For the last six years, Zagat's 30 Under 30 program has honored hundreds of young, exceptional hospitality professionals in major markets all over the country. This year, we’re turning it up a notch with our first-ever 30 Under 30 National list. We began the process with an open call back in January in which we carefully recorded and vetted nominations from readers, our local editors, previous honorees and industry insiders to come up with 60 potential honorees. We cut that down to 45 finalists in June, and today, we’re proud to present the final 30 Under 30, representing some of the best, brightest and most badass hospitality players from coast to coast — from a cookie dough magnate to a hydroponic farmer.
—Edited by Kelly Dobkin and Anna Roth; Photo Editor: Wendy George
Malik Ali, Sous-Chef, 26The Ugly Duckling, Philadelphia, PA
With 13 siblings and a huge extended family, Sunday dinners weren’t just a meal at Malik Ali’s childhood home, but a production. “When my relatives found out my mom was cooking, people rushed over to [the house] because her food was that good. I realized then that I wanted that feeling too,” he says. A graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia’s culinary program, Ali stuck around his hometown after school. Philly, says Ali, is unique in that it really shows a diversity of cuisines, people and cultures. As a sous/pastry chef for Johncarl Lachman’s acclaimed kitchens the past four years, Ali has shown quite a range too. He’s cooked modern Dutch at Noord, French-Moroccan at Restaurant Neuf and all-day classics at hip brunch spot, The Dutch. Now he’s shifted again and joined the Blue Duck restaurant team at the Center City’s hotly anticipated American comfort food spot, The Ugly Duckling as sous-chef.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Tracie Van Auken
George Azar, Chef/Owner, 28Flowers of Vietnam, Detroit, MI
George Azar has worked in kitchens with Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz and René Redzepi (he recently helped with the Noma Mexico pop-up), but he made his name as a chef by turning an old Coney Island diner in Detroit into a hub for innovative Vietnamese food. Flowers of Vietnam isn’t exactly the recipe you’d expect for one of the biggest openings of the year but the accolades keep coming — from the Detroit Free Press to GQ. Azar said Detroit was ready for something new, and after not being able to find solid Vietnamese in the heart of the city, he decided to fill the void himself. Since opening as a pop-up inside the diner, Azar’s classic dishes have gained notoriety for being strongly executed with finesse and unique flourishes. Later this year, Flowers reopens after renovations as a full restaurant in the old diner space, and with a sister counter at downtown NFL stadium, Ford Field.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Tim Galloway
Teddy Bricker, Chef/Owner, 29Soursop, Austin, TX
After gaining experience in famed NYC kitchens, and under chefs like Michelle Bernstein in Miami and Paul Qui in Austin, Teddy Bricker says one of the best professional decisions he made was going on to work front of house at La Condesa — first as a food runner, then a server, bartender and finally manager. “I think everyone back of house should work front of house at some point and vice versa,” he says. When the owners of St. Elmo Brewing told Bricker they were seeking a food truck for their beer garden, he put both sets of skills to work, developing Soursop’s Southeast Asian inspired bar menu to pair with the microbrewery’s nuanced beers, and fine tuning his people skills. The insta-hit trailer opened this past winter and has been lauded for Teddy’s vibrant dishes like sweet and spicy sambal wings, sticky ribs smoked with Thai tea and hickory wood and creamy, complex panang eggplant.
—Veronica Meewes, Photo by Whitney Devin
Aaron Caddel, Founder, 25Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA
Growing up in Redlands, California, about an hour east of Los Angeles, Aaron Caddel says he adopted a rule-breaking mentality that helped create one of the more Instagrammable bakery chains in the country — it’s a toss-up over which is more photogenic, the cheeky “I Got Baked” neon signs that hang in the shops or the pastries themselves. Getting diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 19 had something to do with it, as it changed his perspective and trajectory in life. After an eight-hour surgery and six years later, he now oversees the growing empire (with locations in LA and SF), from finding bakers to helping create things like custard-filled Cruffins and “sushi” croissants, to smoothing out the logistics of expanding around the globe (there’s also a location in Seoul, South Korea). “We’ve built a culture around the practice of disassembling tradition to see what works and what doesn’t,” Caddel says.
