Each year (yes, even in 2020), we celebrate the best of Austin food and drink with the annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. And with the return to an in-person event, we’re thrilled to showcase some truly talented up-and-comers shaking up the Austin culinary scene.
This year’s Rising Star Chef of the Year nominees not only embody the innovation, imagination, and talent that make Austin so unique, they also proved their mettle during the most difficult time for the hospitality industry in recent history.
If you’re unfamiliar with them (we get it; no one’s been out to eat for more than a year), you can learn more about each nominee below. Then join us at Fair Market on August 5, when we’ll toast the Tastemakers and reveal this year’s winners. Early Bird discounted tickets are available now.
Andrew Asaff, Carpenters Hall
Andrew Asaff's culinary career has taken him everywhere from Texas to Tennessee to a Tuscan farm for a butchery internship. Asaff, who worked in Austin during the early days of East Side King and Ramen Tatsu-ya, returned to the Capital City in 2019 after time at top Dallas restaurants and cross-country stages. He now serves as sous chef at Carpenters Hall and is passionate about improving working conditions in the service industry. He's also an active member of the Comedor Run Club and a participant in industry-centric recovery group Ben’s Friends.
Christina Currier, Comedor
Corpus Christi native Christina Currier headed to Austin for culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in 2011, and has since spent a decade serving in both savory and pastry roles at top Austin restaurants. In 2019, she joined Comedor's opening team, working under Philip Speer and Gabe Erales at the critically acclaimed eatery. At Comedor, Currier focuses on sustainability, local ingredients, and "pushing the boundaries of Mexican cuisine."
Damien Brockway, Distant Relatives
Fans of East Austin barbecue food truck Distant Relatives, which specializes in “modern African American” fare — mostly in the form of barbecued meats, sandwiches, and sides — need no introduction to pitmaster and chef Damien Brockway, as he has gained a beefy following since opening. (Even Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn is a Distant Relatives enthusiast.) But just because he slings meat for a living, don’t be fooled into thinking Brockway lacks culinary cred. He’s a grad of the Culinary Institute of America and cut his teeth at fine-dining establishments across the country before moving to Austin.
Eliana Gutierrez, Valentina’s Tex Mex Barbecue
Speaking of barbecue, our Rising Star Chef of the Year nominees wouldn’t be complete without Eliana Gutierrez, the 21-year-old barbecue apprentice who helped Valentina’s become one of the most popular spots for meat eats in a town smoking with ’em. The youngest female pitmaster in the country, Gutierrez is certain to have a barbecue career that spans decades and treats Austinites to her barbecue delights. Lucky us!
Jo Chan, Eberly
A graduate of San Diego Culinary Institute, Jo Chan spent her formative cooking years in New York City, first at Nobu Fifty Seven, then at Barbuto and Upland. She also worked abroad at celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Kitchen & Table concepts in Scandinavia before arriving in Austin. As executive chef of Eberly, Chan’s diverse culinary background shines. She oversees a vast menu with items ranging from a hearty Wagyu sirloin to delicate steamed mussels.
Kevin Truong, Fil N’ Viet
With a menu featuring a blend of Filipino and Vietnamese cuisine, Fil N’ Viet is a culinary love affair come to life in the form of fabulous fusion cuisine from this East Austin food truck. Kevin Truong, a longtime chef with a Vietnamese background who built his career at Michelin-starred restaurants, met Rosie Mina-Truong, who hails from the Philippines, while in Austin. They fell in love, got married, and created a wildly popular fusion food truck that honors the best of both cultures.
Mariela Camacho, Comadre Panaderia
With a mission to create high-quality breads and pastries in a way that honors her Xicano heritage, Comadre Panaderia founder and San Antonio native Mariela Camacho creates some of the most luscious desserts and baked goods Austin has ever tasted. Her Comadre food truck offerings consistently wow her customers, from Texas to Seattle, and her Austin pop-ups are a sweet as her confections.
Nick Belloni, Trill Foods
If the pandemic taught chef Nick Belloni anything, it was the power of returning to his roots. Though his Trill Foods began life as standout taco truck in the Austin scene, a pandemic-caused business hiatus gave Belloni the opportunity to do some soul-searching, a journey that led him to swap his taco menu for elevated, playful versions of his native Louisiana cuisine. He’s a culinary wiz who’s not afraid to experiment and create innovative dishes. But fans of Trill’s former menu need not fret, as Belloni still keeps a bottle of his homemade hot sauce out front.
Zechariah Perez, Sour Duck Market
As chef at Sour Duck Market, the neighborhood bakery, café, and cocktail garden that’s the sister concept to Odd Duck and Barley Swine, Zechariah Perez knows a thing or two about what Austin loves to eat — and he’s happy to share. He dazzled Austinites with his perfect breakfast specialties while at Paperboy, and is known for creating must-have brunch offerings at Odd Duck. At Sour Duck, he continues to create spectacular handcrafted edibles ideal for snacking on with a side of coffee or — let’s be real — beer.