10 Up-and-Coming Female Chefs You Need to Know
The Atlanta Food and Wine Festival’s advisory chef council is comprised of all women for the first time this year. As part of a welcome trend, here are 10 rising female chefs who should be on your radar in 2018.
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Cheetie Kumar, Garland in Raleigh, N.C.
Keep an eye on Cheetie Kumar, a 2017 James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef in the Southeast. She started Garland, a mix of Indian and Asian dishes in 2013 as a takeout window before opening the current restaurant in 2014. Since then, the self-taught cook has built a reputation for incorporating seasonal Southern ingredients into her dishes. For example, corn cake and greens include unexpected additions of curry leaf, sweet potatoes and yogurt paneer. Menu favorites encompass bhel puri, a popular Indian street food, a pork rice bowl with kimchi-style pickles lamb curry in a coconut milk broth and pakora (fried vegetables). When she’s not cooking, Kumar plays gigs with her band Birds of Avalon, so it’s no surprise that music is a focus at Garland, too. Customers can head upstairs to watch a regular roster of live bands perform or to the basement bar for live DJs.
Daniela Soto-Innes, Cosme and Atla in NYC
If you haven’t heard of hot spot Cosme, it’s the first U.S. venture from renowned Mexican chef Enrique Olvera, and it made the World’s Best 50 Best Restaurants list for 2017. Here, 27-year-old chef/partner Daniela Soto-Innes is redefining Mexican food, creating favorites such as duck carnitas tacos and corn husk meringue. She won the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award in 2016 at just 25 years old. Soto-Innes also made Forbes’ 2017 30 Under 30 list for food and drink. She grew up in Mexico City and Texas and took her first cooking class at five. She started her first restaurant internship at 15 and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Soto-Innes logged time working at Olvera’s Pujol in Mexico City before being chosen by Olvera himself to run Cosme. When she’s not at Cosme, she helps oversee operations at Atla, Cosme’s more casual spin-off.
Nina Compton, Compère Lapin in New Orleans
Nina Compton may have been the Top Chef season 11 runner-up, but she went on to open Compere Lapin in New Orleans in 2015, garnering acclaim from The New York Times and earning a James Beard nomination for her refined blend of Caribbean, Creole and Southern cuisines. Her St. Lucian upbringing informs the menu, as does New Orleans and her work under star chefs Daniel Boulud and Scott Conant. Must-tries include conch croquettes, curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi and Caribbean seafood pepper pot. Her continuing success led Food & Wine to add her to its Best New Chefs 2017 list, and she’s not stopping with Compere Lapin. Next up is Bywater American Bistro, which Compton describes as "ingredient-driven cuisine with a bistro style of service". While that leaves much to the imagination, another hint of what’s to come covers the gamut, from homemade pasta and French-inspired charcuterie to farro risotto and yellowfin tuna steak.
Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, Kismet and MADCAPRA in Los Angeles
Moving to Los Angeles may have been one the best career decisions for Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson. The two were working together at Glasserie, Kramer’s restaurant in Brooklyn, before relocating to Los Angeles in 2013. They opened MADCAPRA in 2015, a falafel stand in Grand Central Market, and it didn’t take long for the food world to take notice. MADCAPRA landed them on the 2016 James Beard semifinalists list for rising stars and Zagat 30 Under 30. Kramer and Hymanson just opened Kismet, a casual small-plate spot not far from MADCAPRA where they’re experimenting with Middle Eastern ingredients and fresh produce. Current items include lemon chicken and pine nut pies, jeweled crispy rice with egg yolk and flaky bread. Food & Wine chose Kramer and Hymanson for its Best New Chefs 2017 class, and Kismet grabbed a finalist spot on Bon Appétit's 2017 Best New Restaurants in America.
Diana Dávila, Mi Tocaya Antojeria in Chicago
Diana Davila just opened Mi Tocaya Antojeria this past March, and it’s already gained the attention of Bon Appetit. Eater Chicago crowned Davila Chef of the Year, and the Chicago Michelin Guide bestowed a Bib Gourmand recognition for good food at an affordable cost. It’s not quite a Michelin star, but it’s a worthy honor nonetheless. Other food scene players have also identified Davila as a rising chef for her creative approach to regional Mexican dishes, from the lesser known to the widely recognized. And while she incorporates American ingredients like peanut butter y lengua, don’t confuse her style with Americanized Mexican food or expect the menu to be in English. Davila rose through the ranks at Ardeo + Bardeo and El Chucho in Washington, D.C., and Boka and Cantina 1910 in Chicago before venturing out on her own in her native city. At this rate, it might not be too long before that Bib Gourmand is replaced with a Michelin star.