—Lesley Balla, Photo by Jenn Harrington
Melissa Davis, Beverage Director and Assistant General Manager, 29Staplehouse, Atlanta, GA
Melissa Davis is the maestro behind the innovative beverage program at chef Ryan Smith's white-hot New American restaurant, which has gained both local and national accolades. Staplehouse's smart beverage offerings dip into seldom-seen wines, amari and cordials; it could all easily veer pretentious, but Davis makes choices based on inspiring a conversation between her staff and guest, that "get people out of their comfort zones." It's an approach that has guided her through her evolving career, coming up through hotspots like The General Muir, One Midtown Kitchen and Woodfire Grill. It’s also very ATL, and very now. "Sticking to your guns but allowing yourself to be playful is something that's quintessentially Atlanta," says Davis.
—Christopher Hassiotis, Photo by Melissa Golden
Melissa Denmark, Executive Pastry Chef, 28Gracie's and Ellie's Bakery, Providence, RI
Melissa Denmark tried her hand at a number of roles, both front of house and back of house, before finding her place in the hospitality world. This included spending time as a cake decorator and baking bread on a dairy farm, where she learned that it was important for her to be close to the ingredients she works with. At Gracie’s, Denmark works with a small team to create tasting menus consisting of around seven different desserts each night, while at Ellie’s she assists in large-scale productions, churning out laminated doughs, French macarons and more in the wee hours of the night. She finds the work at Gracie’s to be relaxing despite the sometimes chaotic nature of dinner service, saying, “Some of the work is very meticulous but it’s also centering; it’s quiet and you can just concentrate on the plate design.” Denmark likes to challenge herself and experiment with new ingredients and flavor profiles, earning praise for her light, savory-sweet creations.
—Abigail Abesamis, Photo by Adam Glanzman
Stefani De Palma, Chef de Cuisine, 28Addison, San Diego, CA
Looking at what chef Stefani De Palma has accomplished in the kitchen, you never would have guessed she previously dreamt of becoming a lawyer. Instead, she’s writing her own laws as chef de cuisine at Addison, one of San Diego’s hottest restaurants. Stefani was only 19 and fresh out of culinary school when she was hired as the luxurious restaurant’s pastry chef. Within nine short years, she blazed through several positions — chef de partie, chef tournant, pastry sous-chef and sous-chef — to where she is today. She’s attributed working alongside executive chef William Bradley as one of the main reasons she’s grown into each role. But she’s never left her pastry past behind; she hopes to open her own bakery one day.
—Darlene Horn, Photo by Ariana Dreshler
Nick Dugan, Chef de Cuisine, 29Bellecour, Wayzata, MN
When Nick Dugan turned 14, he had marching orders from his parents: It was time to get a job. He went to the only place that would hire him in his tiny New York town: the local pizzeria. There Dugan got his taste of the industry and never turned back. After a stint at the Culinary Institute and Colorado’s Penrose Room, he joined Michael Mina’s DC hit, Bourbon Steak and RN74 Seattle as chef de cuisine. After six years with the Mina Group, it was time for a change. Without an official job, Dugan followed one of his icons, Gavin Kaysen, to the Twin Cities. There he found an abundance of fresh Midwest ingredients and creativity, and joined Kaysen on the area’s biggest opening of the year. “This is the kind of food I love to cook. I love getting the most pristine ingredients and treating them with the utmost respect.”
