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The Best Chefs Of The Year
Carolyn Alburger and Sara Deseran | Photo: Chad Riley on location at Roka Akor, Styling by Miguel Lopez and Gabriel Yanez of SuiGeneris, Hair and Makeup by Veronica Sjoen | July 26, 2013
We anoint the creme de la creme of the Bay Area food world.
Since 1988, San Francisco has been anointing the city’s best chefs. But this year, for the first time ever, we assembled an academy made up of over 30 former Best Chef winners dating back to 2001. Rather than select the 2013 winners ourselves, we asked the academy members to cast their votes for the Bay Area’s newest superstars.
Then it was time for some Academy Award–worthy glitz and glamour! None of this chef’s-whites-and-dead-pig-over-the-shoulder stuff. Instead, we spray-painted six plastic artichokes gold, outfitted the winning chefs (and a sommelier) in some finery, loosened them up with stiff drinks courtesy of Roka Akor, satiated them with 4505 Meats hot dogs, and got them out of the kitchen and into an after-party setting that would have made Vanity Fair proud. The soirée might have been simulated, but the celebration was legit.
Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions and (forthcoming) the Progress
Bill Corbett (Best Pastry Chef, 2011) of the Absinthe Group remembers the first time that he met Stuart Brioza. “He came into Michael Mina years ago when I was working there and he was at Rubicon. I was told that there was this badass chef at the bar, so I went out to chat with him, and he was disarmingly nice.”
“Nice” isn’t usually a term associated with the hottest chef in town, but in Brioza’s case it applies. And Nicole Krasinski (our Best Pastry Chef in 2005) shares her husband’s lack of pretension—a quality that shines through in their menu of boundary-defying plates, like Peking duck with crepes and plum sauce and sourdough sauerkraut pancakes. Since Bon Appétit gave State Bird the 2012 Restaurant of the Year award, the media attention has created a frenzy. Diners ease the three-hour wait for dinner with fried chicken from a nearby Popeyes.
The Krasinski-Brioza style will gain ground when the pair debut a new restaurant next door called the Progress, set to open in mid-2014. Here, they’ll float “large plates” (mixed grills, whole birds) in a “1980s clubhouse meets Park and Rec” decor. If that doesn’t sound on trend, you’re right, it’s not. But Brioza and Krasinski have been here before, boldly staring at a worn canvas of a space and a pile of lofty expectations. The words of Namu Gaji’s Dennis Lee (Rising Star Chef, 2012) are apropos: “Stuart and Nicole have done a great job of executing a novel concept and handling the hype.”
James Syhabout of Commis, Hawker Fare, and (forthcoming) Box and Bells
James Syhabout is a guy known for using his head. “In one word, I would say he’s intelligent,” says Flour + Water’s Thomas McNaughton (Rising Star Chef, 2010). Benu’s Yoon Ha (Best Sommelier, 2012) agrees. “James is a humble and gentle person. He has a sense of calm and a quiet intelligence that shows through in his food.” This is not to say, though, that he’s too cerebral—or too soft. “He’s a little ninja in the kitchen,” McNaughton adds.
Although Syhabout—who initially made his name cooking at Manresa—has received his share of accolades (including Best Chef of 2010 from this magazine), he has not previously been recognized as a budding restaurant mogul. But with his third restaurant, a Rockridge gastropub called Box and Bells, about to open, he’s almost single-handedly made Oakland a national dining destination.
Box and Bells will have a cocktail-laden drinks menu and food like fried chicken and blood-pudding poutine. It’s a big departure from Syhabout’s last restaurant, the casual Hawker Fare, which mixes hip-hop with dishes that his Thai mother cooked for him when he was young. And then there’s his firstborn, the tiny, four-year-old Commis, which won Syhabout his first Michelin star. But when you’re an accidental restaurateur, as Syhabout claims to be, you take things as they come. “It’s always about filling a personal void,” he says. “I just want to do things I like—things I’m curious about.”