Empire Builders 2012

Today, some of the country’s busiest and best food entrepreneurs are also chefs. Here, 10 extraordinary, prolific chef-restaurateurs from coast to coast.


In This Article

Chef Bryan Voltaggio


Volt, Family Meal, Lunchbox, Frederick, MD; Range, Washington, DC

Why He Won

Because the modernist-cuisine-loving chef isn’t satisfied just cooking high-end food for a rarefied crowd. He wants to bring the same focus on ingredients and technique to takeout spots and family-friendly restaurants.

The Empire

Colonial-era Frederick, Maryland, is Voltaggio’s base. The flagship is Volt, an elegant restaurant in a historic mansion; at Lunchbox, he serves casual meals; and in June, he debuted Family Meal, a modern diner in a renovated 1960s car dealership. Next up: Range, a giant Washington, DC, restaurant focused on simply cooked meat and seafood.

On Family Meal

“Frederick is very much a bedroom community of working families,” Voltaggio says. “Chain restaurants are appealing because of the ease of parking. As a father of two, I can’t afford to take my children to Volt—at least, not on a regular basis. I felt a need in the town for approachable, family-oriented dining at a lower price point.” 880 N. East St., Frederick, MD; voltfamilymeal.com.

On Range

The massive dining room will have seven cooking stations, from a raw bar to a wood-fired grill to a charcuterie aging post. “We’re going to have a bakery and a butcher and a fish station,” he says. “Everything’s done in-house, and that’s exciting on this scale.” 5355 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC; voltrange.com.

Sea Scallops with Bacon Jam at Andrew Carmellini's The Dutch

Photo © Noah Fecks/Courtesy of The Dutch.

Chef Andrew Carmellini


Locanda Verde, The Dutch, The Library at the Public Theater, Lafayette, New York City

Why He Won

Because the French-trained chef turns rustic, humble dishes—whether it’s pappardelle with lamb Bolognese or fried oyster sliders—into their platonic ideals.

The Empire

The New York City chef started with peasant-style Italian at Locanda Verde, branched out into multiculti American food at The Dutch and is going back to his roots with the French brasserie Lafayette. He’s also created a menu for the Library at The Public Theater, a new lounge in the iconic downtown venue.

On Lafayette

“For years I ran the kitchen at these high-technique, high-end, high-price-tag French restaurants, like Café Boulud. I wanted to return to France, but not the heavy classics and sauces. I’ll be doing olive-oil-based cooking, a lot of vegetables, a lot of fish and cooking over a fire. The kind of food where you feel awesome after you’ve eaten it.” At Lafayette, Carmellini will serve three meals a day; there will be a bakery in the front. 380 Lafayette St.; opening in December.

On the Library at the Public Theater

“I think of this as more of a cultural project than a culinary one, though the food is also really good. It’s going to be stuff you want to munch on when you’re seeing a show,” he says, which means American dishes like chicken-fried chicken wings and a kielbasa sandwich on a pretzel roll with grainy mustard and sauerkraut. 425 Lafayette St.; thelibraryatthepublic.com.

Chef on the Go

“All the restaurants are 15 minutes from each other, so right now I walk. I’m considering doing the Vespa thing. It’s either that or a Harley.”

Chef Paul Qui's East Side King Food Truck
Photo courtesy of Marshall Wright.

Chef Paul Qui


East Side King, Qui, Austin

Why He Won

The Austin chef (and Top Chef champ) has mastered both ends—high and low—of the restaurant world, weaving together Korean, Japanese, Filipino and Thai food that’s suited to both tasting menus and late-night bar crawls.

The Empire

Three East Side King trailers, with two new locations coming soon—one set to open before the end of 2012, the next in 2013. On the horizon: A high-end spot called Qui, which will fuse French techniques and Asian ingredients.

On the New East Side

King menus “The food will be influenced by my trip to Japan. I’m thinking katsu sandwiches and rice bowls—I’ll probably do one with foie gras.” eskaustin.com.

On Qui

“It’s still a work in progress, but I know it will have a tasting menu. I recently heard Ferran Adrià speak, and he talked about everyday restaurants and once-a-month restaurants. ESK is my everyday spot; I want Qui to be that once-a-month blowout.” 1600 E. Sixth St.; opening 2013.

Chef Gerard Craft

Photo © Greg Rannells/Courtesy of Pasteria.

Chef Gerard Craft


Brasserie, Niche, Taste, Pastaria, St. Louis

Why He Won

Because he’s giving St. Louis culinary credibility, with everything from a modern American restaurant to a French brasserie and a cocktail bar.