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Tim Gruber
Hannah Grossman, Beverage Manager/Sommelier, 28Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio, Chicago, IL
Hannah Grossman has understood the importance of wine with food from a young age — it’s an appreciation her parents instilled at their home in suburban Chicago, where her dad taught her how to pour wine even before she was of drinking age. Fueled by her love of wine and history, she got into the restaurant business as a server, eventually under mentors like City Winery’s Rachel Driver Speckan and Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio’s Rob Mosher. In line with her travels overseas, wine is integral at Italian-accented Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio, right alongside food and service. Applying an old adage of her dad’s, to go the extra mile and never stop learning, Grossman is always seeking new styles and regions for her menu, running the gamut from orange wine and Oregonian bubbly, to a robust selection of reds, each bottle meticulously pored over — and poured — to match the kitchen’s famed pastas.
—Matt Kirouac, Photo by Kristan Lieb
Mitch Hagney, CEO, 26LocalSprout, San Antonio, TX
As a college debater, Mitch Hagney advocated for solutions to global environmental woes. After he graduated, he decided to put rhetoric into action in his own city of San Antonio — where local produce was scarce, as farmers lacked resources needed to grow commercial agriculture. Hagney’s approach was twofold: He started a hydroponic farm, a system of growing that uses minimal water and space, allowing for more sustainable, year-round production; and he opened the doors to LocalSprout, a shared co-working space for local farmers and producers. He also serves as president of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio, where he has successfully lobbied the city government for measures that empower local farmers. Thanks to LocalSprout, San Antonio chefs and residents are able to regularly cook with local produce, and the city is well on its way to becoming a center of the organic food movement.
—Priya Krishna, Photo by Whitney Devin
Becca Hegarty, Chef/Owner, 27Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette, Pittsburgh, PA
Becca Hegarty’s earliest culinary influence was her grandmother, a baker, who would make her a cake (with a flavor of her choosing) every birthday. She studied pastry arts at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg and discovered during an externship at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore that though she loved baking, she was more passionate about the story of the ingredients. She worked with Sonja Finn at Dinette and The Café Carnegie, then, realizing her aspirations were not to run or own a large restaurant, decided to start a small farm in Verona, PA, with her partner. “It’s always been my dream to eliminate any holes in the process of food, from the beginning of its life to the end when we serve it to people,” says Hegarty, who uses the produce from her farm to craft simple plates and baked goods and sell them at Bloomfield Market. Hegarty is in the process of expanding the luncheonette beyond the farmer’s market, revamping a nearby diner that she recently acquired into a breakfast and lunch counter.
—Abigail Abesamis, Photo by Ross Mantle
Jesse Ito, Chef/Owner, 28Royal Izakaya, Philadelphia, PA
Jesse Ito quite literally grew up behind a sushi counter. He got his start at 14 in his parents’ acclaimed South Jersey restaurant, Fuji, and became a sushi chef under his father Masaharu Ito’s meticulous guidance. But it took two Fuji regulars, restaurateurs Dave Frank and Stephen Simon, to suggest the sushi bar/izakaya concept to the younger Ito, and the results have been thrilling for the Philly food scene. “Philly was ready for this [kind of sushi] and more are coming now because it’s working,” Ito said. He loves the casualness of Royal Izakaya (where his father helms the kitchen) and the comfort food reminiscent of his own childhood, but the omakase is where Ito shines brightest. His exceptional omakase menu with fish flown in from Japan regularly books up weeks in advance and has introduced a whole new aspect of Japanese cuisine to the city.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Tracie Van Auken
Brian Lavin, Executive Chef/Partner, 29Gnocco, Baltimore, MD
A study abroad trip to Europe during college with friend (and now business partner) Sam White influenced the type of food Brian Lavin wanted to cook, eat and serve. Lavin was drawn to the European-Mediterranean style of sharing straightforward small plates where the ingredients speak for themselves. He led the kitchens at Salt and The Fork & Wrench before making the leap with White to take over an old sports bar he’d been eyeing for years. At Gnocco, the menu changes weekly, save for a few staples, to take advantage of the freshest ingredients available and for Lavin to experiment with different pasta shapes and cooking techniques. For Lavin, the accolades (including a spot in The Baltimore Sun’s 50 Best Restaurants list) are great, but the most important thing is making people feel at home by serving “good, honest, straightforward food.”
