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The Best Chefs Of The Year
Carolyn Alburger and Sara Deseran | Photo: Chad Riley on location at Roka Akor, Styling by Miguel Lopez and Gabriel Yanez of SuiGeneris, Hair and Makeup by Veronica Sjoen | July 26, 2013
We anoint the creme de la creme of the Bay Area food world.
Best Pastry Chef
Stephanie Prida of Manresa
Belinda Leong (Best Pastry Chef, 2012) of B. Patisserie—Prida’s predecessor at Manresa—knows what the pastry chef has gotten herself into since starting at the Michelin-starred restaurant last year. “[Executive chef–owner] David Kinch will come into the kitchen inspired by, say, sea salt, and you’ll have to go with it. Stephanie has to be creatively nimble.” She also has to be tough as nails, says Aziza pastry chef Melissa Chou (Best Pastry Chef, 2010). “It can be difficult for a woman to assert herself in the kitchen.”
Prida, who cut her teeth at the Ritz-Carlton in Las Vegas and just nabbed a Best New Pastry Chef award from Food & Wine, doesn’t want to talk about the challenges and is definitely not into discussing gender politics. “There are plenty of women that I’ve worked with in the kitchen,” she says, “and they don’t give a [expletive].”
Prida might talk like a sailor, but she wants diners to find their inner child in her desserts. Root beer is her current favorite flavor to work with. Ultimately, she’s still soaking it all in—from the surf lessons she gets from Kinch (“I’m terrible,” she says) to picking pea shoots at Love Apple Farms. “It sounds super-corny, but every day I’m still surprised by it.”
Rising Star Chef
Brett Cooper of Outerlands
In an attempt to articulate the phenomenon that is Brett Cooper, chef Greg Dunmore (Rising Star Chef, 2006) describes the city’s two types of chefs as opposing gangs: one cooking up molecular food—“that heady food that you have to think about”—and the other slinging roast chicken à la Zuni. Cooper, Dunmore says, is an ideal synthesis of the two.
Following in the footsteps of some of his former chef mentors, including sensitive Brioza of State Bird and introspective Daniel Patterson of Coi, Cooper is less a macho chef slinging cockscomb than an earnest guy who can confidently make magic out of asparagus and sprouted seeds.
With his tattoos, he looks like a hipster lost in the Sunset’s outer avenues. “You think, ‘Oh God, this guy must work in the Mission,’” says Dunmore. “But he’s worked for some of the best chefs. I can see him just blossoming.”
This being Cooper’s big year (he has already received a couple of awards), the line to get a taste of his beautiful food is sure to grow longer. The good news? Outerlands is expanding into a space next door in the near future.
Best Booze Curator
Ceri Smith of Biondivino
His own massive cellar of fine Italian wines notwithstanding, Quince chef Michael Tusk (Rising Star Chef, 2004) still likes to shop at Biondivino, Ceri Smith’s beloved seven-year-old Russian Hill Italian wine boutique. Praising both her prices and her palate, he says, “Her enthusiasm for wine is contagious.”
Even a real Italian has great things to say about Smith: Claudio Villani (Best Wine Director, 2003), the wine director at Perbacco—he’s opening his own wine bar in Cole Valley this summer—recalls meeting Smith at Incanto 10 years back. “She was in love with Italian wines, with little knowledge but big passion.... Today, Ceri has become an ambassador for the great and small wine producers of Italy.”
Biondivino isn’t the only place where Smith has made her mark. That new wine list at Flour + Water? She created it. And there was Et Al., the little wine bar celebrating rieslings that she ran for a time on Polk Street this year. She has other projects in the works, too, including getting people like her dog walker to see the light. “He’s an example of someone who’s changed,” she says of the guy who tends to Marcello, her shih tzu. “He always liked bigger, bolder, riper wine. Now, barolo is his favorite wine. I’m like, ‘That’s awesome!
Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco
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