The Empire

Brasserie offers terrific steak frites; Niche, which just moved to a new location, is his most formal spot; Taste has cool cocktails; and the just-opened Pastaria focuses on handmade pasta and dishes from Abruzzo.

On Pastaria

At his new osteria, diners can watch the cooks roll ravioli, tortelloni and strozzapreti. “I love all the pasta factories in Abruzzo, and I don’t feel that people here get to see enough of the production,” says Craft. 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, MO; pastariastl.com.

Chef Casey Lane

Photo © Longrada Lor/Courtesy of The Parish.

Chef Casey Lane


The Tasting Kitchen, The Parish, Itri, Los Angeles

Why He Won

Because the 29-year-old chef has a talent for tweaking old-world traditions that can’t be satisfied by a single restaurant.

The Empire

At his Venice Beach flagship, The Tasting Kitchen, Lane improvises a new menu of French-Italian small plates every single night; at Downtown L.A.’s The Parish, he’s updating brawny UK gastropub dishes with incredible California ingredients; and at the upcoming Itri in West Hollywood, he’s going deep into pasta, making up to 15 different shapes each day.

On The Parish

“This isn’t the Disneyland version of a gastropub, it’s the original definition of a pub: a meeting place you can call home, with amazing drinks and food.” So far, the top seller is the fried chicken with smoky grilled peaches; The Parish sells close to 50 orders a night. 840 S. Spring St.; theparishla.com.

On Itri

For this regional Italian spot, which will open in 2013, Lane imported a wood-fired rotisserie. “We’re going to make incredible octopus in there: we’ll olive oil–poach it, tie it on the rotisserie and get a great crust from the slow fire underneath.”

Chef Thomas McNaughton
Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger.

Chef Thomas McNaughton


Flour + Water, Central Kitchen, Salumeria, San Francisco

Why He Won

After making the Mission District a destination for outstanding pizza and pasta, he has broadened his reach to include elevated Cal-Med cooking and incredible sandwiches.

The Empire

Flour + Water is renowned for the carb-loving crowds it draws (and its fantastic pasta-making classes). At Central Kitchen, he’s sourcing four to five types of wood to prepare elegant dishes in his hearth, while at the adjoining Salumeria, he’s making sandwiches and selling the key components, like the house-made charcuterie and imported cheeses.

On Central Kitchen

Most dishes come from the hearth, from slabs of pork to simple vegetables. “You can nestle whole onions in the coals, and after 20 minutes, you have perfectly cooked onions that aren’t just smoky or charred. They taste like the wood, with all this nuance of flavor.” centralkitchensf.com.

On Salumeria

“We think of Salumeria as the larder of Flour + Water, so we sell the sauces, oils and vinegars.” At night, the space turns into Central Kitchen’s dining room, where guests can eat family-style. Both at 3000 20th St.; salumeriasf.com.

Chef Ford Fry

Photo © Andrew Thomas Lee.

Chef Ford Fry


Jct. Kitchen and Bar, No. 246, The Optimist, Atlanta

Why He Won

Because of his ability to open diverse restaurants that offer the kind of brilliant homestyle cooking that Atlanta is craving. He already has three places; he has plans for five more.

The Empire

At JCT. Kitchen and Bar, Fry highlights his version of southern classics; No. 246 offers a mash-up of Italian and American southern cooking; and The Optimist is his ode to oyster bars and lakeside fish camps.

On the Optimist

Named for a kind of sailing boat, this big, white-painted seafood spot ranges from comfort food stalwarts (clam rolls, hush puppies) to mussels in green curry broth and a great cioppino. 914 Howell Mill Rd.; theoptimistrestaurant.com.

Up Next

At the as-yet-unnamed American tavern he’s planning for early 2013 in Buckhead, Fry will focus on wood-fired dishes. “We’re going to capture all the juices that run off from the roasting and use them to finish each dish.”

Chef Vitaly Paley

Photo © John Valls.

Chef Vitaly Paley


Paley’s Place, Imperial, Portland Penny Diner, Portland, OR

Why He Won

Because 17 years after establishing himself as a pioneer of refined Pacific Northwest cooking, the Russian-born local-hero chef has introduced two fantastic new spots that further explore the cuisine of his adopted region.

The Empire

His inaugural spot, Paley’s Place, showcases his exceptional version of Northwest cuisine; at Imperial he features hearty dishes from his six-foot wood-fired grill; and at Portland Penny Diner, to open by the end of 2012, he’s creating a casual spot that will feature the city’s diverse ethnic traditions.

