The chill in the air means it’s award season and a bevy of local culinary talent is about to walk the proverbial red carpet. For the first time since 2014, StarChefs is bringing its Rising Star awards to D.C. and the greater Chesapeake region. The restaurant industry magazine and respected resource for hospitality industry professionals has been presenting the awards to change makers for the past 14 years.
“Last time we were in D.C. it had grown up in a lot of ways in terms of quality, execution, and ‘concepting,’ bringing it onto the same plane as New York and Chicago,” says StarChefs Managing Editor Will Blunt. “If your look at our list this year, it’s a reflection of D.C.’s multiculturalism.”
To select the winners, StarChefs sends a team to the region to interview everyone from chefs and sommeliers to bakers and coffee roasters. This year they screened 131 potential awardees, many of whom were nominated by past winners. “We cast a broad net,” Blunt says. “Then we look at menus and where they are in their career. They have to be under 40 and have menu control.” Of course the team also tastes dishes, test out wine pairings, and try products.
If you look at the list of 2018 winners below and think they’ve far surpassed rising-star status in D.C., remember that StarChefs is a national publication.
Tom Cunanan, Bad Saint
Brad Deboy, Ellē
Jerome Grant, Sweet Home Cafe
Kwame Onwuachi, Kith/Kin
Drew Adams, Bourbon Steak
Kevin Tien, Himitsu
Opie Crooks, A Rake’s Progress (award for top hotel chef)
Hari Cameron, a(MUSE.), Rehoboth Beach
Carlos Raba, Clavel, Baltimore
Steve Chu, Ekiben, Baltimore (award for top community chef)
Charbel Abrache, Seylou Bakery
Megan Fitzroy, Longoven, Richmond
Brandon Peck, The Jasper, Richmond
Jonathan Bethony, Seylou Bakery
Evan Howe, Small Planes Coffee
Matt Tarpey, The Veil, Richmond
Chef Erik Bruner-Yang, Maketto, Brothers & Sisters, Spoke English, Paper Horse
Call Your Mother from Andrew Dana, Daniela Moreira, and Chris Brady
Felicia Colbert, A Rake’s Progress
Darlin Kulla, Succotash
In October, The James Beard Foundation announced that it would be making some key changes when it comes to the preeminent awards they bestow upon culinary professionals. First, they shared that they will be placing a premium on diversity and second, they have asked judges to consider a chef’s conduct when determining eligibility for an award.
StarChefs is trying to follow suit. “We’re an industry magazine, our tagline is moving the industry forward,” Blunt says. “It’s about mentorship and how folks behave in a more general sense. We’re even more pointed about it now.” While the class of 2018 awardees is weak on women, organizers are excited about the types of cuisines that are represented from West African and Filipino to Japanese and soul food.
“These are chefs that are doing great things for the reputation of these cuisines,” says StarChefs Associate Editor Sean Kenniff. One of the most exciting winners in his opinion is Jerome Grant of Sweet Home Cafe inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“It’s hard to think of a chef who compares in terms of influence and importance in terms of what he’s doing,” Kenniff continues. “The fact that he’s safeguarding and holding these recipes for generations to come is inspiring. He has a massive team executing under him and is bringing museum food to a new level.”
Blunt is geeking out about Seylou Bakery. “The integrity of what they do and the level of thought and the taste … you basically have one of the best small bakeries in the country under your nose.” Seylou specializes in using whole grains to make hearty loaves that make an impression.
The 2018 StarChefs winners will receive their awards at a ceremony and tasting gala on Dec. 11 at Dock 5 at Union Market from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. All-inclusive general admission tickets are $95 and VIP tickets, which include a private caviar and Champagne reception at 5:45 p.m., cost $150. In addition to the awardees, Chef Tim Ma of American Son and Lisa Odom of Succotash will showcase a dish. Estadio owner and sommelier Max Kuller will pour wine. A portion of the evening’s proceeds will benefit the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (CCAP).
For an idea of how good the StarChefs team is at selecting winners that will go on to have even bigger and brighter careers, check out who won in 2014.