The stars were bright at the Driskill Hotel Tuesday evening as StarChefs.com hosted its Rising Stars Tasting Gala and Awards Ceremony to celebrate the best of the best from the Austin and San Antonio dining scenes. The second floor of the historic hotel was decked out with a maze of tables set up for a sold out event of more than 400 guests to sip and savor the tasty delights served by the Rising Star winners.
StarChefs.com, is the magazine for culinary insiders. Each year the The Rising Stars awards are held in four select cities to recognize up-and-coming chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers and mixologists from around the country that represent future leaders of the national culinary scene. This year, the online publication selected Austin and San Antonio combined as two of the top markets to watch in the nation.
The illustrious evening began with a momentous awards ceremony for the 19 Rising Stars restaurant professionals who were revealed a few weeks ago. (See full list below.) In addition, the editors of StarChefs.com also revealed their top pick for best Brewer Award, which was Kevin Brand of 512 Brewing Company as well as a heralded mentor award for San Antonio culinary icon, Andrew Weissman. (The mentor award was selected from an anonymous vote by all of the Austin and San Antonio Rising Star winners.)
“I don’t think we’ve every seen this many of our best chefs at an event like this all at once,” says Cathy Cochran-Lewis of Whole Foods Market and president of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance.
After the ceremony is when the real fun began, as the throng of hungry guests flooded the main room to get a taste of what the winning chefs had to offer. Each dish was a small-sized version of the particular dish that wowed the StarChefs.com editors the most during their voting process and each was paired flawlessly with either a wine, beer or sake from Austin’s Rising Star Sommelier, June Rodil of Congress restaurant.
Chefs barely had time to get their dishes plated as lines stacked up at each table, but as the evening wore on, everyone in attendance was more than satiated with what the talented team of winners had to offer.
“I don’t think we’ve every seen this many of our best chefs at an event like this all at once,” says Cathy Cochran-Lewis of Whole Foods Market and president of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. “To get this many people here for some of the best food I’ve ever had at a tasting event is really quite a feat.”
Among the best dishes savored by guests? Tom Thornton of CultureMap Austin and the Austinist was a big fan of the cabrito (young goat) with polenta and natural jus from San Antonio chef Jason Dady. Pat Sharpe and Courtney Bond of Texas Monthly swooned over Uchi’s Japanese red sea bream with ginger broth and micro shiso with crispy fennel chips and Tribeza publisher George Elliman said the wagyu beef flank steak with fermented red pepper sauce and fried orzo from Foreign & Domestic was the best bite he’s ever had from chef Ned Elliott.
It seemed the belle of the ball for most guests, including myself, was the Italian sausage sandwich with roasted red onions, and basil pesto aioli sandwich from the Artisan Rising Star winners, John Bates and Brandon Martinez of Noble Pig whose line never quite seemed to die down. Another favorite was Contigo’s cauliflower gratin with currants, caper and toasted almonds in a balsamic reduction, though the dish itself presented quite a problem to serve correctly for a room of 400 people — but guests didn’t seem to mind.
In the end, the people’s choice for best dish was awarded to Uchiko Executive Chef Paul Qui, who served a sunchoke-dashi soup with uni, bottarga and baby carrots. Qui, who has already been racking up quite a prize list on Bravo’s Top Chef, nabbed a new Jade Range 18-inch commercial plancha — aka, a really nice flat grill top for chefs who like kitchen toys. (All winning chefs were awarded a brand new Vitamix blender, a coveted kitchen appliance for any serious chef of home cook.)
Festivities continued on at Contigo for a vibrant after party where chefs and guests alike were able to unwind and celebrate the hard work presented from the evening. Austin and San Antonio is StarChefs.com’s 36th market to host their nationally-recognized awards. Next in line is the great city of New Orleans where they will, no doubt, let the good times roll.
The Austin and San Antonio Rising Star winners are:
David Bull, Congress Austin
Ned Elliott, Foreign & Domestic
Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue
Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine
Rene Ortiz, La Condesa
Paul Qui, Uchiko
Quealy Watson, The Monterey
Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo
Michael Sohocki, Restaurant Gwendolyn
Josh Watkins, Carillon
John Bates and Brandon Martinez, Noble Pig
June Rodil, Congress Austin
Jeret Peña, The Esquire
Jonathan Gelman, Driskill Grill