In our first-ever CultureMap Dallas Tastemaker Awards, we're celebrating the prodigious talent in our food and drink community. For months, our editors sifted through nominees before narrowing down the field for a panel of experts who chose winners in nine categories. Those winners will be revealed with great fanfare — and many a toast — at our big event on May 6.
In the past couple of weeks, we've honored the city's top pastry chefs, tipped our hat to the best breweries and lifted our glass to the best bars in town. We even launched a tournament so our readers could help choose the best new restaurant. But perhaps no category is more meaningful than that of best chef.
Unlike the rising stars who are just beginning to make their mark, these candidates are the culinary masters of our city. They've made significant contributions to our local dining scene while staying at the top of their field. They've brought us not only fantastic food but also glory, bragging rights and a sense of hometown pride.
These legendary chefs all have accolades and four-star ratings that would fill a page. Instead of listing their awards and achievements, we'll share a few highlights, including their game-changing moments, signature dishes and what makes them special.
In alphabetical order, we present our candidates for the Tastemaker Award for Best Chef:
Nick Badovinus, Neighborhood Services, Off-Site Kitchen
Game changer: Badovinus left the friendly confines of Consilient and showed his mettle with his successful Neighborhood Services.
Signature dish: Veal schnitzel
What's new: Openings everywhere — a third Neighborhood Services in Addison, an Off-Site Kitchen in Trinity Groves and a new concept called Town Hearth opening in the Design District.
In a nutshell: Nimble and intuitive, Badovinus is a chef with classic roots who's plugged in to restless contemporary diners.
Dean Fearing, Fearing's
Game changer: Leaving the Mansion to open Fearing's in 2007 proved that Dean didn't need the Mansion to be Dean.
Signature dish: Lobster taco
What's new: A cookbook called The Texas Food Bible (Grand Central Publishing), coming out on April 29.
In a nutshell: Intensely charismatic, accessible yet larger-than-life, with a faultless palate, Fearing is a Dallas treasure.
Tim Love, Lonesome Dove, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie's Steakhouse, Love Shack, Barter
Game changer: Love's kitchen skills are matched by his ability to spot trends before they happen.
Signature dish: Tomahawk chop
What's new: A TV favorite, his latest show is Esquire Network's Knife Fight.
In a nutshell: Perhaps no chef has a stronger combination of creativity and drive than Love.
Matt McCallister, FT33
Game changer: McCallister's meteoric rise through the ranks at Stephan Pyles led to the opening of his own Design District restaurant.
Signature dish: Smoked potatoes with maitake mushrooms and spicy mayo
What's new: A spot on the list of Food & Wine's 2014 best new chefs.
In a nutshell: McCallister has a preternaturally canny finger on foodie trends.
Kent Rathbun, Abacus, Jasper's, Rathbun's Blue Plate Kitchen
Game changer: Rathbun opened Abacus in 1999 and thus began a chef-driven mini restaurant empire.
Signature dish: Lobster shooters
What's new: A dramatic refresh of the menu at Jasper's, Rathbun's ode to backyard cuisine.
In a nutshell: Rathbun handily balances the craft of the chef with a business sense.
Raul Reyes, Mesa
Game changer: Reyes transformed his modest La Palapa Veracruzana in Oak Cliff into the fine-dining restaurant that is Mesa.
Signature dish: Enmoladas with mole sauce
What's new: Expansion to Bishop Arts with a seafood restaurant called Ceviche.
In a nutshell: Reyes is our best and most genuine example of the ability to elevate Mexican food into serious cuisine.
Stephan Pyles, Stephan Pyles, Stampede 66, San Salvaje
Game changer: Pyles presciently saw the potential of Dallas' Arts District when he opened his eponymous restaurant in 2005.
Signature dish: Cowboy rib-eye with onion rings
What's new: Pan-Latin restaurant San Salvaje will soon open in the old Samar spot.
In a nutshell: A master of reinvention, Pyles perseveres by finding new ways to capitalize on his well-established classics.
Teiichi Sakurai, Tei An
Game changer: Sakurai's precision has made Tei An and the otherwise-moribund One Arts Plaza a destination.
Signature dish: Soba sampler
What's new: Impromptu Sunday-morning ramen parties that are hugely popular.
In a nutshell: Sakurai's mastery of soba noodles and live seafood puts Tei An in an elite league whose peers are mostly in Japan.
John Tesar, Spoon, Knife
Game changer: Tesar has championed underdog cuisines, from burgers at The Commissary to seafood at Spoon, at exactly the right time and place.
Signature dish: C-vap burger
What's new: A steakhouse, called Knife, opening at Hotel Palomar.
In a nutshell: Colorful and mercurial, Tesar gives us impeccable food with plenty of sparks.
David Uygur, Lucia
Game changer: Uygur's unexpected embrace/interpretation of Italian food brought national attention to Lucia and gave Bishop Arts a chef-driven spot.
Signature dish: Charcuterie with nduja crostini
What's new: Ever-longer waits for a reservation, even years after opening.
In a nutshell: Stoic Uygur is nothing less than an artist, making robust pleasures on the plate.
Come celebrate the Tastemakers with us on Tuesday, May 6, at Seven for Parties in the Dallas Design District. To learn more about the event, including information about our beneficiaries, judges, participating restaurants and ticket sales, visit our Tastemakers website.