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2015 was a good year to be a chef. The profession has officially become one that’s held in high esteem, and every year more and more chefs enter the cultural conversation and move the needle. In 2015, some chefs moved the needle slightly more than others.
Beran is the executive chef at Next, Grant Achatz’s constantly-transforming Chicago must-visit. A year after winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes and being included in Food & Wine’s class of best new chefs, Beran has ironically continued his rise to industry dominance by keeping his head down and continuing to focus all his efforts on maintaining Next’s reputation as one of the best restaurants in the country. He guided the restaurant through three complete transformations this year: “Bistro,” “Tapas,” and “Terroir.” 2016’s menus will tackle Alps-inspired comfort food, South American cuisine, and an homage to The French Laundry.
Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck is arguably one of the most exclusive and renowned restaurants in the world, so it came as quite a shock when he announced that the restaurant would be taking a nine-month “vacation” from its home in England to Melbourne, Australia. But it returned from its sojourn in September with a completely transformed $390 tasting menu, revitalized as it headed into its 21st year. But in between running this and his three other restaurants (all equally revered), Blumenthal still found time to help develop a way for astronauts to drink a proper cup of tea in space.
Whatever David Chang touches turns to gold, and that couldn’t be more than true than it was in 2015, when he opened the first D.C. outpost of Momofuku to rave reviews, sparked a fried chicken sandwich frenzy in New York with the opening of Fuku, continued the expansion of his extremely popular New York food delivery service Maple with the opening of a fourth commissary kitchen, opened a pop-up Indian steakhouse (tickets for which sold out in less than two minutes), and opened the experimental Fuku+ in Midtown Manhattan. It’s David Chang’s world; we’re just living in it.
Colicchio settled into his role as one of the country’s most outspoken activist chefs in 2015. After making the bold move of cutting prices and portion sizes at his flagship New York restaurant, Colicchio & Sons, he took it one step further by practicing what he preaches and eliminating tipping during the restaurant’s lunch service. While running his restaurant empire (and serving as head judge on Top Chef), he still found the time to advocate for healthier school lunches, showed his support for Share Our Strength, published an op-ed railing against misleading GMOs, and was named MSNBC’s first food correspondent. Oh, and he opened his first seafood restaurant, Beachcraft, in Miami Beach.
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Dominique Crenn, the chef and owner of Atelier Crenn (a two Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco), is doing as much, if not more, to move the needle in the fine dining world than any other chef out there. At Atelier Crenn, Crenn and her team turn out “poetic culinaria,” transforming ingredients into delicious works of art. This year she published a cookbook called Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, opened a more casual offshoot called Petit Crenn, and announced that she’ll be opening a French brasserie called Antoinette inside Berkeley’s Claremont Club & Spa in 2016.
Ludo Lefebvre / Facebook
Ludo Lefebvre just might be king of the Los Angeles dining scene right now. Best known for his pop-up restaurant LudoBites as recently as a few years ago, along with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (the chef-owners of L.A.’s Animal and Son of a Gun), he’s begun to build an empire with Trois Mec (which opened in 2013 and is one of the toughest reservations in town) and the more modest Petit Trois, located next door (which was a 2015 James Beard Award finalist for best new restaurant). This year, he released a special 10th anniversary edition of his first book, Crave: The Feast of the Five Senses; opened Trois Familia, a casual “French-Mexican brunch” spot in Silver Lake, and was even knighted by the French government.
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Virgilio Martínez Véliz is one of Peru’s most renowned and visionary chefs, famous for applying modern cooking techniques to indigenous Peruvian ingredients. Perhaps the most well-known chef in Lima, Martínez’s flagship restaurant, Lima’s Restaurante Central, was named the Best Restaurant in Latin America and was named the world’s 15th best restaurant by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2014. He’s since opened a restaurant in London, and continues on his quest to give Peruvian cuisine the recognition it deserves. Find parts one, two, and three of our interview with Véliz here.
Since 2008, Magnus Nilsson has been head chef at Sweden’s Fäviken, a 16-seat jewel in the middle of the woods that’s been called “the world’s most daring restaurant” by Bon Appetit. With a menu focused on showcasing (almost exclusively) ingredients grown on the estate in which the restaurant is located, including fish caught in a local pond by Nilsson himself, Fäviken is carrying the torch for Nordic cuisine. This year, Nilsson published his Nordic Cookbook after three years spent interviewing home cooks in all seven Nordic countries. Pop-up dinners held in six American cities to promote the book and its cuisine proved to be some of the hottest tickets in town.
