From the gorgeous dining rooms to the spectacular cocktail programs, there are a lot of reasons why Austin’s culinary scene continues to be one of the hottest in the nation. But maybe the biggest reason is that Austin continues to draw top-notch talent capable of taking our once small town’s cuisine to ever soaring heights.
The nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Chef of the Year all bring something different to the table. Some helm exclusive upscale restaurants while others run neighborhood gems. But all ensure that Austin is always at the tip of everyone’s tongue.
Only one chef will take home the coveted title. Find out what makes them so inspiring below before joining us April 12 at Fair Market for the big reveal.
Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto, Kemuri and Ramen Tatsu-Ya
Locals can thank this dynamic duo for helping bring ramen culture to Austin with their breakaway hit restaurant Ramen Tatsu-Ya in 2012. In 2016, Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto combined their upbringing as children of immigrants with their love of Texas (and a touch of DIY spirit from their former gigs as hip-hop DJs) into Kemuri Tatsu-Ya. At barely 2 years old, Kemuri is already one of the most nationally recognized restaurants in town.
Kevin Fink, Emmer & Rye
Kevin Fink is known nationally as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest and one of Food & Wine’s 2016 Best New Chefs, but locals hardly need all the hubbub to tell them that he has the goods. If you ever get the chance, take a moment to chat with him at Emmer & Rye’s chef’s counter or at his fast-casual concept, Henbit. He always has something to say about a newly foraged ingredient or an exciting local supplier, a passion that is seen in each of his vibrant concepts.
Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine, Odd Duck
One of the Austin restaurant industry’s favorite sons, Bryce Gilmore nabbed the Chef of the Year Tastemaker in 2014. Not much has changed since then. Odd Duck and Barley Swine are still two of the hottest tickets in town, bringing the farm-to-table gospel to a new generation of Austin diners. His latest project — a fast-casual restaurant in the former location of Joe’s Spot — will debut later in the year.
Jesse Griffiths, Dai Due
One of Austin’s most strident locavores, Jesse Griffiths makes sure that his Manor Road restaurant sources everything — vegetables, olive oil, beef, butter, and wine — from its Central Texas surrounds. His cooking at Dai Due also has a strong regional flair, both in its traditional methods and its riffs on the area’s diverse culinary heritage.
Yoshi Okai, Otoko
Who would think that the former lead vocalist of Austin punk rockers The Kodiaks would one day be one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs? Although the South Congress Hotel restaurant he calls home is just a little bit fancier than Beerland, Yoshi Okai is still bringing some of that anarchic spirit to his kaiseki menu at Otoko. Ever the showman, he dazzles with unexpected ingredients and his affable presence behind the chef’s counter.
Otto Phan, Kyoten Sushiko
Otto Phan first began cooking under the guidance of two others on the Tastemaker Award Best Chefs list, Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto, before launching into a career that took him through internationally known restaurants like Nobu, Masa, and Uchi. Today, he helms one of Austin’s best-kept secrets, serving up inventive sushi showcasing a vast depth of techniques.
Callie Speer, Holy Roller
Callie Speer first caught the attention of Tastemaker judges back in 2014, when she received her first nomination for Pastry Chef of the Year for her work at Swift’s Attic. As the executive chef and owner of Holy Roller, she is currently serving hungry downtown guests a comforting menu that includes innovative takes on brunch staples and soul-satisfying blue plate specials.
Philip Speer, Bonhomie
A longtime veteran of Austin’s culinary scene, Philip Speer has worked at lauded Austin restaurants St. Philip and Uchiko. Now he has branched out on his own with Bonhomie, a charming Allandale diner with a French twist. The can’t-miss plates are the pommes rosti, perfectly crispy giant hash browns available plain or topped with roasted mushrooms, foie gras gravy, or caviar. He also happens to be the husband of fellow nominee Callie Speer.
Fiore Tedesco, L'Oca d'Oro
Another former punk rocker on the Chef of the Year list, Fiore Tedesco cut his chops in New York City, where he worked at legendary pizza kitchen Roberta’s and Danny Meyer’s hip Gramercy Tavern. In Austin, his L’Oca d’Oro pop-up dinner series was a cult favorite before he was able to open the brick-and-mortar version in the Mueller development in 2016. Today, he inspires with both his creative Italian cuisine and his commitment to ethical business practices.