It takes years of training and learning to become an accomplished chef. Many are recognized early in their careers as “rising stars”. One organization has a program specifically designed to identify and acknowledge the accomplishments of chefs under 30 years of age. The James Beard Foundation is well-known and respected in the culinary world.
One activity that the James Beard Foundation runs is the annual giving of coveted awards related to gourmet cooking. Some are regional and others are national. Their Rising Star Award has nominees from across the country, but only one winner. But, their Top Chef Award is awarded to many chefs based upon region. Frequently, nominees for Rising Star who aren’t selected are awarded the Top Chef award for their region later in their careers. Here, we will recognize three nominees with great promise, who likely will become a James Beard Top Chef as their careers continue their upward trajectory.
Chef Thomas McNaughton, San Francisco
A native of New Jersey, Thomas McNaughton has been a two-time nominee for the James Beard foundation’s Rising Star award. Chef Thomas practices his profession at flour +water restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco. McNaughton has worked at La Folie, Gary Danko and Quince. Before arriving in San Francisco he traveled across Europe working in Michelin starred restaurants in Italy, Germany and France. He also spent several months at a pasta facility that makes pasta using old world techniques. Chef McNaughton explains that the menu for flour + water uses a combination of these old world cooking techniques with modern refinements.
Under his direction, the restaurant has become extremely popular. Half the tables are reserved and the other half is for walk-ins. Lines form starting 20 minutes before the restaurant opens. According to restaurant staff, Steve Jobs of Apple fame was turned away because he didn’t have a reservation. The menu is Italian fare ranging from artisan pizza to complex pasta dishes. The menu changes daily as ingredients are locally sourced from sustainable farmers.
Final note: McNaughton provides gourmet Italian food in a neighborhood restaurant at neighborhood prices.
Chef Blaine Wetzel, Puget Sound, Washington
At age 24 Chef Wetzel was a nominee for the 2011 Beard foundation’s Rising Star award and was also nominated by Food and Wine magazine for People’s Best New Chef Award, which ultimately went to Seattle chef Jason Franey. Food and Wine magazine noted Wetzel’s nomination was “because he’s taking Renée, Redzepi’s Nordic philosophy, and applying it to the produce and food of the Pacific Northwest.”
Redzepi is the chef at the best restaurant in the world, Noma, according to the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Annual Awards. His restaurant is located in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Chef Wetzel went to work after completing culinary school.
Wetzel is a native of Olympia, Washington, and now serves as the head chef at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island in Puget Sound. According to Chef Wetzel, his coming back to the Puget Sound area was based on his recognition that seafood and produce that is locally sourced is very similar to the ingredients he learned to use at Noma. The restaurant is truly a destination place to eat and was listed by the New York Times as one of “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride.” The Willow Inn is also a bed and breakfast, and apparently many have read the New York Times article. Frequently, rooms are booked for a single night for the sole purpose of eating at the restaurant in the 100-year-old Inn.
Final note: Wetzel’s training combined with his obsession for fresh ingredients, along with his age advantage will likely see additional nominations for the Rising Star award. Wetzel is on track to win a Top Chef Award from the James Beard foundation for the Pacific Northwest region.
Chef Will Gilson, Boston
Chef Gilson started his career at the age of 17 when he was the chef at his father’s farm and restaurant. The experience at home imprinted him with the zeal to seek only the freshest ingredients for his menu. But, before then, at the age of 15 he apprenticed with Chef Charles Graghi at the renowned North End restaurant Marcuccio’s. He also gained experience staging at London’s Lanesbourough Hotel, Silks at the Stonehedge Inn and Oleana. He is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island and in 2004 was awarded the R.C. Kopf Student Achievement Scholarship.
In 2009, Will won the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Award and has been successful ever since.
Now the Chef and Co-owner of Garden at The Cellar in Cambridge, Gilson will soon be opening his first solo venture on Inham Square. The much awaited restaurant is named Puritan & Co.
Garden at the Cellar is a gastropub modeled on a uniquely British restaurant form. Many of the ingredients are sourced from Gilson’s dad’s farm. The restaurants under Chef Gilson’s eye all have one main goal; fresh local ingredients produced in a sustainable manner to provide seasonal cuisine.
Final note: Puritan & Co. will likely meet the high standards of Garden at the Cellar. Prediction: Will Gilson will one day win the Beard Top Chef award for New England.