On Imperial

“On the grill, we’ll cook everything from pork roasted on wine-barrel planks to fruit compotes grilled over embers. The smoke imparts such character—I think the capabilities are pretty limitless.” 410 SW Broadway; imperialpdx.com.

On Portland Penny Diner

“We went back to cookbooks and menus from the early 1900s and adapted a lot of those ideas.” One highlight: Native American fry breads, which Paley will stuff with fillings ranging from falafel to banh mi–style Vietnamese beef belly and pickle slaw. 410 SW Broadway; portlandpennydiner.com.

Chef Renee Erickson's Boat Street Café
Photo courtesy of Jim Henkens.

Chef Renee Erickson


Boat Street Café, The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Whale Wins, Seattle

Why She Won

Because she translates her obsession with just about everything from the ocean into unfussy, delicious dishes.

The Empire

Erickson offers French-grandmother cooking at Boat Street Café; superfresh oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter; and at the newly opened The Whale Wins, ingredients cooked in a giant wood-fired Mugnaini oven. Up next: Narwhal, a roving seafood truck.

On The Whale Wins

“The wood oven forces you to cook in a different way. No sautéing!” 3506 Stone Way N.

On Narwhal

Before the end of the year, the 1960s milk truck will be stopping around town selling smoked-fish salads.

Michael Solomonov's Federal Donuts

Photo © Michael Persico/Courtesy of Federal Donuts.

Chef Michael Solomonov


Zahav, Federal Donuts, Percy Street Barbecue, Citron and Rose, Philadelphia

Why He Won

Because Solomonov is devoted to reinventing overlooked cuisines (Israeli, Eastern European) and making American classics, like fried chicken and doughnuts, even better with exotic spices and chef-y techniques.

The Empire

At Zahav, he tweaks Israeli food with American style; at the always-packed Federal Donuts, he spices fried chicken with coconut curry and flavors doughnuts with pomegranate-Nutella; and at Percy Street Barbecue, he creates awesome Texas-style brisket. Up next: the Eastern European Citron and Rose.

On Federal Donuts

The second, just-opened location is as tiny as the original—only 10 counter seats—but it has triple the cooking capacity, which should cut down on the long waits. 1632 Sansom St.; federaldonuts.com.

On Citron and Rose

Opening by the end of 2012, this spot is strictly kosher, so Solomonov can’t mix meat and dairy. “You have to get creative,” he says. “We don’t want to just replace dairy; we want flavors to come together naturally.” citronandrose.com.

Updated by
M. Elizabeth Sheldon,

Brooklyn-based M. Elizabeth Sheldon is a freelance magazine journalist who specializes in lifestyle and travel stories. Her bylines have appeared in Martha Stewart Weddings, The Cut, Good Housekeeping, Time Out New York, and others. Sheldon was an associate editor at Food & Wine.

Kate Krader,

Kate Krader was Food & Wine's restaurant editor for over two decades. She oversaw news, restaurant, and chef coverage. Kate also headed Food & Wine's annual iconic Best New Chefs series. She is currently a food editor at Bloomberg.

Daniel Gritzer,

Title: Associate Food Editor At Food & Wine since: 2010 Born and Raised: Brooklyn, NY background: I grew up in a family where tongue sandwiches were often packed for lunch, and bone marrow spread on toast was a popular predinner snack. When I was 13, I opted for dinner at Chanterelle over a bar mitzvah (/sites/default/files/here wasn't really much deliberation on that one), met David Waltuck and took him up on the invitation to stage there, which I did throughout high school and college. Later, I worked for several years as a line cook and sous chef for chefs, including Cesare Casella (Beppe) and Didier Virot (Aix). Between gigs, I worked on farms in Europe, including shepherding in the mountains of central Italy, harvesting Dolcetto and Barbera grapes in Piedmont, shaking almonds from trees in Andalucia, and making charcuterie in southwestern France. Before F&W, I was the restaurant and bars staff writer at Time Out New York. What I Do at Food & Wine: I edit recipes to ensure they make sense, and walk down the corridor to the test kitchen so many times each day that I often find myself wishing I could fly there head first, nose leading the way. Strangest Food Memory: I was once sitting at a bonfire on a remote Pacific beach in Colombia when a wild rat scurried past. Not missing a beat, the local guys there chased it down and whacked it on the head with a stick. We skinned it, gutted it, dipped it in the sea (for salt) and roasted it over the fire. I ate a hind leg.

Chelsea Morse

Chelsea Morse was an associate editor at Food & Wine where she produced the Trendspotting and Most Wanted Recipe columns and coordinated the Best New Chef Awards. Chelsea's work has also appeared in Wallpaper and Southern Living.

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