Chef, Kenton’s Food & Bourbon
Klaskala stumbled into food at his first summer job in Buffalo, New York. After his first semester at CIA, he took on an externship at Chicago’s Alinea, and then was part of the opening team at Next. Relocating to New Orleans, a city he loved for its rich history and food culture, Klaskala took a job at Stella and then joined the Kenton’s team where he assumed a sous chef position. Influenced by a half decade’s work under chef Grant Achatz (Alinea) and Scott Boswell in New Orleans, his work focus is all about using local Louisiana products. “What I like about staying local is it forces you to make the best of what you have available," he notes.
Hadi Ktiri, 29Bartender, French 75 Bar
After college, Ktiri moved to New Orleans – a city that wooed him with its bustling hospitality industry. A Google search landed him a job at the legendary Arnaud’s Restaurant where he worked his way up from front waiter to captain. Ktiri soon joined forces with mixologist Chris Hannah where he learned the cocktail ropes. Since then, the duo has been slinging class-act drinks (his team has been nominated for “Outstanding Bar Program” at the James Beard Awards). Ktiri voluntarily doles out NOLA itineraries/dining recs, “bartenders are great concierges," he says. When he’s not behind the bar, Ktiri writes and snaps photos (that have been featured in major publications). Later, you might find him with a Sazerac or bourbon on the rocks in his hands.
Taylor Lorio, 28Sous Chef, Palace Cafe
As a native New Orleanian, Lorio grew up listening to his dad’s culinary tales of eating at famed institutions like Antoine’s and Galatoire's. In college, his mom shipped him John Folse’s Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine, and soon he was cooking for fellow classmates. During the ‘09 Saints Super Bowl run, he whipped up pots of gumbo and decided cooking was his passion. He cut his teeth at the famed Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse and has worked his way up the kitchen ranks to sous chef. Recently, he moved over to sibling restaurant, Palace Cafe. He has represented New Orleans in Kentucky at the Bourbon Classic and as area chef at the Masters Golf Tournament. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking for his wife and 9-month-old son, Thomas. Lorio loves fishing (red fish and speckled trout) and is an avid wetlands conservationist.
Dylan Maisel, 26Owner, JuiceNOLA
In rural New York, Dylan was schooled at his parent’s mom-and-pop vegetarian restaurant, where he “spent more time than in my own home.” He worked in the kitchen, learning all facets of sustainable food. His mom, a baker and his dad a vegetarian chef taught him skills from baking banana cream pie to prepping vegetables; he quickly caught the wave of clean food. After graduating from the University of Vermont, he traveled to India and then to NOLA. In a town full of heavy food, Dylan unveiled JuiceNOLA, a vegetarian cafe in St. Roch Market where he whips up bright seasonal juices like Morning Warrior with pineapple, pear and chia seeds served alongside Italian kale salads and avocado toast. “This is me – it’s authentic, what I’ve been eating my whole life and am passionate about.”
Sheena Mannina, 28Founder and Co-Owner, Raw Republic
Growing up in New Orleans, Mannina worked at her family-owned po’ boy shop, Parenton’s and later helped her parents run a small Italian and seafood restaurant. When her father fell ill with cancer, Sheena reconsidered health and natural healing through food. She spent a year in East Hampton, learning all things juice. Back home, she whipped up smoothies in her garage for 11 months. In 2013, she and her partner Evan Cretini, opened Raw Republic, an organic, cold-pressed juice bar and detox boutique with a menu of juices, raw and vegan food, healing tea and cleanses (both Matthew McConaughey and Emma Roberts are fans). The store’s new upstairs space is the place to catch up with friends or meet with on-call healers and coaches.
