To open the 2016 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, our annual event honoring the best in local food and drink, we begin with the brightest category: Rising Star Chef of the Year. These are the up-and-coming chefs, the young guns on the brink of beautiful careers. Whether they're running a kitchen or opening their own restaurant, these are the ones to watch out for.
Speaking of watching out, be sure to look for our upcoming stories on other categories such as Restaurant of the Year, Sommelier of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year, and Best New Restaurant. And we invite you to join in the celebratory party on May 19 at Hall of State in Fair Park. Buy tickets here.
On to the Rising Star Chefs for 2016:
Kirstyn Brewer, Victor Tangos
California native Kirstyn Brewer has an impressive resume that includes The Bazaar by Jose Andreas in Beverly Hills, where she worked with Top Chef Michael Voltaggio, and Consilient Restaurants' Westside Tavern in Los Angeles. Her employ with Consilient brought her to Dallas, for which we are grateful. She first worked at Hibiscus before moving to Victor Tangos, where she has been executive chef since January 2013.
Taylor Kearney, Front Room
A graduate of the Arts Institute's culinary program, Kearney has had a colorful career, working at restaurants such as Boulevardier, Charlie Palmers, Nick & Sam's, The Greek, and Restaurant Ava, as well as the Hilton hotel chain and even a restaurant in France. At the Front Room, he's bringing together his influences that include his grandparents' East Texas garden on a Southern-accented menu with dishes such as barbecue shrimp and deviled eggs.
Jan Loov, Texas Spice
A native of Sweden, Loov brings international experience, including a five-star German hotel and Gekko Restaurant at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Sydney, Australia. He moved to Dallas from Boston's Westin Copley Place and became chef de cuisine at the Omni Dallas Hotel's Texas Spice in 2014.
Russell Mertz, Ellen's Southern Kitchen
Mertz is from the tiny town of Van Alstyne, north of McKinney, and spent a number of years cooking around Fort Worth at restaurants such as the Butcher Shop, the Mercury, Fort Worth Chop House, and Michael Anthony's in Southlake. He knows his Southern food; many praise Ellen's for its meatloaf and for serving some of the best chicken-fried steak in town.
Ryan Olmos, CiboDivino
Olmos, who grew up in South Texas, began his career in San Antonio at iconic restaurants such as Gallagher's Steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, The Petroleum Club of San Antonio, and El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel. He came to Dallas to work for EatZi’s, then helped open and run Urban Rio in Plano, before joining the CiboDivino team.
Suki Otsuki, Mudhen
Otsuki is a young phenomenon who worked at the House of Blues before joining the Shannon Wynne empire where she paid her dues at Meddlesome Moth and LARK on the Park. At Mudhen, she's overseeing a game-changing menu that incorporates contemporary dining preferences for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and "clean" eating.
Caroline Perini, Easy Slider
As daughter of the founders of the famed Perini Ranch, Caroline Perini literally grew up in the restaurant business, from serving iced tea as a child to running the steakhouse in Buffalo Gap. She brushed up on fine dining at Iris, learned logistics at House of Blues, and launched a boutique food truck with partner Miley Holmes in 2012. The duo will take their roadshow to a location in Deep Ellum in mid-2016.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, "AQ" has worked in kitchens across the country before making her mark in Dallas at restaurants such as Komali, Alma, Victor Tangos, and Mexican Sugar. She's also been a culinary instructor with the Dallas Independent School District. Most recently, she won the crown at Kitchen LTO, the kitchen incubator at Trinity Groves, where she hung up her apron at the end of February.
Odessa's finest attended Le Cordon Bleu before going on to work at half the restaurants in Dallas, including Restaurant Ava in Rockwall; Katherine Clapner's Dude, Sweet Chocolate; Stephan Pyles; Charlie Palmer; Campo; Nick & Sam's; Casa Rubio; The Standard Pour; and most recently, Filament.
Jason West, Sundown at Granada
A Louisiana native, West attended the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State in his home state, then worked at a number of well-known restaurants including the famed Brennan's, Crescent City Brewhouse, Pardo's Bistro, and Charlie’s Seafood. He has a wide range: Prior to Sundown, he was executive chef at Steel.