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ATX Tastemakers 2014
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2014 Best Chef Nominees

Austin's best chefs revealed: Culinary stars nominated for CultureMap Tastemaker Award

Austin is chockfull of talented chefs who serve up their culinary flare from food trucks to fine dining restaurants. Our panel of respected judges have selected an eclectic mix of culinary pros as nominees for the 2014 Culturemap Tastemaker Best Chef Award, The winner to be announced live at the third annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards on May 7, but ahead of the event,  read more about these culinary stars and what inspires them in the kitchen.

Shawn Cirkiel, Backspace, Chavez, Olive & June, Parkside
Chef Shawn Cirkiel has flexed his versatile culinary muscles to create a diverse restaurant group that spans cuisines from New American to Italian and upscale Mexican fare without ever missing a beat. His vision, high standards and dedication to growing Austin’s sustainable food community have transformed him from head of the kitchen to one of Austin’s leading culinary mentors.

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
I didn’t think of it as much as being inspired as finding a home. My great grandfather was a baker and my parents had a restaurant when I was little. I would always be in the kitchen at home or for work. I started working for a more serious chef and he said, "This is a career."

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
There are so many — from one good knife to spoons for tasting and mixing. A French skillet to sauté in. A zester for citrus and cheese. More than anything, my favorite tool is great ingredients, it sets you up for success.

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working? 
There are so many — I love Ramen Tatsuya, Tamale House, Cocoa’s, Korea House, backspace, Hat Creek Burgers, Kome, it goes on and on and on.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry? 
Sparkling water and sparkling wine. I only drink water and espresso, but it’s all about the bubbles.

 

Tyson Cole, Uchi and Uchiko
Chef Cole may be Austin’s most celebrated chef, from winning national acclaim as one of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs in 2005 to winning a James Beard award in 2011. His inventive approach to traditional Japanese cuisine using global flavors creates a truly memorable dining experience that pushes boundaries and delights diners.

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
My first sushi sensei, Kiyohisa Hara and my last sensei, Takehiko Fuse, inspired me to become a sushi chef.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
My favorite kitchen tool is Japanese knives.

What is your favorite place to eat when not working? 
Bartlett's is my favorite place to eat when I’m not working.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry? 
Eggs.

Courtesy of Arro
Andrew Curren

Andrew Curren, Arro
It would be easy to dismiss Chef Curren’s food as casual, but take one bite of the Backyard Burger at 24 Diner or the German Board at Easy Tiger and you know there is more to the story. Curren draws on the depth of his experience in kitchens like Barbuto and Tabla to create elevated comfort food and French classics that leave you craving more. 

Who inspired them to become a chef? 
I am the youngest of four boys. Before sending us off to college, my mother taught each one of us how to cook. At Texas A&M, I worked in kitchens to earn some cash, but it was a study-abroad trip to Italy that changed my career path. The Italian culture of food, family and wine inspired me to abandon my plan of becoming a veterinarian and enroll in culinary school instead!

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
A sharp chef's knife. Too often, gadgets and gimmicks take over our kitchen drawers. There are very few things you can't do with a chef's knife!

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working?
At home! There is nothing better than hanging out with friends at the house, drinking wine, listening to records and sharing a long meal.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry? 
Pasta and Arborio rice! With these two items on hand, in a half-hour you can have a very satisfying meal any time of the year.

Courtesy of El Naranjo
Iliana DeLavega

Illiana de la Vega, El Naranjo
Chef de la Vega’s deep Oaxacan roots are evident from the first bite of her rich, smoky mole or tangy Cochinita Pibil. Moving to Austin from Mexico in 2007, de la Vega introduced her extensive talents at her Rainey Street taco trailer that has transformed into a brick-and-mortar hot spot where you can savor some of the best Latin American cuisine in the city.

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
My parents, my mom a great cook and my dad who loved food and eat out, so I wanted to be like one of those restaurant cooks who create magical food!

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
A chef knife and a good blender.

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working? 
This is difficult, we enjoy many places, it depends on the craving. Some of our favorite places are Chez Nous, Uchiko, Perla's, Titaya's, Musashino.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry? 
Chiles, fresh and dried!

Courtesy of Foreign & Domestic
Ned Elliot Foreign & Domestic

Ned Elliott, Foreign and Domestic
Sit at the counter at Foreign and Domestic for a few minutes and you will quickly pick up on Chef Elliott’s attention to detail as he carefully inspects each dish as it goes out.  The small neighborhood diner skips the fancy décor and puts all of the focus on the inspired food and Elliott’s keen interpretation of each season’s finest offerings.

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
The kitchen itself and how close it is to being on a sports team.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? ​ 
An antique spoon from France.

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working
Peasant in NYC.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry?
Pickles, because my daughter and I love them and make them. Also, a good jar of organic peanut butter.

Bryce Gilmore
Since opening the Odd Duck trailer, Chef Gilmore and his team have followed one motto, “Find the best ingredients and don’t mess them up.” Gilmore works tirelessly with local farmers to find those unique gems and turns them into divine dishes that have turned the heads of national critics, garnering him one of Food and Wine's Best New Chef nods in 2012.

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
My dad, Jack Gilmore.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
A spoon

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working? 
At home with my wife, or Jack Allen’s Kitchen — my extension of home.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry? 
Eggs and peanut butter.

 

Rene Ortiz
Austin fell in love with Chef Ortiz’s cooking at La Condesa and Sway where he showcased his international culinary pedigree. Now Ortiz and partners Laura Sawicki, Margaret Vera and Tracy Overath are raising the bar on casual, take-out fare with from-scratch cooking at Fresa’s Chicken Al Carbon and the soon-to-open upscale café grocery Laundrette and Szechuan takeout restaurant Angry Bear. 

 
Courtesy of qui
Paul Qui, chef/owner of qui restaurant in Austin.

Paul Qui, Qui
Chef Paul Qui was a star in the kitchen well before he became the winner on Top Chef, delighting Austinites at Uchi, Uchiko and East Side King. Now, Qui is wowing diners and critics alike at his eponymous restaurant with dishes that combine his Filipino heritage and love of European cuisine with his Japanese cooking skills. He was recently named one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2014.  

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
The energy of restaurants and my family.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
A spoon. 

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working? 
Las Trancas. 

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry? 
Good salt. 

 

Josh Watkins, The Carillon
Chef Watkins may have made a name for himself at The Driskill Grill, but he has truly come into his own at The Carillon. With an eclectic menu that ranges from delicate seafood crudos to hearty pork chops and steaks, Watkins has earned The Carillon consistent praise and a devoted following.

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
Macaroni Grill and the fact that I was told I couldn’t be creative.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
Vita Mix.

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working? 
My mom’s house.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry? 
Lots of pickled things.

Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo
Chef Wiseheart combines his West Texas roots with his experience in Michelin-rated restaurants to create a popular neighborhood hangout that feels like an annex of the Contigo Ranch. Wiseheart’s menu of bar snacks, charcuterie and comfort food is beguilingly simple, but the casual fare can’t mask his seasoned skill of delighting diners.

Who inspired you to become a chef? 
Gardner Wiseheart, my dad.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? 
Dehydrator and juicer.

What is your favorite place to eat when you are not working?  
Winebelly.

What is the one thing you always have in your home refrigerator or pantry?
 A variety of hot sauce.