I was in a strip mall in Los Angeles when the proverbial light switched on. My friend was late to dinner. I was due on a red-eye, and, my god, what’s a girl got to do to get a drink in this place? BYOB, you say? Oh. Fantastic. Point is, I wasn’t feeling especially sunny when the steamed fish arrived at my table at Kato. But that smell was something to feel good about—scallion, soy sauce, and roasted ginger oil. “Good thing you made it,” I heckled my tardy date after a bite or two, “because this is a Best New Chef.” The class of 2018 was taking shape.
The road to Best New Chefs doesn’t always look like that, of course. Eureka moments are part of the magic, but there are also the quiet riots, the chefs who surprise you, and the ones you eighty-six until you wake up in a cold sweat and realize you had it all wrong. The thing is, parsing through America’s most captivating emerging culinary talent gets harder every year. As more up-and-comers enter the kitchen, the pool of cooks with fewer than five years of head chef experience gets deeper, weirder, and more exhilarating. And then there’s the matter of Best New Chefs itself—a proud, gorgeous, 300-pound gorilla that incurs more weight with each passing year. That the franchise’s 30th anniversary happened to coincide with an unprecedented cultural reckoning in the restaurant industry only made our choices this year feel more meaningful.
Since 1988, Food & Wine Best New Chefs have reflected the American way of eating and shaped the future of food (see "The Tastemakers"). This year’s class is no different. Taken together, these chefs represent the country’s best restaurant cooking right now and offer a clarion call for the kind of future we’d like to see: one that celebrates character, commitment, and imagination on and off the plate; amplifies all kinds of voices; and is always, of course, full of dazzling things to eat.