Over the past 25 years of honoring the best local up-and-coming chefs, the Chronicle’s Rising Star honors have adapted to meet the changing realities of the local food industry. Two years ago, Michael Bauer and company honored only pastry chefs, remedying the award’s historical preference for savory-focused male chefs in the process. Last year, the local paper of record’s Food + Home team went with the “dining as an event” theme, showcasing a diverse crowd that included the first Rising Star for a sushi chef (Ju-ni’s Geoffrey Lee).
This year, however, the award focused on more than just pure kitchen talent. The paper 86’ed the contest’s age limitations in order to recognize chefs who may have found their calling in the kitchen after a former life elsewhere. Although they all have impressive resumes, this year’s class is being recognized for their leadership both in and out of the kitchen. In fact, only two of them currently cook in their own brick-and-mortar spaces, while the rest have made a splash through catering companies and pop-up dinners.
“Our Rising Stars are leaders,” writes the Chron’s Paolo Lucchesi, “culinary leaders, kitchen leaders, community leaders, thought leaders. They have missions, they hope that food can be more than sustenance or celebration, and they bring together communities.”
This year’s five Rising Stars:
- Reem Assil (Reem’s Oakland)
- Chris Kiyuna (The Perennial)
- Tu David Phu (Ăn)
- Fernay McPherson (Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement)
- Michelle Minori (Barzotto)
And some fun facts we just gleaned from the paper’s individual profiles:
- American-born to Palestinian and Syrian parents, Assil left a job as a community organizer and workers rights activist in Oakland to launch her “unapologetically Arab” bakery as a familiar, comforting space for immigrants and locals alike.
- Kiyuna was a philosophy major in college, which at least partially explains the Perennial’s intellectual component.
- Phu freedives for seaweed that he incorporates into some of the dishes at his pop-up Ăn — it’s a skill he picked up from his father who was a fishmonger and a refugee of the Vietnam war .
- McPherson named Minnie Bell’s after her grandmother Lillie Bell and great-aunt Minnie who taught her to cook from Betty Crocker cakes and mac & cheese recipes.
- Minori was originally writing up a business plan for a similar pasta bar in her hometown of Lodi before Marko Sotto sought her out to run the kitchen at Barzotto. Bonus fact: 20 percent of Barzotto’s orders are through delivery services like Caviar and Uber Eats.