The time has come for the return of the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, our annual culinary celebration, making its comeback with our signature in-person tasting event and awards program.
The Tastemaker Awards spotlights the top talent in Dallas-Fort Worth's restaurant and bar communities, as determined by their peers.
This is the first installment of our special editorial series in which we'll go over all of the nominees. It culminates in a party at Fashion Industry Gallery on August 19, when emcee CJ Starr will announce winners in all the categories. (Tickets are on sale here.)
Our first category is Rising Star Chef of the Year. Selected by our panel of restaurant industry experts, these are the culinary minds to watch in the future.
Collectively, they represent a diverse array of influences, experiences, and culinary perspectives, but are united by a spirit of creativity, curiosity, and ambition.
Their work ranges from barbecue and burgers, to acclaimed steakhouses, to precisely rendered authentic flavors, all helping to push Dallas' dining scene forward.
These are our up-and-comers, our emerging stars.
Here are our nominees for 2021 Rising Star Chef:
Michael Bott - Ferris Wheeler's
Bott joined this Design District barbecue joint as its latest pitmaster in October 2020, and is already putting his stamp on the menu. He's a college grad who started out as a BBQ hobbyist before joining the team at Smoky Rose, where he fine-tuned his approach. At Ferris Wheeler's, he's added lighter touches such as a smoked turkey wrap. His signature dishes include wings, which he reinvents with a two-step process: smoking them first, then flash-frying, so you get a crisp exterior and a smoky flavor within.
Christian Bosquez - Cafe Herrera at Restaurants on Lamar
A native of Brownwood, near Abilene, Chef Bosquez got his love for cooking from his aunt, and was an early prodigy, often figuring out how to make dishes himself. He attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, then got his first restaurant job at the Omni Dallas Hotel as a prep cook in The Owners Box, working his way up the ladder to his current role running the kitchen at Cafe Herrera. He's a dedicated student who's passionate about Latin cuisine, with plans to visit Mexico and Spain in the near future to continue his education.
Randall Braud - Barcelona Wine Bar
Braud discovered he loved the restaurant industry after he joined. He began his career at Bolsa Mercado, serving as banquet chef and learning the ropes of the catering before going on to help two restaurants open in Deep Ellum: Yellow Rosa and Basic Taco. He joined Barcelona, the welcoming tapas bar in Knox-Henderson, in early 2021 because he liked its combination of chain consistency with room for individuality. He's executing their staple dishes while adding his own seasonal specials such as Texas peach burrata.
Miguel Cauich - Al Biernat's
Cauich is a staple at acclaimed steakhouse Al Biernat's, where he's worked since it opened in 1998. He began as a line cook under original chef James Neal, inching closer to the executive chef slot until he finally nabbed it 12 years ago. He's a rock of consistency, able to handle the restaurant's high volume with aplomb. His experience prior to Al Biernat's included Eatzi's — knowledge that was invaluable during the pandemic, when he was an integral part of making their expansive to-go program a robust success.
Aaron Collins - Cafe Momentum
One of Dallas' most famous restaurants is this fine-dining concept from Chad Houser that offers a paid internship for young men and women coming out of juvenile facilities. By nature, the staff has turnover, as students move on to greater things — making Collins' stabilizing presence all the more valuable. An El Centro graduate, he's been with the concept since it began more than six years ago, even working pop-ups as a volunteer. He and Chad worked together at Parigi Restaurant, and he's cooked in Dallas for the last 10+ years. His dedication includes joining the cafe's interns to tend the restaurant's community garden in Deep Ellum.
Waddell Hodges - Bobber's Burgers
One of the more interesting concepts at the AT&T Discovery District in downtown Dallas is this step above your average fast-food burger, which uses all-beef Wagyu patties from Beeman Ranch, which you can top with queso, fried eggs, bacon, and more. They also have all-beef dogs from 44 Farms or Luscher’s Post Oak Hots, and it's all the brainchild of this chef who has worked at fine-dining spots such as Oak and Hibiscus, as well as Wheelhouse in the Design District, and Mot Hai Ba.
Nick Hurry - Paradiso
One of the ways you can tell someone is good is when they make it look easy, and that's definitely the case with this low-key yet industrious chef. Hurry previously worked at Proof + Pantry in the Arts District and at Driftwood in Oak Cliff before joining Exxir Hospitality in 2019 to oversee the company's village of restaurants in Bishop Arts including Paradiso, The Botanist, Tejas, and the recently opened Mermaid Raw Bar & Champagne Room. He keeps things on an even keel while simultaneously devising menus that accomplish the impossible: balancing creativity with approachability, and at a nice price.
Olivia Lopez - Colima
Lopez has worked in some of Dallas' premier kitchens, starting out at Craft Dallas, the onetime restaurant at the W Hotel, then working her way up through the ranks at Charlie Palmer's, CBD Provisions, Mirador, and Americana. She was most recently at Billy Can Can but is now following her passion for heirloom corn, delving into nixtamalization, the ancient art of processing corn, in an effort to make a higher-quality version of the masa used in Mexican staples such as tortillas and tamales. She's hosting pop-ups and working on recipes with a goal of eventually opening her own shop, named for her hometown Colima, Mexico.
Yia Medina - Eataly Dallas
Medina always has something going on. She's owned her own restaurant (in her native Puerto Rico, before she moved to Dallas), and has cooked at highly ranked hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton and the Omni Dallas. She's been chef at high-profile restaurants including Circo Dallas and Jasper's Uptown, and has also appeared on the Food Network and Cooking Channel. Her latest assignment has been at equally high-profile Eataly Dallas, and she's also teaching an online class for Food Network Kitchen on Puerto Rican cooking.
Carol Nguyen - Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen
Nguyen began cooking Vietnamese food after moving to the U.S., in an effort to recreate dishes and flavors she missed. She worked in New Orleans before openin Crazee Crab, a Cajun restaurant in Grand Prairie, in 2014. In 2020, she opened Ngon, doing food from the heart, featuring dishes from her native Vietnam as well as the food she loves to eat, rooted in her love for home cooking and Ha Noi upbringing, and inspired by food served by street vendors in Vietnam. Family runs throughout: It's named for her mother and she uses recipes from her grandmother.