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50 Hall of Fame Best New Chefs: Hometown Heroes

Not all chefs want to open in Vegas. Some stay loyal to the cities that launched their careers, opening two (or three, or four) terrific restaurants there.

Susan Spicer, ’89

Yes, Spicer’s home base is a 200-year-old Creole cottage in New Orleans’s French Quarter, and her 2007 cookbook is called Crescent City Cooking.

But the people of New Orleans adore her for giving the city something beyond gumbo at the globally oriented Bayona. At Herbsaint and her artisanal bakery, Wild Flour Breads, Spicer finds special inspiration in Italy.

Famous Dish

Bayona’s grilled shrimp with black bean cake.
bayona.com.

Celestino Drago, ’93

“The only things my family bought were sugar and salt,” says Sicilian-born Drago about their cooking-from-scratch ethic. Los Angeles locals can’t get enough of the stewed boar at his flagship Italian restaurant, Drago—he’s a passionate hunter—or the regional cooking at Celestino, Il Pastaio and elegant wine bar Enoteca Drago.

Famous Dish

Drago’s pappardelle with roasted pheasant.
celestinodrago.com.

Michael Cordúa, ’94

Nicaraguan-born Cordúa nudged Houstonians past their burrito habit 18 years ago with chimichurri-basted beef at Churrascos. His seven Latin-inspired restaurants now include the perpetually packed, high-end Américas, decorated with Inca motifs, and the swank, self-serve Amazón Grill.

Famous Dish

Churrascos’s charcoal-grilled beef tenderloin.
cordua.com.

Gale Gand & Rick Tramonto, ’94

At Tru, culinary team Gand and Tramonto gave Chicagoans an excuse to dress up with dishes like the Caviar Staircase: each glass step bearing roe or caviar. Recently, they debuted a clutch of casual places—a surf-and-turf spot, an osteria and a coffee bar.

Famous Dish

Tru’s not-your-usual lemon meringue pie.
trurestaurant.com.

Traci des Jardins, ’95

Des Jardins focuses on sustainability at all three of her restaurants in San Francisco. Her Cal-French place, Jardinière, emphasizes seasonal produce from local farmers. As a consulting chef at Acme Chophouse, she ensures the kitchen uses only hormone-free beef. In the Ferry Building, Mijita serves Mexican street food prepared with as many organic items as she can find.

Famous Dish

Jardinière’s scallops with mashed potatoes and truffles.
tracidesjardins.com.

Clifford Harrison & Anne Quatrano, ’95

Harrison and Quatrano are exceptionally good at sourcing the ingredients they use at their three terrific New Southern restaurants in Atlanta: Bacchanalia, Quinones and Floataway Cafe. Happily, many of the products, like Painted Hills rib eye and semolina-rosemary bread, are for sale at their Star Provisions market.

Famous Dish

Floataway Cafe’s tagliattini with white shrimp.
starprovisions.com.

Barbara Lynch, ’96

Lynch’s food empire doesn’t even cross Boston’s Charles River. No. 9 Park, in a Beacon Hill mansion, serves French-Italian combinations. In the South End, her seafood counter, B&G Oysters, and market-restaurants, the Butcher Shop and Plum Produce, give shoppers access to chef-quality ingredients.

Famous Dish

No. 9 Park’s prune-stuffed gnocchi.
theno9group.com.

Michael Schlow, ’96

For years, Schlow has impressed Bostonians at both his fancy Asian-French Radius and the Italian Via Matta. Now, with Alta Strada in Wellesley, he’s brought his top-notch Italian cooking to the suburbs.

Famous Dish

Alta Strada’s chitarra pasta with spicy lobster.
viamattarestaurant.com.

John Besh, ’99

More than ever, the cooking at Besh’s New Orleans flagship, August (he also owns Besh Steakhouse and brasserie Lüke), leans toward Louisiana and the produce he grows at his restaurant La Provence, north of town.

