Rising Star Chefs Announced in San Francisco

Sean Baker (pictured center), executive chef at Gather
Sean Baker (pictured center), executive chef at Gather

by Anneli Rufus

Fish-sauce-glazed Berkshire pork belly with roasted kumquats and kimchi. Verbena-and-chamomile-poached sea bream collar with pear and celery. These are dishes to show off with.

But showing off was the raison d’être of StarChefs.com’s 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Stars Awards ceremony and gala, held June 13 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

Guests cheered from the stands in the majestic ballpark as 27 chefs and other culinary professionals, chosen from among hundreds of competitors, were named this year’s Rising Stars by editors of the culinary insiders’ magazine StarChefs.com.

Among the winners — each of whom received a Vitamix blender and a Cinco Jotas ham  — were Nick Balla of San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, Esteban Brunello of Oakland’s Oliveto, Jason Fox of San Francisco’s Commonwealth and dozens more.

At a glamorous post-ceremony gala high above the stands, guests sipped Puerto Rican rum, Meletti Cioccolato liqueur and an array of innovative cocktails featuring everything from beet juice to gentian liqueur while sampling creations crafted on site by the Rising Stars.

Sean Baker of Berkeley’s Gather restaurant was named this year’s Rising Star for sustainability and offered smoked cashew-nettle ricotta with dragon carrots and currants.

Juan Contreras from San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn, who was one of several pastry chef Rising Stars, made astounding white “popsicles” made from local eucalyptus, whey and menthol, skewered on eucalyptus sprigs.

Mellisa Root of Menlo Park’s Madera, who was named this year’s hotel pastry chef Rising Star, created raspberry gin fizzes made with gin granita, raspberry fizz and her own “Crème Fre-yo,” containing simple syrup, maple syrup, egg yolds, lemon juice, crème fraiche, lime and acetate.

Jacob Des Voignes of San Francisco’s Local Mission Eatery, who was one of several all-around “best chef” Rising Stars, showed off his roasted cauliflower with kimchi, yogurt and quinoa.

William Werner of Craftsman and Wolves, who was named a Rising Star in the “artisan” category, presented coffee-caramel eclairs and jewel-like caramelized hazelnut financiers.

The folks from Santa Cruz-based Verve Coffee Roasters served samples of some of the world’s rarest coffee, made from highly-prized Panamanian Geisha beans. Verve’s proprietors Colby Barr and Ryan O’Donovan had just been named Rising Stars. Verve’s Director of Training Chris Baca, a three-time US Barista Championship finalist, poured me some of this while rightly hailing its remarkably citrus-y lightness. Yes, coffee can actually taste both rich and delicate at the same time.

Amongst a stunning range of all-star offerings, my pick for the standout item of the night was the frozen-lime marshmallow and coal-toasted meringue crafted by Matt Tinder, pastry chef at San Francisco’s Coi. Its seared top and immaculate cloud-whiteness underneath, its melt-in-the-mouth tenderness with a bright frozen heart, the primal familiarity of marshmallow meeting the exotic bite of lime, were the oral equivalent of a Miró painting.

How lucky we are to live at a time in which cooking becomes more of an art form every day.

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