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Chef of the Year: Christopher Kostow

You know a restaurant loves its chef when it closes for a couple months to give its kitchen—a place where diners rarely tread—a glamorous facelift. Last winter, St. Helena’s Restaurant at Meadowood did just that for Kostow, who is rich in stars. He’s a thinking person’s chef, and his delicate California sensibility—one where ingredients meet technique right in the middle—is pitch-perfect. Not to mention he’s only 36. Imagine where he’ll be at 40.

900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena, 707-963-3646

Restauranteur of the Year: Anna Weinberg

Anna Weinberg, 35, has gumption. In 2010, the New Zealander took her first S.F. restaurant, South, which had suffered during the recession, and turned it into the popular, Frenchy Marlowe. Last fall, she and her chef, Jennifer Puccio, proceeded to tackle touristy North Beach—a red-sauce-or-die destination—opening Park Tavern, a bustling brasserie of the American sort. Not only is it bringing in the locals but, as the industry likes to say, “it’s killing it.”

1652 Stockton St. (near union St.), 415-989-7300

Rising Star Chef (tie): Ravi Kapur

If there was ever a case for impermanence, it’s Liholiho Yacht Club, the pop-up that set chef Ravi Kapur, 36, free from the limitations of other kitchens—most recently Prospect, where he was the executive chef. Today the Oahu native sets up a mise-en-place of dried shrimp, tofu, and sticky rice, cooking up addictive honey-and-fish sauce–glazed quail and smoked-octopus salad. It’s a mashup of skilled cooking and an inventive take on the aloha spirit.

Find Liholiho Yacht Club at

Rising Star Chef (tie): Dennis Lee

With his first, more sophomoric restaurant, Namu, behind him, what Dennis Lee, 32, is cooking at the four-month-old Namu Gaji in the Mission is fully formed: The menu is casual but precise—a place where ramen topped with 4505 hot dogs coexists with buckwheat gnocchi with black garlic and peas. Lee’s strong point of view keeps diners on track, confidently introducing them to a whole new world that’s neither Korean nor American but something much more dynamic.

 499 Dolores St. (at 18th St.), 415-431-6268

Pastry Chef of the Year: Belinda Leong

Having logged nine years at Gary Danko, a year at Pierre Hermé in Paris, and a year at Manresa, Belinda Leong, 35, creates a kind of magic for B. Patisserie that’s more classic than edgy. But that doesn’t mean that her kouign amann pastry hasn’t taken her to the level of a crack dealer. Celebrate: along with baker-partner Michael Suas, she has a Pacific Heights brick-and-mortar patisserie and café on the way, slated to open at the beginning of 2013.

Find B. Patisserie at

Sommelier at the Year: Yoon Ha

Plenty of sommeliers can geek out about wine, droning on, hand inserted awkwardly behind back. But few can seamlessly meld into your dining experience like Yoon Ha, 44. In the hushed dining room at Benu, Ha is a ninja in the art of service. His deep knowledge about the wine (and beer and sake) he’s pouring and the food that goes with it is parlayed in a way that’s elegant yet unintimidating. If doctors have bedside manners, Ha has tableside all figured out.

22 Hawthorne St. (near Howard St.), 415-685-4860

Best Chef Awards: 2012 Winners

Sara Deseran | July 31, 2012 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

These six dynamos are proof that succeeding in the Bay Area's competitive restaurant world demands not only talent and savvy but—most critical of all—a hell-bent kind of perserverance.

Click the arrow to meet the best of the best.


Read what the 2012 WINNERS had to say at our superstar potluck HERE.


Photography by: