They spent their early years washing dishes, chopping cases of parsley or working on disastrous charcuterie experiments to try to impress Mario Batali. Now our 2012 Best New Chefs are in charge of outstanding kitchens across America. How do we find these talented men and women? F&W editors solicit nominations from hundreds of experts around the country. Then we travel to eat at the source, on the lookout for cooks who are serving creative and sensational food and who have been in charge of a professional kitchen for a maximum of five years.

Kate Krader
June 06, 2012

2012 Best New Chefs

 Danny Grant Photo © Michael Turek

Danny Grant

Ria; Chicago


Why He Won: Because his Chicago hotel restaurant is an epicenter for luxurious Midwestern dining. He loves highlighting simple ingredients to create complexly flavored dishes.

 Blaine Wetzel Photo © Michael Turek

Blaine Wetzel

Willows Inn; Lummi Island, WA


Why He Won: Because, on a remote island off the Washington state coast, Wetzel gets the majority of the ingredients for his extraordinary menu from two fishing boats, his own garden and the beaches around the island.

 Cormac Mahoney Photo © Michael Turek

Cormac Mahoney

Madison Park Conservatory; Seattle


Why He Won: Because he’s turned a sleepy corner of Seattle into a food destination, using Pacific Northwest ingredients to elevate simple dishes—stuffing eggs with Dungeness crab, topping nettle soup with fried oysters.

 Corey Lee Photo © Michael Turek

Corey Lee

Benu; San Francisco


Why He Won: Because his daring menu epitomizes the Bay Area’s young, innovative spirit. “People think Benu is a modern Asian restaurant, but we’re a modern American restaurant,” says Lee. “For every Asian ingredient on my menu, there are 50 American ones.”

 Bryant Ng Photo © Michael Turek

Bryant Ng

The Spice Table; Los Angeles


Why He Won: Because he uses his custom-made sate grill, the focal point of his restaurant, to cook outstanding dishes that focus on his Singaporean heritage.

 Jenn Louis Photo © Michael Turek

Jenn Louis

Lincoln Restaurant/Sunshine Tavern; Portland, OR


Why She Won: Because she obsesses over every ingredient on her menus, from the house-made ricotta in the sage fritters at her flagship, Lincoln, to the olive oil and chocolate topping for the soft-serve honey ice cream at Sunshine Tavern.

 Rich Torrisi & Mario Carbone Photo © Michael Turek

Rich Torrisi & Mario Carbone

Torrisi Italian Specialties; New York City


Why They Won: Because at their flagship, they make Italian-American cuisine remarkable in both affordable seven-course menus and astonishing 20-course menus that celebrate New York City.

 Karen Nicolas Photo © Michael Turek

Karen Nicolas

Equinox; Washington, DC


Why She Won: Because she has transformed the menu at an established DC restaurant by putting a modern spin on classic American dishes. “I like to see how far I can take different flavors,” she says.

 Erik Anderson & Josh Habiger Photo © Michael Turek

Erik Anderson & Josh Habiger

The Catbird Seat; Nashville


Why They Won: Because at their wonderful counter restaurant, the duo combine the playfulness of avant-garde cooking with classic technique: They flavor yogurt with smoked sweet hay to serve with oven-roasted pigeon.

 Dan Kluger Photo © Michael Turek

Dan Kluger

ABC Kitchen; New York City


Why He Won: Because Kluger uses prime farmers’ market produce to make some of Manhattan’s best and most beautiful New American dishes.

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