This is the first year for Food & Wine's online poll for The People's Best New Chef, so it's impossible to tell if this award is really going to mean something next to the more famous Food & Wine Best New Chefs awards, which are chosen by critics and have been around for two decades. Several sites trumpeted that seven Chicago chefs had been named as candidates, as if that meant we dominated the whole list; when you realize that they had 10 regions with ten choices each, it actually only means that we represent 7% of the best chefs in the country. Still, on a local level, it's undoubtedly exciting for the seven chefs to draw national attention, and encouraging for their future placement on the Best New Chefs list alongside such Chicago luminaries as Rick Bayless (1988), Paul Kahan (1999), Grant Achatz (2004) and others. But is it really... seven chefs?
The seven Chicagoans listed under the Great Lakes category are John Anderes of Telegraph ("a tight list of small plates"), Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig ("playful, daring take on Mediterranean food"), Danny Grant of Ria ("subtle but complex combinations"), Edward Kim ("helping evolve the idea of global food"), Anthony Martin of Tru ("riffs on luxe ingredients in wonderfully unexpected ways"), Chris Pandel of The Bristol ("quirky and exceptional comfort food"), and Jason Vincent of Nightwood ("simple, delicious food with superb skills, not technology"). No argument here about anyone's place on this list.
But look around the list and you start to find more Chicagoans— and a few restaurants and mentors in particular. On the Great Lakes list, there's also Daniel Wright, who before he opened Cincinatti's Senate, worked here at Gordon (that's a long time ago), Souk and Blackbird. Then move over to the Midwest list (which includes what we would normally consider Great Lakes states like Wisconsin) and you start to see, not surprisingly, Chicago training all over the list. Clayton Chapman of Omaha's The Grey Plume worked at Tru; so did Cesar Ramirez at New York's Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare. Tim Dahl was pastry chef at, again, Blackbird before opening Nostrano in Madison. Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine in LA), Josh Habiger of Nashville's The Catbird Seat and Alex Stupak (NY's Empellon) all logged some time at Alinea.
So the heck with 7%. It's easily 10%, 15% or more, we say. To cast your vote, go here.