The nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Rising Star Chef of the Year 2016 are a distinguished group. As selected by our panel of restaurant industry insiders, these individuals represent the next wave of culinary talent that's transforming how Houston eats.
Who will follow in the footsteps of Greg Lowry (formerly of Triniti and Pour Society) and Patrick Feges (Southern Goods) to win this year's title? Find out May 18 at the Tastemaker Awards ceremony hosted by Reef chef/owner Bryan Caswell.
Daniel Blue, Hunky Dory
After working with Hunky Dory executive chef Richard Knight at Feast, Daniel Blue spent time working for John Besh and cooking in Germany before signing on to Hunky Dory. As such, he shares Knight's passions for whole animal cooking (reflected in dishes like the signature whole hog head cavatelli) and the menu that rotates seasonally to keep things fresh. Diners will most often find him tending the massive, wood-fired grill that shapes so much of Hunky Dory's cuisine.
Vincent Huynh, Coltivare/Eight Row Flint
Whether its overseeing the line at Coltivare or shaping the taco menu at Eight Row Flint, Agricole Hospitality's culinary director Vincent Huynh serves an essential role at two of The Height's most popular destinations. Huynh is also a regular presence at the weekly Urban Harvest farmers market, where he maintains the restaurants' relationships with area farmers. His culinary philosophy can be best summarized by his personalized license plate: an abbreviated version of a chef's favorite command: "Order. Fire."
Graham Laborde, Bernadine's
Although he was a relative unknown when the Treadsack group tapped him to head up the Gulf Coast restaurant that shares the "mothership" space with Hunky Dory, it's safe to say that educated diners have gotten to know Graham Laborde. Since it opened in December, Bernadine's menu — which ranges from the instant classic I-10 Tower to gumbo, to seared snapped with pickled shrimp, and the cochon de lait that features a variety of pig parts — has a diverse range of offerings that can satisfy almost any craving. As his staff gets more dialed in, expect Laborde to demonstrate the full range of influences that got him dubbed "the Slumdog Millionaire of Bernadine's" by Treadsack owner Chris Cusack.
Gary Ly, Underbelly
To steal a phrase from sportswriter Bill Simmons, Gary Ly is Underbelly's "glue guy." He may not be the star — that's still executive chef/owner/James Beard award winner/culinary folk hero Chris Shepherd — but it's impossible to image the restaurant's kitchen running smoothly without him. In addition to maintaining Shepherd's standards when the head chef travels to represent Houston at culinary events across the country, Ly also helps indoctrinate new hires into Underbelly's culture by taking them to eat at restaurants in Chinatown. With Underbelly vets Lyle Bento, J.D. Woodward, and Patrick Feges doing such good work at Southern Goods, it's easy to imagine the day when Ly will graduate from role player to star of his own kitchen.
Martin Weaver, Brennan's of Houston
After an almost two-year stint as Adison Lee's chef de cuisine at upscale sushi restaurant Kuu, Weaver joined iconic Houston restaurant Brennan's as chef de cuisine in January. In addition to assisting executive chef Danny Trace serve hundreds of diners each night, Weaver will bring his expertise to the restaurant's recently introduced raw seafood offerings. Dishes like scallop crudo with caviar and pickled fennel blend Brennan's traditional use of locally-sourced seasonal ingredients with a Japanese-style plating aesthetic that brings the venerable restaurant into 2016.
Martha Wilcox De Leon, Pax Americana
One of many veterans of The Pass & Provisions who are quietly working behind the scenes at some of Houston's best restaurants, Martha Wilcox De Leon joined the team at Pax in November 2014. Since then, she oversees the restaurant's daily production and works closely with executive chef Adam Dorris to shape the constantly evolving menu. During service, diners who peer into the glass-walled kitchen will see her expediting dishes before they head to eager customers.
William Wright, Helen Greek Food & Wine
Wright seemed like an unlikely choice when Evan Turner tapped the former Table on Post Oak chef to helm the kitchen at his Greek passion project in Rice Village, but the sommelier clearly has an eye for culinary talent. Helen's blend of Gulf Coast ingredients with authentic Greek flavors has been a smash hit, earning a spot as Texas Monthly's pick for the state's best new restaurant of 2015, numerous national write-ups, and Houston's first James Beard semifinalist nomination in the nationwide Best New Restaurant category in several years. Still, Wright isn't one to rest on his laurels; he and the Helen team are already preparing to open Italian American restaurant Arthur Ave in The Heights later this year.