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The 2014 Best Chefs Awards

Sara Deseran and Rebecca Flint Marx | July 25, 2014 | Story Restaurants

A husband-and-wife dream team, an impressively hirsute pastry genius, a Deadhead turned beer master, a soft-spoken up-and-comer, and a restaurateur in perpetual motion. San Francisco’s esteemed Best Chefs Academy has voted (see the full list of electors at bottom), and this year’s winners are an eclectic bunch that have two key traits in common: serious determination and excellent taste.

Evan and Sarah Rich (Rich Table)
In the case of packed-from-day-one Rich Table, two heads make a better restaurant than one. The couple’s quirky sensibilities show up in dishes like bucatini with pork sausage and peaches, and scallops paired with eggplant, honey, and Thai basil. The good-humored duo, who fell in love while cooking at Bouley in New York, have two children under the age of four. Insane? Perhaps. But considering that last year they made Bon Appétit’s list of the top 50 restaurants in the United States, this whole family thing seems to be working.

Three Burning Questions
Sarah, is it true that you were Evan’s boss at Bouley?
SR: I was, though we weren’t allowed to be on the same schedule or talk—or make eye contact.
What do you eat when you eat alone?
ER: A quesadilla with ketchup.
What’s the most delicious dish you’ve eaten recently?
SR: The strawberry icebox pie at Strawn’s, a restaurant in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I grew up.

William Werner (Craftsman & Wolves)
Between his kimchee financiers and the soft-cooked egg-within-a-muffin Rebel Within, William Werner has introduced the city to a brave new world of pastry since opening Craftsman & Wolves in the Mission two years back. And that world is about to get bigger: In addition to a burgeoning online lifestyle shop, he’s poised to open a café on Market Street and a Los Angeles outpost of his Valencia Street patisserie.

Three Burning Questions
When you hear “rock star chef,” what comes to mind?
A lot of tattoos and not smiling. It’s funny—that serious guy in the kitchen didn’t used to be a rock star. He was just a dick.
Nerdiest dish on your menu?
My little half-pipe fruit tarts. I geeked out on them pretty hard. We bake the shells upside down, in special pans, so they’re like a taco. There’s an equal amount of berries to cream to crunch.
Ideal day off?
I’ll load up film in my camera and take a ride on my motorcycle. After a stop at Aquarius Records, I’ll get home in time to make dinner.

Dennis Leary (Trocadero Club, Café Terminus, Natoma Cabana, Golden West, House of Shields, the Sentinel)
Within the space of a year, Dennis Leary and his business partner, Eric Passetti, opened the Trocadero Club, Café Terminus, and, most recently, Natoma Cabana—effectively completing a SoMa-FiDi takeover. The pair began in 2008 with the Sentinel, a cultish sandwich shop, then moved on to historic bar the House of Shields. Leary, who made his name as the chef-owner of the late Canteen, isn’t stopping there. He just bought a farm in the Capay Valley and is excited about taking on more agrarian endeavors.
Three Burning Questions
How’s the farm?
Recently, I shoveled about 2,000 pounds of earth, laboring like my peasant ancestors in 105-degree heat.
Who would you most like to serve, living or dead?
The 15th-century philosopher, mystic, and polymath Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.
Any cool chef scars?
Countless. You can only see them when I’m swimming in the bay—they turn purple.

Michael Gaines (Kin Khao)
When blogger Pim Techamuanvivit decided to open her own Thai restaurant serving the food of her homeland, she needed a chef. Mr. Right appeared in the form of Michael Gaines, who arrived by way of Manresa, the Michelin-starred spot helmed by David Kinch (Techamuanvivit’s boyfriend). Since the spring, Gaines, with the help of Techamuanvivit, has been serving up classic, if elevated, dishes like addictive duck-egg rice topped with a sweet chili jam. Though he had been dreaming of moving to L.A. to open a bar-taqueria when Techamuanvivit came calling, Kin Khao was an opportunity to seize. Regrets? None.

Three Burning Questions
Path to chefdom?
After the California Culinary Academy, I worked at Gary Danko. Then I annoyed David Kinch by email until he hired me.
Thai food revelations?
Until Kin Khao, I’d never used catfish on such a large scale.
You’re about to get married. Honeymoon plans?
Bora-Bora. My fiancée and I love to sail.

Dave McLean (Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, Smokestack, the Alembic)
In 1997, before beer was the new wine, brewer Dave McLean was serving up his now famous Blue Bell Bitter at Magnolia Brewery. Nine years later, before cocktails were tagged “craft,” he opened the Alembic. Now, his second location of Magnolia is making waves. The mammoth Dogpatch space has it all: a barbecue restaurant called Smokestack, a bar, and a brewery. McLean’s fans had plenty of time to get excited about it—it was three years in the making.

Three Burning Questions
Craziest beer you make?
Our Gruit Ale is unhopped and made bitter with herbs and spices. It’s called Weekapaug Gruit after a Phish song.
You’re also a deadhead?
My first show was in 1990. I was a late bloomer. It was my first psychedelic experience, too, and it turned on the curiosity switch.
If you could drink with anyone?
It’s predictable. I’d like to have a beer with Jerry.

The 2014 Best Chefs Academy:
Over 25 of San Francisco’s former Best Chefs winners voted on this year’s honorees.

Gerald Hirigoyen, Best Chef, 2003
Michael Tusk, Rising Star Chef, 2004
Shelley Lindgren, Best Wine Director, 2005
Chris Blanchard, Best Wine Director, 2006
Greg Dunmore, Rising Star Chef, 2006
Michelle Polzine, Best Pastry Chef, 2006
Christine Default, Best Wine Director, 2007
Daniel Patterson, Best Chef, 2007
Jessica Boncutter, Rising Star Chef, 2008
Jeremy Fox, Best Chef, 2008
Thad Vogler, Best Bar Manager, 2008
Jake Godby, Best Pastry Chef, 2009
Laurence Jossel, Best Chef, 2009
Rajat Parr, Best Wine Director, 2009
Melissa Chou, Best Pastry Chef, 2010
Thomas Mcnaughton, Rising Star Chef, 2010
Bill Corbett, Best Pastry Chef, 2011
David Lynch, Best Wine Director, 2011
Yoon Ha, Best Sommelier, 2012
Ravi Kapur, Rising Star Chef (tie), 2012
Dennis Lee, Rising Star Chef (tie), 2012
Belinda Leong, Best Pastry Chef, 2012
Anna Weinberg, Best Restaurateur, 2012
Stuart Brioza, Best Chef, 2013
Nicole Krasinski, Best Pastry Chef, 2005; Best Chef, 2013
Stephanie Prida Best pastry chef, 2013
Ceri Smith, Best Booze Curator, 2013
James Syhabout, Rising Star Chef, 2007 Best Chef; 2010; Best Restaurateur, 2013

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