—Abigail Abesamis, Photo by Sean Scheidt
Irene Li, Co-Founder, 27Mei Mei, Boston, MA
“Sometimes I still have a baby sister complex,” laughs Li, youngest of the three sibling-founders of Mei Mei, which means “little sister” in Chinese. Whatever motivates her, it works. She helms day-to-day operations for Mei Mei, a foodie-favorite entry in Boston’s food truck fleet, now expanded to a quirky Seaport shipping container, brick-and-mortar restaurant (near the Brookline home where the trio grew up) and line of bottled sauces. Along the way, Li, a self-taught cook via books, YouTube and food TV, became a three-time James Beard semifinalist. But this TEDx talker is most proud of bringing social justice into the kitchen. Mei Mei emphasizes its diverse staff (over half women and 50% people of color, says Li), profit-sharing that rewards employees based on hours worked and its bilingual, classroom-style business education to help workers build big, long-lasting hospitality careers — from baby steps to big steps.
—Scott Kearnan, Photo by Adam Glanzman
Maya Lovelace, Chef/Owner, 29Mae, Portland, OR
After Maya Lovelace’s culinary inspiration — her grandmother Mae — died shortly after her arrival to Portland, she decided to honor her with a one-night-only dinner. That event has evolved into a twice-weekly dinner series, occasional fried chicken pop-ups and a James Beard Rising Star semifinalist nod. Born and raised in North Carolina, Lovelace got a start on the opening team at Sean Brock’s Husk, before making the cross-country move to join Naomi Pomeroy’s Beast in Portland. Despite the fanfare for Mae, Lovelace is hesitant to open a full restaurant, though is casually looking for the right spot. Whether it comes around or not, her cooking is a game changer for blending deeply traditional Southern recipes — many of which come right from her grandmother’s kitchen or vintage cookbooks from old-school organizations like the Ladies Auxiliary — with seasonal, surprising elements.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Leah Nash
Tyler Malek, Head Ice Cream Maker and Co-Founder, 29Salt & Straw and Wiz Bang Bar, Portland, OR
Tyler Malek can wax poetic about ice cream all day: “it’s the only food where the customer gets to taste everything before they buy”; and so on. This enthusiasm, along with inventive flavors like pear and blue cheese, has won him legions of fans willing to wait in long lines at the uber-popular Salt & Straw shops across the West Coast. Malek started in finance, not ice cream, but left it for culinary school and joined his cousin Kim Malek in 2011 to launch the Portland-based brand. Today the company has expanded to San Francisco and Los Angeles, announced another store in Seattle next year, and added a soft serve counter called Wiz Bang Bar in Portland. Restaurateur Danny Meyer recently announced a minority investment in Salt & Straw which will help further expand the brand. Malek also has an ice cream cookbook on the way.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Leah Nash
Natasha McIrvin, Director of Creative Projects, 27Make it Nice, New York, NY
On any given day, Natasha McIrvin could be picking out paint colors, meeting with an architect or tracking down vintage games for a party. Being a jack of all trades is in her job description as the director of creative projects for hospitality masters Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s restaurant group, Make It Nice. McIrvin started out staging at Eleven Madison Park and caught Guidara’s eye when she started going above and beyond her job description, taking on special events like cookbook releases and the restaurant’s annual Kentucky Derby party. A permanent position was created for her, and now she’s the unflappable engine that keeps the entire group’s day-to-day projects running, from the Eleven Madison Park Summer House in the Hamptons to the company’s upcoming restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. “Everyone is just so passionate, creative and great to learn from,” she says of Make It Nice. “We’re like a football team trying to win state."
