(Originally published June 3, 2014 on Examiner.com).
On Thursday, June 12, at The Vibiana Church in Downtown Los Angeles’ “Rising Star” chefs, as recognized by Starchefs.com, will be showcased at the StarChefs.com Rising Stars Gala. This gala includes an awards ceremony followed by a tasting event. A signature dish from each of the chefs selected will be featured for attendees to sample along with dishes from winners of the other StarChef.com categories. Only six chefs are normally recognized as “Rising Star” Chefs in any city. Though this year in Los Angeles, since the ranking system included two ties, eight chefs were recognized as LA’s Rising Star Chefs. These eight chefs are Ari Taymor of Alma, Atsushi Takatsuki of MB Post, Bryant Ng of The Spice Table, Niki Nakayama of n/naka, Ori Menashe of Bestia, Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga of The Hart and the Hunter, and Cole Dickinson of Ink
According to StarChefs Editor in Chief Antoinette Bruno, The Rising Stars Gala is the culmination of a comprehensive search and extensive nomination process that begins with over three hundred nominees whose names are put forth for consideration by past winners, StarChef’s Advisory committee and local media as well as via an online nomination form on StarChef’s website. (StarChef’s Advisory committee includes many of the industry’s top chefs like Daniel Boulud, Norman Van Aken, Todd English, Jose Andres, Ken Oringer, Paul Liebrandt, Josh DeChellis, and Marcus Samuelsson). StarChefs.com’s editors go through this list of nominees and eliminates past winners plus chefs who no longer qualify. To qualify chefs have to be under forty years of age unless they had a late career change and have been in the industry less than ten years.
After this first cut, Bruno said the 200 or so remaining nominees were sent a pre-interview form with approximately 20 questions. These nominees were also asked to provide a menu. Not all nominees responded. Of the 175 or so who did, 100 made the next cut after the menus and forms were evaluated by StarChefs’ editorial staff.. These 100 were contacted to arrange tastings and in person interviews. Tastings included four dishes, three of which must be on these chef’s current menu. These tastings scheduled at different times during the day and may occur before or during service or whatever is most convenient for each chef. The tastings were grouped by neighborhoods and occurred over the course of four non-consecutive weeks. During each of these four weeks, twenty five tastings were arranged along with the in person interviews.
Each year StarChefs recognizes Rising Stars in four different American cities. Each city is visited by one of StarChefs’ senior editors plus a junior member. Editor in Chief of StarChefs Antoinette Bruno headed the team in charge of Los Angeles. The four weeks she visited Los Angeles were in the months of March and October of 2013, and January and February of this year 2014. The first week of tastings in March was a “tester” week; a month to determine whether or not Los Angeles was again ready to be considered for more Rising Star chef awards.
The last round of Rising Stars that recognized Los Angeles and Southern Cal chefs occurred in 2010 and included a number of the chefs profiled in this column including LA Chefs Walter Manzke,Steve Samson and Kuniko Yagi as well as other LA Chefs including Michael Voltagio of Ink, Ken Takayama of Melisse, Steve’s partner at Sotto Zachary Pollack plus Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal.
The nominees were rated based on several criteria. First, their food was rated based on its presentation, creativity and execution. Then chefs were also rated on their ambition, their place in culinary community, whether they see outside the four walls of their restaurant and whether they are or will be future leaders in the industry. Another factor used in StarChefs’ evaluations included finding out who were a nominee’s mentor or mentors since this usually has some bearing on future success. Bruno noted that some mentors make a point of making sure their protégés succeed.
All of these above factors are rated on a scale of one to five. Candidates are ranked on their cumulate scores. During the tasting, a chef’s numbers are added into a spread sheet so after each tasting and the in person interview a chef is ranked in relationship to other chefs whose food has already been tasted and who has already been interviewed.
For some of this year’s winners, Bruno said in regards to Chef Ari Taymor, “He has a very clear mission…He puts himself onto every plate. With each plate he defines who he is as a chef.” Bruno thinks that is a very rare characteristic “…which every chef strives to do but whether or not they can do it is a different thing.” In regards to Chef Ori Menashe, Bruno noted “His cuisine isn’t flashy. It’s focused plus familiar enough to get his guests to eat gizzards and lamb hearts. He loves people and it shows in his food. Ori’s restaurant is not the quintessential Los Angeles restaurant. Bestia is Ori’s love letter to LA.” In regards to Chef Niki Nakayama, Bruno stated, “she’s pretty amazing. She talks about protecting the ingredients. This is something she does with elegance, sophistication and fierceness, that’s Niki at n/naka.”
On starchefs.com website on the “Why they shine” page, Chef Niki Nakayama’s “Sozai o Mamoru” or protecting the ingredients is further defined along with the key elements that distinguish all of the other Rising Chef awards winners as well as the winners of the other starchef.com categories awarded to rising star pastry chefs, restaurateurs, mixologists and sommeliers..
At the Rising Star Gala on Thursday June 12th, one of the dishes that was part of each Rising Stars Chef’s tasting menu presented to Starchefs.com’s evaluators will be featured on the event’s menu along with items from other category winners. Chef Cole Dickinson of Ink featured dish will be Octopus, Kelp Pasta, and Fennel. Chef Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga of The Hart and the Hunter featured dish will be Barbecued Gulf Oysters with Chile-Garlic Butter. Chef Ori Menashe of Bestia featured dish will be Chicken Gizzards, Beets, Endive, and Capra Sarda. Chef Niki Nakayama of n/naka featured dish will be Scallop, Uni, Strawberry, Yuzu, and Nori. Chef Bryant Ng of The Spice Table featured dish will Jellyfish Salad, Chicken, and Crispy Rice. Chef Atsushi Takatsuki of MB Post featured dish will be Pig Tail-Shimp Tail Dumplings. Chef Ari Taymor of Alma featured dish will be Wagyu, Turnips, Truffled Walnut, and Wasabi. Jonathan Whitener of Animal featured dish will be Fried Rabbit, Carolina Gold Rice, and Sour Cream Gravy.
To taste these dishes, and meet these Rising Star chefs, tickets may be purchased at www.starchefs.com/risingstars. General Admission is $95 per person. VIP tickets are $125 and include a private VIP reception with Champagne and Petrossian Caviar, beginning at 5:45pm. A portion of the evening’s proceeds will go to The Garden School Foundation.