MEET THE TASTEMAKERS
5 rising star chefs illuminating the Austin restaurant scene right now
To be singled out as one of Austin’s most promising up-and-coming chefs in this day and age is beyond a prestigious distinction. Given the ongoing evolution of the city’s restaurant scene and its abundance of offerings, enterprising chefs must not only excel at their chosen craft, but also ignite a sense of innovation and creativity, all while bringing their passion to the plate in a manner apropos of Austin’s increasingly discerning palate.
We celebrate the very best of these rising stars of the Austin culinary scene at our annual Tastemaker Awards, when we shine the spotlight on their many talents and offer a humble prophecy that their flourishing culinary careers will only sparkle brighter in the years to come, much to the delight of Austin diners.
Read more about our Rising Star Chef of the Year nominees below, then join us for our signature tasting event and awards program on Thursday, April 28 at Fair Market, and revel in the talent of these budding culinary heroes. Early Bird tickets are on sale here — and prices increase soon — so purchase yours now.
Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel, Birdie’s
When Birdie’s opened on Austin’s east side in the summer of 2021, locals immediately flocked to the highly anticipated family-run neighborhood café and natural wine bar. And while Austin foodies were certainly confident they’d take to Birdie’s seasonal, European-inspired menu like ducks to water, no one could have anticipated just how impactful chef Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel’s cooking would become for Austin’s food scene. A native Texan, Malechek-Ezekiel spent summers as a child on her grandparents’ sheep and goat ranch in West Texas, and later studied restaurant management before moving to Spain, where she says she fell in love with ingredient-driven cooking. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Malechek-Ezekiel continued honing her skills at a slew of award-winning restaurants in New York City. Now back in her home state, Malechek-Ezekiel, alongside husband and co-owner Arjav Ezekiel, is already garnering accolades from Texas Monthly and the New York Times for her “bright, graceful food,” with the Times calling Birdie’s “the leading edge of what makes eating great in this booming town.”
Andre Molina, Aviary
Some chefs may not be able to explain why they were lured to the culinary world but have become artful masters of it nonetheless. Such is the case with Texas-born executive chef Andre Molina, who presides over the kitchen at Aviary Wine & Kitchen in South Austin. Though he says he doesn’t have a “romantic answer” for what drew him to cooking, it is abundantly clear he was destined to become a culinary star. He developed a love of cooking in his youth and attended culinary school at an early age, then sharpening his skills at restaurants in New York City before returning to Texas and working at top Austin restaurants like Barley Swine, Odd Duck, and Jeffrey’s. Molina, truly a culinary visionary, joined Aviary in early 2017 and brings his love of Texas fare and respect for its culture and regional traditions to Aviary’s marvelous menu.
Bradley Nicholson, Lutie’s
One of spring 2021’s most anticipated restaurant openings came in the form of Lutie’s Garden Restaurant, the unique upscale eatery located at the historic Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection in Central Austin. That excitement was driven in part by the news that chef Bradley Nicholson — who had left his culinary mark on an array of Austin eateries (Enoteca Vespaio, Vespaio Ristorante, Barley Swine) and a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco — would lead the Lutie’s kitchen. Nicholson’s dishes, which perfectly befit Lutie’s grand ambience, focus on seasonal and simple ingredients that shine in the chef’s deft hands, with him focusing on heritage cooking techniques and drawing from his extensive knowledge of preservation and fermentation. Now, having returned the city that launched his career, Nicholson is making culinary history at this luxurious historic locale.
Matt Lester, Bufalina Due
Locals who’ve dined at prized North Austin pizzeria Bufalina Due recently and come away with a satisfyingly full belly have longtime Austin chef Matt Lester to thank for it. This slice artist, who hails from Fort Worth and boasts two degrees from UT Austin, left town to pursue his culinary education, attending culinary school in Washington, D.C. But after spending a few years in the nation’s capital, he “felt the siren call” of Texas’ Capital City and returned to Austin in 2012. Since then, Lester has been honing his technique at several well-loved local establishments, working as a line cook at Foreign & Domestic and Lenoir, where he grew into the position of sous chef. Later, he would become a sous chef and the chef de cuisine at darling eatery L’Oca d’Oro before moving on to Abby Jane Bakeshop in Dripping Springs, where he worked as the head pizzaiolo, a position that further endeared him to the doughy dish. At Bufalina Due, Lester perfects the restaurant’s Neapolitan-style pies and other flavorful menu offerings, including his signature dish: fresh mozzarella with Meyer lemon jam, toasted pistachios, and olive oil.
Amanda Turner, Olamaie
If you’ve dined out in this town in the past decade or so, you’ve likely had the pleasure of devouring any number of chef Amanda Turner’s exquisite dishes. A maestro of a variety of cuisines, from Italian, modern American, and even Japanese (she interned at restaurants in Japan for several months), Turner cut her teeth at celebrated Austin establishments like Juniper, Odd Duck, Uchi and Uchiko, and Jester King. But it is her position as chef de cuisine at lauded eatery Olamaie that has catapulted her into a new culinary realm where she rules the empire. She was even recently named a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Emerging Chef category for her work at Olamaie. With the restaurant’s seasonal menu of gorgeously presented New American fare, Turner is in her culinary element — and will no doubt continue to accumulate more accolades — and Austin diners get to reap the delicious rewards.