—Priya Krishna, Photo by Alex Welsh
Caitlin McMillan, Chef, 28Goldie, Philadelphia, PA
All it took for Asheville, NC, native Caitlin McMillan to know she wanted to join Michael Solomonov’s kitchen was a photo of the award-winning chef posed with a plate of carrots and a heaping spoonful of duck fat, representing a stark departure from the Southern food she was cooking at the time. She moved to Philadelphia to join Solomonov’s CookNSolo group in 2014, leaving her roots in Asheville, where she’d worked at Cucina 24, Zambra and Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder. After quickly moving up the ladder at Zahav, McMillan shifted to open Dizengoff New York and developed the menu for charitable Philly luncheonette hit, Rooster Soup Co. This past April she debuted CookNSolo’s vegan falafel spot, Goldie, to lines out the door opening day and big buzz for her tehina milkshakes. “I love the creativity of the kitchen and [watching] people’s faces change while eating something. It’s the coolest feeling in the world,” she says.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Tracie Van Auken
Andrew Olsen, Bar Manager, 29Bluestem, Kansas City, MO
Andrew Olsen remembers the night he discovered the art of bartending. He had finished a shift at high-end Kansas City steakhouse Houston’s and afterward, went with a friend to The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, where he was transfixed as bartenders crafted drink after drink using spirits and ingredients he had never heard of before. Six years and his own stint at the Rieger later, Olsen is changing local cocktail culture as the bar manager at the James Beard award-winning Bluestem. By using imaginative ingredients ranging from yogurt to orange marmalade, he crafts drinks as approachable as they are artful. Olsen never imagined a life in the industry — he grew up in rural Missouri and joined the U.S. Marines after high school — but is grateful for the way things have turned out. “I love the family aspect of the industry,” he says.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Sandra Park
Allie Poindexter, Owner/General Manager/Sommelier, 29Henrietta Red, Nashville, TN
Allie Poindexter wasn’t convinced she’d made the right choice when she packed up her New York apartment and moved to Nashville to open a restaurant with her friend and business partner, Julia Sullivan. But in a city filled with comfort food, beer and whiskey, Henrietta Red’s fresh seafood and natural wine–focused beverage program have distinguished it from the pack. Poindexter trained as a food writer and historian, and crossed paths with chef Sullivan while managing the culinary program at Haven’s Kitchen in New York. Once in Nashville, Poindexter turned her focus to wine, and created her first-ever wine list while studying for the rigorous sommelier level two exam, which she has since passed. “I’ve learned so much by simply doing,” she says. Anyone who has dined at Henrietta Red in the past year can attest to that.
—Margaret Sutherlin, Photo by Hollis Bennett
Bobby Pradachith, Co-Chef/Owner, 24Thip Khao, Padaek Washington, DC
Bobby Pradachith was just another American teen growing up in Northern Virginia who dreamt of becoming a basketball star. But his focus changed drastically around junior year when his mother, Seng Luangrath, bought Bangkok Golden (now called Padaek) in Falls Church and started wowing diners with a secret Lao menu. It was then that Pradachith started viewing food as the gateway to his culture — and his future. Pradachith eventually helped his mother open Thip Khao, a wildly popular Lao restaurant in DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, using both the precision he learned cooking at Minibar and Buddakan in New York and the instincts he learned at his mother’s side. And while working in the family business isn’t always a picnic, Pradachith wouldn’t have it any other way. “Whenever I cook these dishes, I feel like I’m cooking with my ancestors side by side with me,” he says. “It feels magical and so cool.”