Helge Kirchberger / Genuss Ziele
Enrique Olvera opened Pujol in Mexico City 14 years ago; today it’s been named the Best Restaurant in Latin America by The Daily Meal and the number three restaurant in the world by S. Pellegrino. Blazing a trail in the burgeoning trend of new Mexican gastronomy, Olvera and his team of 27 cooks are using traditional Mexican ingredients to move the country’s cuisine into the twenty-first century with a combination of forward thinking and restraint. In late 2014, Olvera took his unique brand of cooking to New York with the opening of Cosme, which hit the city like a bolt of lightning, garnering rave reviews and making Olvera one of the city’s hottest chefs.
Chef Charlie Palmer / Facebook
Charlie Palmer has been a force in the American dining scene for nearly 30 years since opening his flagship restaurant, Aureole, in New York in 1988, and his unique style of progressive American cuisine has made him one of the most influential chefs in the country. His culinary empire (and influence) has continued to expand since then, and today he has eight New York restaurants, one in Washington, two in Las Vegas, two in Reno, three in California’s wine country, and one in San Francisco. Palmer also runs three hotels, in Wine Country and San Francisco. In 2015, Palmer opened three venues inside the new Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square, including Charlie Palmer at The Knick, a refined jewel in the heart of an area that’s been in desperate need of one.
Joan Roca is the chef and owner at Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca, which has been consistently ranked one of, if not the, best restaurants in the world for the better part of this decade by S. Pellegrino (it’s currently ranked number one). Since first opening in 1986, it’s been awarded three Michelin stars and is widely regarded as one of the world’s most memorable dining experiences. Roca didn’t make any big waves in the industry this year, but his quiet confidence and leadership of the best restaurant in the world affords him universal respect among his peers and colleagues.
The chef-owner of five Paris restaurants and one in Las Vegas, Guy Savoy is one of the most renowned chefs in the world as well as one of the best-known names in the realm of Nouvelle Cuisine. Savoy’s Paris flagship, Restaurant Guy Savoy, moved from a dark, modern space into a 4,300-square-foot space in the French mint earlier this year. It re-emerged with a fresh sense of purpose and a stark reminder of why the restaurant has three Michelin stars, and has been racking up accolades as well as legions of new fans since. Savoy has never been one to rest on his laurels; he reopened the former space as a seafood-oriented restaurant (Etoile-Sur-Mer), and the former private dining room as an oyster bar (Le Huitrade), and next year he’ll reportedly be opening a brasserie called MetaLCafe. Savoy is still at the top of his game, and shows no signs of slowing down.
When chef John Besh hired Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya to be head chef at his newly-opened New Orleans restaurant Domenica in 2009 (and its offshoot, Pizza Domenica), he couldn’t have predicted that in 2015 Shaya would be honored with the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South due to his towering accomplishments in the restaurants' kitchens, after three years as a finalist. Earlier this year, Shaya and Besh opened an a new restaurant, Shaya, focusing on modern Israeli cuisine, and the accolades came rolling in: a rare four bean-review from the Times-Picayune, inclusion on Eater national critic Bill Addison’s list of America’s Best New Restaurants, and being named Restaurant of The Year by both Esquire and The Daily Meal.
Zahav / Facebook
Solomonov is the chef and restaurateur behind the acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, for which he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011. Today he’s involved with four additional restaurants: Abe Fisher (modern Jewish cuisine), Dizengoff (an Israeli hummus stand), Percy Street Barbecue, and Federal Donuts (focusing on donuts and fried chicken). This year, Solomonov published a much-anticipated Zahav cookbook, and also announced that he’s expanding his reach outside of Philadelphia, signing a lease on a space located inside New York’s bustling Chelsea Market.
Christina Tosi / Facebook
Remember when we said that everything David Chang touches turns to gold? You can add pastry chef Christina Tosi to that list, but she didn’t need much help from Chang in that regard. As head chef of Momofuku Milk Bar, the sister bakery to Chang’s Momofuku Restaurant Group (Chang hired her to write his food safety plan but was so impressed that he hired her to be his pastry chef), she’s made a name for herself as one of the most creative pastry chefs in the country, turning out fun and delicious creations like crack pie, cereal milk, and compost cookies. There are five Milk Bar locations in New York, one in Toronto, and one recently-opened one in Washington. This year she also published her second cookbook (Milk Bar Life), earner a cover story in Adweek, joined the judging panel on MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, and opened a tiny wooden Milk Bar pop-up shack in New York’s Madison Square Park.