In my last post, I mentioned how the food world is in the midst of a reckoning. A few articles before that, I got the chance to highlight the exciting work being done in Food & Wine’s new industry section. Now, the magazine is back at it again with its annual list of the best new chefs of the year.
A mention on this list and those like it can be revolutionary for a restaurant, and some notable folks that have been featured in the past include household names like Tom Colicchio, Michael Symon, Stephanie Izard, Andrew Carmellini, and David Chang.
Traditionally, these lists have been pretty homogeneous. The same few cities get featured, the same few sorts of restaurants are given sendups, the chefs tend to be straight, white, and male.
But that has been changing slowly for the past while for a whole host of reasons. From rising rents in major cities to the increasing professionalization of the kitchen to the shakeup in traditional fine dining that David Chang inspired when he opened Momofuku to the #MeToo movement, chefs of all sizes, shapes, and colors are not content with the status quo.
And food media is paying attention.
This year’s list is diverse as far as gender and multiculturalism go, but what is particularly interesting is the wide variety of locations and types of restaurants Food & Wine has chosen to feature.
Is there a high-end hyperlocal tasting menu restaurant on there? Sure. But it’s not in New York City or San Francisco. It’s Harbor House Inn in the rural seaside town of Elk, California – a spot so remote that my aunt and uncle moved there to live off the grid in the late ’70s. A town where the volunteer fire department gets dispatched to help people who’ve fallen into ditches while foraging for mushrooms is not the sort of place that would normally get featured on a list like this.
Speaking of Harbor House Inn, it’s run by one of those aforementioned white men. He’s the only one on the list.
Other unexpected locales include Paxx Caraballo Moll’s Jungle Bao Baoin San Juan, Puerto Rico and Caroline Glover’s Annette, in Aurora, Colorado.
The Best New Chefs of 2019 are also notable because of how they express their cultures through cuisine. At DC’s Kith/Kin, Kwame Onwuachi is part of a growing movement of chefs with African heritage who are interrogating ideas of their past and present at the table. Serving West African groundnut stew, jollof rice, Trinidadian goat roti, and a burger topped with jerk bacon in an American fine dining setting is a radical act.
The list also includes less rarified spots like Bryan Furman’s B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue in Atlanta, Mutusuko Soma’s Kamonegi, a soba place in Seattle, and Nite Yun’s Nyum Bai, a restaurant that is a self-described “Ode To The Golden Age of Cambodia” in Oakland.
I could go on about how the list is a sign of all the progress and change that’s happened in food in recent years, but in her introduction to the list, Food & Wine’s Restaurant Editor at Large Jordana Rothman, warns against that line of thinking. She rightly thinks it detracts from the point. Instead, she wants you to just go eat at these extraordinary establishments.
Rothman says, “You might be tempted to view this year’s class as a measure of how far the industry has come, but I hope you’ll see it as something else: Ten reasons to go out tonight, to lay a napkin across your lap, to read a menu like a rally cry, to clap your hands, to get on your feet for what comes next.”
So, the next time you find yourself in one of the ten towns on this list, or, frankly, wherever you are, make some time for a good meal. It’ll be worth the effort.