—Rina Rapuano, Photo by Jason Andrew
Chris Requena, Chef de Cuisine, 27Wexler's Deli, Santa Monica, CA
Watching Chris Requena’s rise through kitchens like Craft Los Angeles, Osteria Mozza, Animal and Jon & Vinny’s, and now running the day-to-day kitchens for the growing Wexler’s Deli empire, it’s clear he was destined for greatness in the food world. Like any native Angeleno, his first dream was to become a Dodger, but he let his passion for food and learning to cook for himself lead to culinary school. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, he picked up inspiration, knowledge and encouragement from some of LA’s best chefs, including Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, Jonathan Whitener and current bosses Micah Wexler and Michael Kassar as they expand their deli concept. Still, it’s words from his father that stick with Requena most as he thinks about his path to success: “Let your hard work do the talking and never kiss up to the boss.”
—Lesley Balla, Photo by Jenn Harrington
Julian Rodarte, Executive Chef and Co-Owner, 24Beto & Son at Trinity Groves, Dallas, TX
As a corporate chef for one of the nation’s largest restaurant corporations, Julian Rodarte’s father wanted his son to become a doctor, lawyer or pretty much anything outside the culinary industry. But young Julian was awestruck by the man’s passion for food early on. When he expressed his own interest in the family business, his dad put him through every unglamorous back-of-house position as potential discouragement, but the dream still beckoned. After stints in culinary school and corporate kitchens, Julian Rodarte now has his own Mexican restaurant where he infuses south-of-the-border classics with modern twists, including liquid nitrogen margaritas frozen tableside and nachos built from tater tots. It’s all crafted alongside the senior Rodarte, his co-owner — and one very proud mentor and role model.
—Steven Lindsey, Photo by Whitney Devin
Ashley Shelton, Executive Chef, 28Sardella and Pastaria, Clayton, MO
Growing up, Ashley Shelton’s biggest inspiration was her mom, a talented home cook — and cooking then became 14-year-old Shelton’s way of keeping her mom close after she passed away. She got a job at 17 in local favorite chophouse, Annie Gunn’s, to learn the kitchen basics, and filled in the blanks after culinary school. Shelton met up with restaurant owner Gerard Craft in Florence, Italy, while she was studying for her masters in Italian cuisine to interview for a position at his upcoming restaurant, Pastaria, and now splits her time between two of his restaurants, which are conveniently connected. On her leadership style, Shelton likes to keep it light. “When you can bring an atmosphere of fun into an industry that is so stressful, it really helps and makes the food better,” she says.
—Abigail Abesamis, Photo by Carolina Hidalgo
Carlie Steiner, Co-Owner/Beverage Director, 26Himitsu, Washington DC
Carlie Steiner now co-owns one of DC’s hottest restaurants, but there was never any doubt about her career trajectory. “Basically, I knew what I wanted to do when I was 15,” says the CIA graduate who has worked pretty much every restaurant position possible, from busser to bartender. She landed the latter right out of culinary school when she applied for a job at José Andrés’ Minibar + Barmini “as a joke” — and got it. The Virginia Beach native later launched a cocktail consulting company and now deftly handles the crowds that line up for a table in the 24-seat restaurant. Steiner focuses on connecting with the community through fundraisers and curating an experience that provides lasting memories, which includes training staff on the challenges of the small room. “I’m really big on energy,” she says. “In our space, if people are energetically putting out cool vibes, the whole space feels it.”
—Rina Rapuano, Photo by Jason Andrew
Kristen Tomlan, Founder and CEO, 29DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections, New York, NY
For Kristen Tomlan, the best thing about baking is seeing the smile on people’s faces when they’re enjoying her treats — something she gets to do on a much larger scale today at her wildly popular cookie dough shop, DŌ. Prior to launching the company, Tomlan spent months on recipe development, tweaking and substituting ingredients in her favorite cookie recipes to make dough that was both bakeable and safe to eat raw. DŌ began as an online business in 2015 and went brick-and-mortar, which had always been the goal, in January of this year. At opening, lines went around the block despite the bitter winter cold, with customers waiting as long as four hours to indulge in the usually forbidden raw snack. “The response was better than anything I could have ever expected,” she says.
