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We got to meet our 10 excellent Best New Chefs 2007 at a little cocktail party my boss Dana Cowin threw at her apartment last night. David Chang, a Best New Chef last year, catered with his out-of-control-good Momofuku Ssäm bar menu; the party was officially over when he ran out of pork buns. But back to our BNCs. I knew I’d like Gabriel Rucker when he said that his restaurant— Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon—is named for his favorite tattoo (the birds take up a good part of his forearm); he’s all of 25. Then there’s Gavin Kaysen of El Bizcocho outside San Diego who started off making sandwiches at Subway in Minnesota and was soon working for Marco Pierre White in London (where he got so little sleep that he’d blast Eye of the Tiger in the kitchen at 7 am each day to wake up). The staff has voted Paul Virant, chef/owner of Vie in the Chicago suburb of Western Springs, as this year’s nicest BNC; he got his start in the food world as a soda jerk at a Six Flags (there’s a little question about whether he quit because of a girl or because he didn’t like the name "soda jerk"). Rounding out the fast food alumni is Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five in Portland, Maine, whose career at Burger King ended when he got involved in an ice machine fight.
At some point, we asked the chefs what they’d do if they weren’t cooking. Matthew Dillon of Seattle’s Sitka & Spruce says he’d be a ski-bumming trust funder who'd spend his extra cash on sustainable farming. Not so Gabriel Bremer, chef/owner of Salts in Cambridge, Massachusetts—he’d be the percussionist for a loud Latin rock band (in fact, he was almost a classical percussionist), while Sean O’Brien at San Francisco’s Myth couldn’t decide if he’d be a DJ (hopefully he’d play Bremer’s music) or a gardener. Then we asked the chefs about their most memorable cooking experience. Ian Schnoebelen, who opened Iris in New Orleans just five months after Hurricane Katrina, says his was cooking for then Vice-President Al Gore—he has a vice presidential set with a seal and everything to prove it. We also found out that Johnny Monis, of Komi, Washington, DC, hates being reminded that he was voted one of the city’s most beautiful people by Washingtonian.com. After the cocktail party, our tenth chef, April Bloomfield officially became my hero when she put on her apron and hosted the after-party at her Manhattan restaurant, The Spotted Pig. It was so ridiculously fun and delicious and the star was… not the chef who did shots all night (who shall go nameless). It was Cecil, the pig that April roasted for the occasion.