Famous Dish

August’s chopped salad.
restaurantaugust.com.

Suzanne Goin, ’99

One of Los Angeles’s best chefs is also its green ambassador—Goin is fanatical about local and organic ingredients. She riffs on Med classics at Lucques and at A.O.C., her chic wine-and-small-plates spot. She and husband David Lentz also serve sustainable seafood at the cheeky raw bar the Hungry Cat.

Famous Dish

Lucques’s suckling pig with risotto carbonara.
lucques.com.

Paul Kahan, ’99

Until Kahan opens his beer-focused place in the Fulton Market, Chicogoans are delighted to wait at his side-by-side restaurants: minimalist Blackbird, where he and Mike Sheerin cook French-Midwestern dishes, and the cedar-paneled wine bar Avec, where Koren Grieveson (an F&W BNC 2008) serves Mediterranean tapas.

Famous Dish

Blackbird’s bouillabaisse.
blackbirdrestaurant.com.

Marc Vetri, ’99

Vetri famously reduced the number of seats at his alta cucina Vetri to 35 to make room for a 1958 Faema Urania coffee machine and Berkel model 21 (circa 1948) meat slicer. So Philadelphians cheered last year when he opened a pizza and salumi spot, Osteria, to accommodate Vetri’s extra customers.

Famous Dish

Vetri’s spinach gnocchi.
vetri ristorante.com.

Michael Leviton, ’00

For nine years, Leviton persisted in doing one thing well (unapologetic French food) in one place (Lumière in Boston). Then the chef opened the locally sourced, ingredient-focused restaurant Persephone in the Achilles Project, a food-and-fashion mecca.

Famous Dish

Lumière’s seared sea scallops with peas, pea sprouts and mint.
lumiererestaurant.com.

Hugh Acheson, ’02

At Five & Ten in Athens, Acheson mixes Georgia’s best ingredients—country ham, grits ground by mule power—with Old World Parmigiano and quince paste. In 2004 he launched Gosford Wine nearby, and in 2007, he unveiled the National, where he serves small plates made with low-country products.

Famous Dish

Five & Ten’s flounder with peanut beurre blanc.
fiveandten.com.

Nobuo Fukuda, ’03

Fukuda introduced Scottsdale, Arizona, to izakaya, Japanese tapas-style cooking, at Sea Saw. He recently revamped the place to offer only omakase, the exquisite experience of letting a chef create a multicourse meal. Izakaya lives on next door at Fukuda’s bar, Shell Shock.

Famous Dish

Sea Saw’s tomatoes with handmade mozzarella and grilled octopus and wasabi aïoli.
seasaw.net.

David Myers, ’03

Sona was Myers’s first, swank Los Angeles restaurant with a menu of minimalist, Japanese-inflected French dishes. Next he launched pastry at Boule pâtisserie. Most recently, though, he’s become expert at brasserie stalwarts at Comme Ça.

Famous Dish

Sona’s marinated big-eye tuna with eggplant marmalade.
sonarestaurant.com.

Colby Garrelts, ’05

After cooking stints in New York City and Chicago, Garrelts headed back to Kansas City, Missouri, to ramp up his hometown’s dining scene by opening the urbane, ingredient-obsessed Bluestem. In 2006, Garrelts expanded next door with Bluestem Wine Lounge, offering cured meats on the simple menu.

Famous Dish

Bluestem’s scallops with carbonated grapefruit.
bluestemkc.com.

Cathal Armstrong, ’06

Dublin-born Armstrong, a one-man urban-renewal engine, kicked off a dining revival in Alexandria, Virginia, using French technique and local produce at Restaurant Eve. Next came Eamonn’s Dublin Chipper, which combines fish-and-chips with drinks at upstairs PX. Last year, Armstrong revitalized the classic American menu at the landmark Majestic.

Famous Dish

Restaurant Eve’s pork belly confit.
restauranteve.com.

Published July 2008
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