Why He's Amazing: Because with his deft hand at both raw and cooked dishes, he's given Dallas both its best seafood restaurant ever as well as a stellar new Spanish tapas spot.
Culinary School: New Mexico State University (Las Cruces, NM), the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY)
Background: Abacus (Dallas)
Quintessential Dish: Chargrilled octopus with potato confit, Manzanilla olives, pickled onions and smoked tomato vinaigrette at Driftwood
Culinary Lineage: His father was a chef at several Mexican restaurants in El Paso, and for a time his family owned a restaurant in Chicago. "I wasn't necessarily cooking, but I was always in the kitchen. I watched my parents cook and watched their technique. I'm a real visual person. If I see something, I can pick it up really quickly."
On Having a Chef for a Father: "I grew up eating really good food. As a kid, I never had Lunchables."
Influences: New York chefs Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin and Michael White of Marea. "Eating at both of those places, they were just phenomenal—probably some of the best meals I've had in my life. Their menus are about 95 to 98 percent seafood. It's amazing what they do with it. It's so fresh, and it's so perishable. And I think it's something a lot of restaurants in Dallas don't do. Because if you don't sell it, it goes to waste."
On Finding Seafood in Dallas: "Before [Driftwood] opened, you would have to go to a steak house and order something like shrimp cocktail, really cliché stuff."
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.