The Tastemakers Rising Star Chef of the Year category recognizes promising individuals or chefs who are newly established in their own kitchens. In the collective opinion of our panel of restaurant industry experts, these are the chefs who will shape the future of dining in Houston.
James Beard Award winner Bradley Ogden recently tapped last year's winner, Triniti chef de cuisine Greg Lowry, to revive his Houston concepts — a challenge worthy of his prodigious talent. Who will join Lowry as a Tastemakers winner? Find out at our awards ceremony May 13. The VIP section has already sold out, but general admission tickets still remain.
Our nominees are a strong group with a diverse set of skills. All of them participated in at least one high-profile opening in 2014, and two are associated with some of 2015's most anticipated newcomers. Get to know them now so you can sound smart when you discuss their careers later.
Adam Dorris, Pax Americana
With stints at Stella Sola and Revival Market on his resume, Adam Dorris had already established himself as a chef on the rise, which earned him a Rising Star nomination last year. Last summer, he announced he had partnered with Glass Wall owner Shepard Ross and Dan Zimmerman to launch Pax Americana. Despite that status as a chef on the move, few people expected Pax to emerge as one of the most well-regarded restaurants, but Dorris has erased any misplaced nostalgia for Thai Sticks. Pax's constantly evolving menu draws upon a bevy of global influences while utilizing high-quality local product. With most dishes under $20, Dorris's cuisine isn't just delicious — it's an affordable luxury.
Patrick Feges, Southern Goods
Patrick Feges worked as a line cook at Underbelly for two years, but he nurtured a passion for barbecue with a series of well-regarded pop-ups. To further his skills, he moved on to Killen's Barbecue, where he immersed himself in all aspects of the restaurant — everything from manning the smoker to ordering to keeping the line moving by cutting meat — all the while continuing to pop-up and serve preparations that are a little different than Killen's. Before he commits to barbecue full-time, Feges has reunited with two of his former Underbelly colleagues, Lyle Bento and J.D. Woodward, to open Southern Goods in the Heights. If a pop-up last week that featured biscuit gnocchi and a substantial, honey-glazed ham hock is any indication, Southern Goods will be one of 2015's most inventive newcomers.
Adam Garcia, Coltivare
Adam Garcia established Washington Ave cocktail bar as a legitimate food destination with a series of cold seafood small plates and some of the best fried hush puppies in Houston. That Garcia's food is delicious and well-executed should come as no surprise to those who were familiar with his work at both Revival Market and The Pass & Provisions (the work that earned him a nomination last year), but executing at a high-level in Julep's confined environment is still praiseworthy. He recently took a job as the A.M. sous chef at Coltivare, where he'll contribute to executive chef Ryan Pera's Italian-inspired cuisine that uses incredibly fresh local ingredients.
Graham Laborde, The Kipper Club Test Kitchen/Bernadine's
Graham Laborde may have been a surprise pick to lead the restaurant next to former Feast chef Richard Knight's upcoming Hunky Dory at the Treadsack "mothership" on Shepherd and 18th, but, as owner Chris Cusack explained in November, Laborde is the "Slumdog Millionaire" of the restaurant that's intended as a "love letter to the Gulf Coast" in the sense that "everything he’s done in his life leads up to this awesome project." That includes growing up in Louisiana, traveling along the Gulf Coast, working for celebrated chefs like Scott Boswell and serving as operations manager for Black Hill Ranch. Prior to turning his attention to Bernadine's, Laborde organized Treadsack's Kipper Club pop-up space, which included recruiting talented out-of-town chefs like Dan Heinze from McCrady's in Charleston, SC that made Kipper the home for some of the city's most exciting meals.
Gabriel Medina, Soma Sushi
Two-time Rising Star nominee Gabriel Medina has already earned a reputation as one of Houston's most underrated chefs. Before the recent ramen boom, Medina already earned favorable reviews for his fusion soups that utilize ingredients like smoked barbecue brisket. Recently, he's been integrating flavors from different Asian countries and giving them a little Japanese twist, as with some recent dishes that are inspired by Singapore. If Medina keeps up this pace, he'll be a Chef of the Year nominee in no time.
Brandon Silva, Uchi
Brandon Silva had an interesting 2014. He left Uchi to help his mentor Mark Holley open his buzzed-about Midtown seafood restaurant. Once Holley's had found his footing, Silva returned to Uchi. At a recent pop-up with fellow Uchi chef John Gross, Silva showed dishes like sweetbreads with oyster mushrooms and parsnips that demonstrate his abilities beyond seafood. Whether he gets to serve some of those experiments to Uchi's demanding customers remains to be seen, but knocking out 400 covers on a Saturday night is its own reward.
Martin Weaver, KUU Restaurant
Martin Weaver is the unsung hero of KUU: the modern Japanese restaurant that's emerged as one of the most intriguing destinations in west Houston. Where executive chef Adison Lee brings a global perspective and training from sushi temple Nobu to KUU's menu, chef de cuisine Weaver brings a more local perspective. He's an almost weekly presence at the Saturday morning Urban Harvest farmers market where he can be found selecting produce for nightly specials. That's how ingredients like green strawberries wind up on KUU's menu.