Sarah Mandel, 26General Manager, Willa Jean
After graduating from Tulane, Mandel started her career as a busser, runner and server at chef Alon Shaya’s Domenica. Over the span of three years, Mandel segued into management and helped open three wildly popular John Besh restaurants including Pizza Domenica, Johnny Sanchez and chef Kelly Fields’ Willa Jean, where, after six months, she was promoted to general manager. Mandel’s focus at the buzzy Willa Jean remains on highly detailed, refined service, creating a fun place to eat and “showing what New Orleans hospitality is about.” She also oversees merchandise and catering. Currently, her favorite desserts are Fields’ heralded, addictive chocolate chip cookies served with a cup of vanilla milk.
Patty Morton, 29Executive Pastry Chef, Restaurant August
This Ohio native grew up with a strong sense of all things culinary thanks to her mom’s Italian heritage. Her first job was at a frozen custard shop and later, at an ice cream spot fittingly titled: Mardi Gras. After a bout of illness in high school (and instead of watching TV) Morton found her love of the kitchen. After a year at the French Culinary Institute, she worked as a pastry chef at the New York institution, Delmonico’s. She moved to New Orleans where she staged for her mentor, chef Kelly Fields who “pushed me to constantly create and test ideas and have confidence in what I was doing.” After five years, she’s worked her way up at the iconic Besh eatery. Cooking remains personal, “my creations carry a connection to my past.”
Tung Nguyen, 28Chef/Owner, T2 Street Food
One of 13 kids, Nguyen (number nine) grew up in a family who loved food. His education was watching his mom in the kitchen and working at his parent’s Vietnamese restaurant. After graduating with a Hospitality Management degree from A.A.S Delgado Community College, he spent almost four years at the Hyatt French Quarter learning the fine-tuning of hospitality. As one of St. Roch Market’s first customers, Nguyen felt that it was missing an essential part of New Orleans – Vietnamese cuisine. He opened T2 to showcase “what our cuisine has to offer and where it can go.” And because he shares the market’s kitchen with eight vendors, in true family fashion, he uses his sister’s grocery store to prep his pho broth.
Charly Pierre and Minerva Eva Chereches, 27 and 22Head Chef/Owner and Director of Operations/Owner, Fritai
How’s this for a cross-cultural food story? Charly Pierre, a first-generation Haitian-American and Eva Chereches, a second-generation Romanian met in Boston working at a Cambridge pizza parlor. They moved to New Orleans, a city they both loved, and worked in seasoned spots including Angeline, Meauxbar and Green Goddess. Noting a lack of Caribbean food, Pierre thought it only appropriate to revive the cuisine, educate locals and rediscover his roots. Last year, the duo opened Pierre’s Fritai at the open-air St. Roch Market. Their menu features a rotation of specials – a meld of Caribbean, African and Latin influences with a twist. Their bestseller is a sandwich with plantains alongside a spicy ginger lemonade. Chereches quips, “We have really found our niche.”
Sydney Rainwater, 29Pastry Chef, Trinity
Rainwater enjoyed cooking healthy meals for friends in college – so much so that she enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to study Baking and Pastry Arts. Her first two jobs in cooking were in California as a morning baker and decorating intern. She then accepted an externship at John Besh’s Restaurant August in NOLA, which led to a job as the sole pastry chef at Borgne. She polished her trade at Emeril’s New Orleans and later, she was named assistant pastry chef at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. At Trinity, Rainwater creates desserts presented in new, slightly healthier ways like taking the classic pecan pie and using honey instead of corn syrup.
Leo Sloan, 26Chef and Owner, Good Bird
The NYC-raised Sloan spent his formative years thinking about food – his dad was a cookbook author. In college, he cooked at a pizza spot aptly called, Leonardo’s (he loved wearing the hat). Back in Manhattan, he worked as prep cook at chef Mario Batali’s Otto and moved his way up the line (he especially loved the pasta station). At Batali’s Casa Mono, he loved the eatery’s experimentation and imagination. He was bitten by the travel bug and eventually landed in New Orleans. There, he worked at Donald Link’s Peche and then decided to cut out on his own. Seeing that the market was lacking in healthy chicken options, he opened the doors to The Good Bird, at the revived St. Roch Market. In a town famous for fried chicken, his new venture focuses on healthy and flavorful rotisserie chicken as the star ingredient.
