Location: New Orleans
Why He's Amazing: Because he's making New American food that's unabashedly postmodern. For instance, a dish of scallops with chorizo dust and caramelized cauliflower, served in a cigar box with Cohiba smoke piped in, is an ode to his Mexican-Cuban father's leathery-smelling cigars.
Culinary School: Self-taught
Background: Coastal Grill (Virginia Beach), Citronelle (Washington, DC); August, Lüke, American Sector, Rambla (New Orleans)
Quintessential Dish: Smoked cornmeal-encrusted oysters with mustard green foam
Born: New Orleans. But growing up in an Army family, he traveled all over the world: Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Holland and Puerto Rico.
Kitchen Gadgetry: "One of the cool things I have now is an ultrasonic homogenizer. You can immerse flavors into different liquids and mediums using ultrasonic waves, almost like a really high-tech tuning fork. But at the other end of the table, there's an old-school mortar and pestle. We use both of them for different aspects in our kitchen."
Most Cherished Souvenir: "My parents and I ate at this awesome little brasserie in Paris when I was a kid. My father loved all the crazy stuff like headcheese, but all I wanted to eat was french fries. The waiter was trying to cook something in front of me to make me eat. Finally I started smiling and eating this braised ragout of thin noodles and white sauce, and he gave me the sauté pan to take home. I still have it, to this day. It's the kind of thing you want to keep forever."
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.