There is a typical structure to these types of introductions. First, the editor talks about how many places they traveled to in the creation of the list (that would be 25 for me; remember airplanes?). Then they recall how many meals they’ve eaten for research (110). Finally, there is a statement about what made this year in dining so special (Bold flavors! Casual dining has never been better!).
But there is nothing typical about 2020. By March, it had become clear that life as we knew it was on pause as the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world. Restaurants were hit fast and hard. Most had to close—some temporarily, others forever. The handful that remained open were forced to swap the intimate conviviality of the dining room for the sanitized transactions of delivery and curbside pickup. Restaurants, places of hospitality, had to become inhospitable to survive.
So why run this list now, when restaurants as we know them are on indefinite hiatus? Since 1988, Food & Wine has recognized 31 classes of Best New Chefs—groups of 10 (or sometimes 11) chefs who make the sharpest, most forward-thinking, and satisfying food in America. For 32 years, the accolade has celebrated the best cooking of the day while heralding the culinary leaders of tomorrow.
In that respect, this year is no different. This year’s class will shape the future. They are resilient and brilliant, thoughtful and caring. They are leading their teams through unprecedented circumstances, navigating choppy waters with sheer determination and optimism as their compass. They are the people who not only will help rebuild their shattered industry, but also will eventually help it thrive in new ways—through their cooking, their resolve, and their vision for what a more equitable future in restaurants might look like.
What a strange time to be a restaurant editor, but what an honor. During my first year on the road scouting for Food & Wine, I encountered the punchy, flavor-to-the-face kind of cooking I am always chasing. I saw menus that weren’t afraid to deviate from the standard French culinary techniques. I met chefs who cared just as much about their staff and their communities as they did their food. This groundbreaking cooking and leadership are evident in all corners of the kitchen, which is why, for the first time in more than 20 years, we’re including pastry chefs in this class of BNCs.
The fallout from the pandemic has revealed new layers of strength and creativity, best embodied by this year’s class of Best New Chefs. With them at the helm, the future of dining looks brighter, fairer, and more delicious than ever before.
Food & Wine is partnering with Southern Smoke Foundation to help raise money for restaurant workers around the country who are in crisis. Please consider making a donation today.
At Indo, in St. Louis, you will find Thai dishes next to a menu of Japanese favorites, heavy on the sushi. The chef, Nick Bognar, understands that the menu might not make sense at first. “I just want to tell people, ‘Don’t try to put a box on it.’” It’s good advice for a meal at Bognar’s table, where none of the dishes are what you might expect. They’re a testament to Bognar’s flavor-to-the-face cooking style, each dish fully loaded with punches of spicy, fishy, salty, sour, bitter, and umami flavors. Read more.
Tavel Bristol-Joseph is a savant when it comes to sugar, flour, and yeast: His Parker House rolls, served with a glacier of cultured butter, are more pillowy than a cumulus cloud after a thunderstorm. His plated s’mores, a dark chocolate mousse with wobbly torched meringue surrounded by a moat of coconut ash and koji cream, is the most finessed version of any dessert inspired by a campfire. But the first time he ever learned to bake, it was as a punishment. “I was not a great student growing up, and I was a bad kid,” he explains with a laugh. Read more.
Trigg Brown started working in kitchens at the age of 15 as a bored high school student in rural Virginia, looking for a way to pay for gas. He continued cooking in kitchens while studying English literature at the University of Virginia, eventually landing a job at Tom Colicchio’s Colicchio & Sons in New York City before moving onto chef Justin Smillie’s beloved Cal-Ital spot, Upland. So naturally, Brown’s next move was to open Win Son, a groundbreaking Taiwanese-American restaurant in a far-flung corner of Brooklyn, having never visited the island nation until just months before opening. Wait, what? Read more.
Kfar translates to “village” in Hebrew, and chef Camille Cogswell’s version is a culinary utopia. Her restaurant, K’Far, located on a busy corner of Rittenhouse neighborhood in Philadelphia, is a place where piping hot rings of Jerusalem bagels, shaped like lithe zeros that got stretched out at yoga class, are constantly being pulled from the ovens. (The restaurant makes around 1,300 pieces a week.) They are best slathered with butter and generous amounts of za’atar or piled with fluffy yellow scrambled eggs and brushstrokes of bright green schug, a fiery Yemenite hot sauce. It’s enough to make you forget cream cheese ever existed. Read more.
Eunjo Park is on a mission to get the world to respect the rice cake, the chewy Korean staple that has long been seen as the base for humble, everyday dishes. But at Kāwi, in New York City, alongside a menu of candied anchovy–stuffed kimbaps and bold, spicy raw seafood, Park chops up rice cakes like an East Asian gnocchi and showers them in Parmesan and black truffle or buries them in a jammy ragù made from extra-fatty Wagyu beef. Read more.
There is farm-to-table, and then there is Niven Patel’s farm to table. The chef, who now owns two restaurants and a pop-up in Miami, supplies them all with fresh produce from his own farm, a two-acre plot located 40 minutes south in Homestead, Florida, dubbed “Rancho Patel.” From these two acres come a steady supply of fresh produce that most chefs could only dream about. Read more.
On a quiet stretch of road 140 miles north of Los Angeles, in Los Alamos—a place that walks the line between a small town and a ghost town—sits one of the most joyous and warm bistros in the country. But don’t call Bell’s a French restaurant. Chef and co-owner Daisy Ryan (who runs the spot with her husband, Greg) is adamant that the food she serves is “Franch.” Ask her what that means and she’ll tell you that it’s French-inspired food, but more relaxed. Read more.
There is nothing Lena Sareini loves more than a clean plate. “I know a lot of times when people go out for dessert, it’s just an indulgence,” she says. Some might take just one or two bites before being overwhelmed with sugar. “I want to see empty plates come back.” To do this, Sareini, the pastry chef at Detroit’s Selden Standard, works savory elements—often unexpected ones—into each of her recipes. Read more.
Every day after school from the time he was 9 years old, Donny Sirisavath filled water glasses or bussed tables at his mom’s Chinese restaurant in San Antonio. The menu was filled with Chinese and Thai dishes, even though Sirisavath’s mom was a refugee from Laos. “At the time, Lao food was not familiar and not popular,” he explains. By the time he was 20, Sirisavath wanted nothing to do with the restaurant, so he spent the better part of the next decade wandering down several career paths. Read more.
Douglass Williams is a master of texture, almost at a molecular level. It’s deeply apparent throughout the menu at Mida, Williams’ Italian restaurant on the border of Boston’s affluent South End and Roxbury, an African American neighborhood. Just take a look at the polenta. Williams fries the tender cornmeal bricks until golden and crunchy and crowns them with a dollop of sweet gorgonzola dolce, lemon zest, and a generous drizzle of honey. The outside remains crisp, while the inside, enriched with Parmesan and olive oil, is incredibly creamy. Read more.