Now Playing

Best Chef Awards 2016

The academy has spoken: Meet the five food-world bosses who've risen to the top of the class.

SLIDESHOW

Brandon Jew

(1 of 5)

Geoffrey Lee

(2 of 5)

Louisa Smith

(3 of 5)

Greg Mindel

(4 of 5)

 Daniel Patterson

(5 of 5)

 

Read more from the August 2016 Food Issue here.

A sushi savant, an eco-conscious wine director, a hometown kid taking Chinatown into the future, a soft-spoken empire builder, a baker who made Dogpatch a pastry mecca. The winners of this year’s Best Chef Awards exemplify why eating in the Bay Area is such an exhilarating joyride through the senses—and we’ll gladly follow them wherever they want to take us, be it to a 12-course omakase menu, a blackberry-pistachio croissant, or, well, Chinatown. Chosen by members of San Francisco’s esteemed Best Chefs Academy, these five inductees have one thing in common: They all have the talent, inspiration, and perseverance to get to the top—and beyond.

Chef of the Year: Brandon Jew
Mister Jiu’s
Brandon Jew laughs at the idea of being named Chef of the Year. After all, his first restaurant, Mister Jiu’s, has been open only a few months. But Jew’s moment in the sun has been a long time coming: The San Francisco native first started working on Mister Jiu’s, which occupies the former home of Chinatown’s legendary Four Seas Restaurant, four years ago, after stepping down as head chef at Bar Agricole. For Jew, a major part of turning his dream into reality involved selling San Franciscans on his vision. “A lot of people didn’t understand what I wanted them to see differently about Chinese food and Chinatown,” he says. That includes organic, locally sourced ingredients and homemade versions of pantry staples like soy sauce and noodles. It’s traditional food for modern San Francisco—an attempt to bring his generation to a neighborhood associated with outdated stereotypes. “There’s this understanding that Chinese food is cheap and large and greasy and not good for you,” says Jew. “But I want this food to have a creative lineage from traditional recipes.” It’s a modest-sounding philosophy, yes, but one that is transformative nonetheless.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Geoffrey Lee
Ju-Ni
Geoffrey Lee got into the restaurant business by accident. While studying computer engineering at Cal Poly, the native San Franciscan took a summer job at a local sushi bar because his friends worked there. Before long, he’d worked his way up from dishwasher to chef, falling so in love with the food that he returned to the Bay Area for a gig at Sushi Ran in Sausalito. That led to a stint training under Mitsunori Kusakabe at his eponymous sushi shrine, where Lee developed a passion for omakase, the focus of his first restaurant, Ju-Ni, which opened in February. “Omakase is my favorite style of sushi because a lot of effort goes into each bite,” says Lee. “Each bite is like a composed dish.” While Ju-Ni’s menu is wholeheartedly Japanese, the restaurant is decidedly San Franciscan. The dishware is from Heath Ceramics, the wood paneling was designed locally, and the art on the walls is by city artists Apexer and Jeffrey Nemenzo. “I’m so proud to have my restaurant in my hometown,” Lee says. Suffice it to say, the feeling goes both ways.

Wine Director of the Year: Louisa Smith 
Lord Stanley
Louisa Smith thinks it’s time for wine to get the farm-to-table treatment. “The same way people don’t want to eat things that aren’t farmed properly, they wouldn’t want to drink them, either,” Smith says. “But there isn’t the same focus on that.” Since Lord Stanley’s debut last year, Smith has brought that focus to her work as the restaurant’s wine director, curating her list from small, environmentally friendly European producers. “I think it’s really exciting to meet someone, and they pour a wine for you, and they’ve been on the vineyard and can tell you the story about it,” she says. Still, Smith has had to get used to explaining her approach to seasoned diners. “People will say, ‘I’ve never been to a restaurant where I don’t recognize one producer on the list,’” she says. The rarity and small scale of the wines means that Lord Stanley’s offerings are constantly changing, and Smith is always looking for new producers to add to her rotation. “I think about a bottle of wine in more detail than other people would,” she admits. “Where did this come from? Who made it? How did it get to me?” The answers, her guests have learned, are always refreshing.