—Abigail Abesamis, Photo by Alex Welsh
Brandon Paul Weaver, Roaster/Owner, 29Foreigner Coffee and Liberty Bar, Seattle, WA
Brandon Paul Weaver first fell in love with coffee hanging out with friends over Frappuccinos at Starbucks. That love quickly grew into a desire to learn everything about the coffee world. After stints at local cafes like Parnassus and Zoka, winning several coffee competitions along the way, Weaver and his mentor Nik Virrey brought something new to Seattle coffee in 2013 when they designed a menu emphasizing sit-down bar-style service at Slate Coffee Roasters, and he set his sights on learning everything he could about the other kind of bar service. He landed at Capitol Hill’s lauded Liberty Bar, taking only two years to complete the intense (normally three-year) training it takes to go from opening coffee shift to nighttime bartender. Now, as co-op director and roaster for his own coffee company, Weaver’s happy to pay it forward. “Watching people grow and become the people they hoped to be is 100% what drives me,” he says.
—Jackie Varriano, Photo by Jenny Riffle
Spencer White, Chef/Partner, 29Dio Mio Handmade Pasta, Denver, CO
Maitake tempura and soy-pickled beech mushrooms with chicken-liver mousse and chicken-skin crumble. Sunchoke-clementine mezzelune. An “ice cream sandwich” with Fernet-Branca semifreddo. Three-course menu at a special-occasion destination? Nope, just your average meal from rising star Spencer White and chef-partner Alex Figura at Dio Mio Handmade Pasta, which we named one of the city’s Most Important Openings in 2016 for achieving what so many fast-casual entrepreneurs only dream of: quick-serve fine dining. Game-changing comes naturally to White, whose short career included stints at local institution Mizuna and Copenhagen’s renowned BROR before he caught Figura’s eye as a ready-for-prime-time player — despite no formal training. Still, the fast track only goes so far for the Colorado Springs native. “I don’t think I ever want to grow to where I can’t keep an eye on everything myself,” White says. “Being able to touch all the plates — that’s what’s important to me right now.”
—Ruth Tobias, Photo by Morgan Levy
William Wright, Executive Chef, 29Helen Greek Food and Wine, Houston, TX
Kentucky native William Wright’s culinary roots date back to his grandmother’s kitchen and family garden, instilling in him a passion about quality food from a young age. In college, he was so upset by the cafeteria food that the school gave him a refund on his meal plan — he took that money and bought a one-way trip to NYC to attend culinary school. Later, he traveled to Italy where he studied and worked at the lauded Ristorante La Madia. Professional connections brought him to Houston where he met Evan Turner and together they opened Helen Greek Food and Wine in 2016, which reflects the diverse regional flavors and cooking styles of Greece, becoming a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. In 2017, Wright was also a James Beard semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of The Year. Though he lives and breathes food virtually 24/7, Wright finds time for his passions, i.e. geeking out on coffee and Italian sports cars.
—Ellie Sharp, Photo by William Chambers
Hannah Ziskin, Pastry Chef, 29Nopa, San Francisco, CA
Hannah Ziskin is a pastry chef who prefers salads over chocolate, and as such, her desserts often have an interesting savory edge, like a recent composition of pickled peaches with warm cornmeal crêpes, black pepper–buttermilk ice cream and salted almonds, or another involving melon shaved ice, puffed rice, mochi and lime curd. The chef didn’t always want to be in the kitchen: She grew up in Los Angeles with Broadway aspirations, and earned an English degree at UC Berkeley before switching gears for an externship at Chez Panisse. Since then, she’s worked at Bay Area heavyweights like Quince and Bar Tartine before taking the reins on Nopa’s dessert program two-and-a-half years ago. And Ziskin’s influence on the SF dining scene isn’t limited to the eternally popular Divisadero restaurant — she also co-runs an Israeli-inflected pop-up called Freya at a local bar.
—Trevor Felch, Photo by Cayce Clifford