We may be in strange times right now but that won't stop us from celebrating, in a mildly wistful way, the best of Dallas food and drink, with our annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
The 2020 version of this yearly institution will feature our first-ever virtual awards event, with the coronavirus ruling out the usual party and awards presentation. Fortunately, we can applaud the nominees — including these candidates for Best Chef of the Year — in a safe and socially distant way.
To qualify for Best Chef of the Year, nominees must be the big kahuna at their restaurant, whether that's the top-ranking role in the kitchen, or actually owning the restaurant outright. These are chefs who are on top of their game, combining skill, dedication, and creativity.
Here are our 10 nominees for 2020 Tastemaker Awards Chef of the Year:
Anthony Bombaci - formerly Joule Dallas
Bombaci brings a wealth of experience and a fluency in a variety of cuisines including French, Mediterranean, and European. He made a name for himself in Dallas during his tenure at the now-closed Nana inside the Hilton Anatole, and also worked with David Uygur at Macellaio. He was an early disciple of avant-garde techniques such as molecular gastronomy, and has both national and inernational experience, at The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco and at Hotel Arts (The Ritz-Carlton) in Barcelona, Spain. [Bombaci left the Joule in the spring.]
Natalio Charles - Hugo's Invitados
Born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Charles has worked in the Dallas restaurant industry for more than 21 years, at high-profile restaurants and with high-profile chefs. He worked at both the Addison and Uptown locations of Sambuca; at Park Cities staple City Cafe; at Nosh with Avner Samuel; and at Lombardi Mare with Ricardo Labor and Tom Fleming. He was chef de cuisine at Meso Maya, then left to create the menu and serve as opening chef at Jose. He's been part of Hugo's since it was launched by owner Hugo Miranda, with whom he collaborated on the menu and serves as head chef.
J Chastain - The Charles Dallas
Chastain possesses both artistry and operational prowess. He's worked at highly-ranked restaurants in town such The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Stephan Pyles, Seventeen Seventeen, and Second Floor at the Westin Galleria. He's brainy, too: He received a BS in restaurant management and went to Johnson & Wales for culinary training. It proved a plus when he joined the team at this tasteful Design District restaurant, where he tackled the art of making pasta with an almost academic zeal, while folding in his personal, Texas touch.
Reyna Duong - Sandwich Hag
Duong opened this small Vietnamese spot featuring tautly wrapped spring rolls, banh mi with house-made pork sausage, and curry with chicken thigh. It's also her spirit that sets her apart, from her canny defusing of the word "hag" into something cool, to hiring workers with Down syndrome including her brother Sang. Duong is the restaurateur of the future, with her zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and support of small businesses, women, and people of color.
Justin Holt - Salaryman
Holt attended Cordon Bleu and began his Dallas culinary career cooking at Nana at the Anatole Hotel for four years, before joining David and Jennifer Uygur at Lucia. During this time, he began doing pop-ups on the side to fulfill his passion for Japanese food including ramen. The fact that his events consistently sold out confirmed that he was headed in the right direction and what he was doing would be well received. At Salaryman, he's carved out a niche on his own terms, and won the approval of the city's most discriminating foodies.
Jeana Johnson - formerly Canvas Hotel
Johnson has a vast wealth of experience, from 5-star fine-dining institutions to barbecue pits, that served her well during her reign at the Canvas Hotel. A visionary, she has helped create some of Dallas' most beloved concepts in recent years including Mot Hai Ba, the authentic Vietnamese restaurant she built from scratch, then sold. Good 2 Go Taco, the trailblazing taqueria she co-founded in 2009, not only predated the great taco wave of the mid 2010s, it launched an entire hipster neighborhood in East Dallas at the corner of Peavy and Garland roads. She's one of those people who leaves a positive impact in her wake, which she does ever so quietly. [Johnson left the Canvas in June.]
Matt McCallister - Homewood
McCallister is one of Dallas' best known chefs, thanks to a career that bloomed at the same time that social media exploded. He spent nearly five years as executive chef at Stephan Pyles before opening FT33, his own restaurant in the Design District in 2012. He also had a Deep Ellum restaurant called Filament that came and went, but he's thriving on Oak Lawn Avenue with his latest restaurant, Homewood, pushing the envelope on how to do a farm-to-table restaurant in a city like Dallas, and navigating choppy COVID-19 waters successfully.
Bryan Patton - Delta Hotel / Watters Creek Allen
Patton has an extensive history in the hotel dining field, including the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion Tower, the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Beverly Hills, Andaz West Hollywood, Hyatt Regency La Jolla, and the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee. He specializes in large catered business and social affairs — 500 persons and up — including Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. Raised in Los Angeles, he always cooked with family members and was introduced to cooking by his Polish grandmother.
Ty Thaxton - Te Deseo
Prior to joining the Harwood group, the well-liked Thaxton worked for Frontburner restaurants such as The Keeper and 60 Vines. He has extensive hotel experience, all within the Ritz-Carlton family, including properties in Georgetown, DC, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas. A Bachelor of Science in Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant Management from Auburn University helped give him a sense of the bigger picture.
Jacob Williamson - Five Sixty
Five Sixty may have closed permanently but we won't forget the chops of its talented former executive chef. Prior to his employ in Dallas, Williamson logged many positions in the Wolfgang Puck empire, including Wolfgang Puck Steak and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina, both in Detroit; and at The Source by Wolfgang Puck in Washington DC.