Pastry Chef of the Year: Greg Mindel
Neighbor Bakehouse
Greg Mindel got his first food service gig at the age of 14 when he landed a job as a “shopkeep boy” at a neighborhood deli in his hometown of Boca Raton, Florida. “I was, like, their only employee, so I basically did everything,” Mindel says—including feeding leftover scraps to the pet pig that lived next door. Years later, Mindel has taken that same neighborhood-focused approach—sans pig—and turned it into a booming business. After those formative deli years, Mindel took baking classes at community colleges and tried various food service jobs across the country, eventually falling in love with viennoiserie—the family of baked goods that includes croissants, brioches, and Danish. In 2012, he opened Neighbor Bakehouse as a wholesale operation in Dogpatch and was soon supplying pastries to the likes of Four Barrel, Sightglass, and Réveille Coffee Co. The treats were so popular that Mindel was able to open a brick-and-mortar in January 2015, from which he’s continued to delight pastry lovers from near and far with specialties like the blackberry-pistachio croissant and the guava cream cheese pastelito. Despite the wild raves, Mindel still likes to think of Neighbor Bakehouse as a homey operation. “I don’t really think we’re doing anyone a favor,” he says. “People are doing us a favor by supporting us.” With croissants like these, it’s an easy cause to get behind.

Restaurateur of the Year: Daniel Patterson
Daniel Patterson Group
“I had no intention of starting a restaurant group; I thought about renaming it the Accidental Restaurant Group,” jokes Daniel Patterson. Accidentally or not, the chef has undeniably changed the Bay Area dining scene since he opened his first restaurant, Babette’s, in Sonoma in 1994. Today the Daniel Patterson Group includes five restaurants, an upcoming collaboration with Minnesota Street Project scheduled to open this winter, and the acquisition of the historic Alfred’s Steakhouse earlier this year. And Patterson doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In January, he left his position as executive chef of Coi to focus on Locol, the burgeoning alternative fast-food chain he created with L.A. food star Roy Choi. Locol strives to bring quick, healthy dining options into low-income communities that lack affordable alternatives to traditional fast-food chains. It’s a stark contrast to the elegant fare served in rarefied dining rooms—often with a price tag to match—that he’s known for. But Patterson says the mission of every project is the same: “We want to feed people. We want to make them happy.”

 

The 2016 Best Chefs Academy
A roster of former winners who voted on this year’s inductees.
Scott Baird Booze Guru, 2015
Chris Blanchard Wine Director, 2006
Sarah Bonar Pastry Chef, 2015
Melissa Chou Pastry Chef, 2010
Brett Cooper Rising Star Chef, 2013
Janet Rikala Dalton Pastry Chef, 2004
Christie Dufault Wine Director, 2007
Greg Dunmore Rising Star Chef, 2006
Yoon Ha Sommelier, 2012
Katianna Hong Rising Star Chef, 2015
Dennis Leary Empire Builder, 2014
Shelley Lindgren Wine Director, 2005
Thomas McNaughton Empire Builder, 2015
Sean O’Brien Rising Star Chef, 2005
Rajat Parr Wine Director, 2009
Stephanie Prida Pastry Chef, 2013
Evan Rich Chef of the Year, 2014
Sarah Rich Chef of the Year, 2014
Ceri Smith Booze Curator, 2013
Claudio Villani Wine Director, 2003
William Werner Pastry Chef, 2014
Debbie Zachareas Wine Director, 2001

 

Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco 

Have feedback? Email us at letterssf@sanfranmag.com
Email Andrea Powell at apowell@modernluxury.com
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Andrea Powell on Twitter @AndreaPowellSF