Niki Nakayama, n/naka in Los Angeles
Kaiseki, an ancient Japanese art of presenting a multicourse dinner, is truly an art form. It’s not unlike the Japanese art of flower arranging, where great thought and effort is exerted into creating a thing of simplistic beauty. The kaiseki tradition has been long dominated by men and continues to be with a notable exception. Los Angeles native Niki Nakayama has risen to the top with her restaurant n/naka and has been cited as one of the only female kaiseki masters in the world. While she’s not a household name yet, her name isn’t new on the kaiseki scene. After starting out under the tutelage of chefs Takao Izumida and Morihiro Onodera at Takao in Los Angeles, she made her way to Japan, eventually learning the kaiseki ropes from chef Masa Sato. She opened her first restaurant back in 2000, focusing on sushi. She honed her tasting menu technique at her second restaurant and finally opened n/naka in 2011. Her name didn’t capture national attention until an appearance on Netflix’s Chef’s Table in 2015. Her restaurant is now one of the hardest reservations to nab in the city.
Kate Williams, Lady of the House in Detroit
Lady of the House opened this past September in the trendy Corktown section, and it’s already booking solid. That’s no surprise to locals already familiar with Kate Williams’ skills at Republic Tavern, where she developed an esteemed reputation. Her background involves cooking at Relae in Copenhagen, a repeat favorite on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. She's making a name for herself on her home turf, and customers are flocking to Lady of the House for its locally sourced, modern American approach, which currently involves corn dog rillettes, steak tartare and potato doughnuts. It shouldn't take long for Williams’ reputation to spread well beyond Detroit.
Mashama Bailey, The Grey in in Savannah, Ga.
Four years after opening, The Grey, named for the former Greyhound bus station it resides in, captured Eater’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year. Eater rightly attributes this honor to chef Mashama Bailey, who manages to execute refined Southern comfort food — think pickled oysters, octopus with pickled celery, turnip cakes, smoked collards, quail madeira with black strap molasses and fried veal sweetbreads. Though she was born and raised in New York City, Bailey regularly visited family in Georgia, making Savannah a natural fit to show off her cooking skills. The women in Bailey’s family taught her how to cook, and she pursued formal training at the Institute of Culinary Education and in France. Not least of Bailey’s experiences are the four years she spent at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s highly-regarded NYC restaurant.
Jamie Tran, Black Sheep in Las Vegas
For visitors, Las Vegas’ food scene is intertwined with the celeb chefs on the Strip (Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck, Tom Colicchio, a million others). But an emerging food scene is occurring beyond the flashy casinos, led in part by Jamie Tran of Black Sheep. Eater Las Vegas bestowed the 2017 Chef of the Year honor upon her, while Black Sheep, less than a year old, took Restaurant of the Year. Ironically, the Strip has to be credited for honing Tran’s skills, where she logged hours at Daniel Boulud’s DB Brasserie and Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. Black Sheep, named in part for her outsider status in a male-dominated sector, is a far cry from the high-end food and ambiance at her former workplaces (in a good way). Instead, she’s returned to her roots, serving up tasty Vietnamese-American dishes in a modern yet cozy space. Come hungry for bao sliders, salmon skin tacos, Vietnamese imperial rolls and braised duroc pork belly.
Julia Sullivan, Henrietta Red in Nashville, Tenn.
Henrietta Red has become known for its raw oyster bar, serving oysters from both the South and across the country, but don’t skip its seasonal, seafood-centric dishes and comfort food-filled brunch menu. The restaurant’s beet risotto, red snapper crudo, chicken liver and cauliflower steak are among the reasons why it earned a finalist spot on Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants 2017. The biggest reason behind its success is chef Julia Sullivan, a Nashville native who attended the Culinary Institute of America before moving on to heavy-hitters Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York’s Hudson Valley and Per Se in New York City. Even though it took her a few years to open Henrietta Red, it’s no small feat the restaurant has already garnered high praise in a city fast emerging as a foodie destination.