Barrie Schwartz, 26CEO/Founder, My House NOLA
At 21, Schwartz moved to New Orleans where she worked at Coquette as a waitress and in her free time, hosted pop-up dinner events at her house. Soon, they couldn’t keep up with the demand. This spawned an idea for food truck festivals which gradually morphed into a “food-centric production company.” My House offers catering, plans weddings and grand events and works with a rotating roster of 30 vendors producing typical Creole, Latin, Middle Eastern and comfort food. She also helped organize vendors and served as manager of private events at St. Roch Market. On being a young entrepreneur, she says, “I love having the autonomy and creativity to grow my business and let it evolve.”
Jimmy Seely and Joel Hitchcock Tilton, 27 and 29Owners, Paradigm Gardens
Both Seely and Tilton grew up in southeastern Wisconsin and moved down to New Orleans in 2005 and 2010, respectively. Their shared farming education stems from Seely's family farm childhood and Tilton’s brother, who works on an organic vegetable farm and as an agricultural writer. Between teaching, coaching, cooking and producing reggae/Caribbean concerts, the duo started a community garden in Central City. In December of 2014, they founded Paradigm Gardens, an urban farm on South Rampart Street, which they dug by hand. They now supply produce for wildly popular restaurants like Patois, Coquette and Primitivo. A two-man act, the duo tends to the farm daily including feeding their goats, chickens and bees. Come fall, they will host a concert series and private events.
Alexis Tabor, 29General Manager, Angeline
Tabor grew up on a small Massachusetts farm selling perennials out of the front yard and “growing most of the food we ate.” Hailing from an extended family, of which she quips, “the last time I counted it was 47 first cousins,” her fondest moments were at family reunions – usually involving clambakes and pig roasts. In her early teens, she worked front-to-back of the house restaurant jobs (at Vinny T’s, Tortilla Flats and Blue Elephant). In 2010, she moved to New Orleans and jumped at the opportunity to hostess at Sylvain, which she calls a “magical place” and where she gradually worked her way up to general manager. Now, in the same role at the popular Angeline, Tabor loves innovation and takes pride in sourcing local ingredients and supporting a food community of farmers.
Patrick Trahan, 28Executive Sous Chef, MOPHO
Born and raised in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Trahan was influenced by his grandmother’s French cooking, “I still vividly remember how she smothered pork chops with rice and gravy (she used a sugar roux instead of flour).” His calling took him to chef John Folse’s Culinary Institute where he spent his externship at Westchester Country Club and was quickly christened sous chef. He spent five months at Institut Paul Bocuse, with students from around the world, to learn the art of French cuisine. Back home, chef Randy Cheramie (from Folse’s) introduced Trahan to locally loved MOPHO, the Vietnamese-Creole restaurant helmed by acclaimed chef Michael Gulotta. Here, he has worked his way up from morning sauté cook to executive sous chef where currently he’s proud of creating the menu’s "Croque Madame" topped with a coconut bechamel.
Martha Faith Wiggins, 29Executive Chef, Sylvain Restaurant
Wiggins kicked off her career in a bagel shop in Washington DC, eventually moving up to become a short-order cook. At Bristol Community College, she studied under chef John Caressimo who reminded his students to work hard – as the esteemed Johnson and Wales was just up the street. Wiggins listened and with a second-year scholarship, she worked on the line at Candleworks Restaurant. When she arrived in the Crescent City in 2010, she filled a Craigslist ad for a new restaurant, Sylvain. Chef Alex Harrell gave her a sous chef job at the elegant gastropub where she’s been “since day one” and now runs the show. She lauds Harrell for donning many hats – from her mentor to her emergency contact.