Being a chef has never been a glamorous job as anyone who's made it her life's work will tell you. The rise of cooking shows and the fetishizing of food have ushered the profession into the limelight. As restaurants garner attention, it's natural to become more aware of who's cooking what, at which restaurant.
After the jump, we've pulled together this year's list of who's made a mark in South Florida dining.
10. Dean Max of 3030 Ocean: The Teacher
A pioneer of farm to table in the area, Max has nurtured small local farms as well as young talent. He's in the process of shaping the career of 23-year-old sous Jeremy Ford. This is after a decade training Hell's Kitchen contestant Paula DaSilva, now running the kitchen at 1500 Degrees at Eden Roc, providing a transcendent dining experience that's earned Esquire's nod as one of the best new restaurants of the year. The pair has learned from one of the area's best.
9. Mike Saperstein of Charm City Burgers. The Visionary
Runner-Up: Julian Greaves of Tryst
Saperstein saw the need for inexpensive burgers with high quality ingredients in Charm City. He's doing something similar with El Jefe Luchador: focusing on one concept in many varieties. That he's had plenty of experience as a fine dining chef at Cafe Maxx and elsewhere helps, as does his partnership in organic, grass-fed K&G Brothers Wholesale Meats. With hope, he and partner Evan David are priming their creativity for the newest concept to come in January, The Rebel House.
Runner-Up: Why Tryst? Because Greaves is cooking with beer, of course. For this trend, it's only the beginning.
8. James Leiken of Cafe Boulud: The Acolyte
Having the fortitude to build a career with Daniel Boulud's guidance is no small feat. Dining on Leiken's cuisine is like getting a private solo from the first violin, the concertmaster to Boulud's conducting. It is bliss.
7. Roy Villacrusis of Kapow! Noodle Bar: The Risktaker
Villacrusis took a risk with Kubo Asiatic Cuisine, leading the kitchen in a daring concept housed in a strip mall, during a recession no less. Despite accolades, his wasn't a recipe for success that round. Now he has joined forces with restaurant mavens Rodney Mayo and Scott Frielich to helm a small, chef-focused noodle bar in Mizner Park, one of the trendiest concepts in the country right now. We're looking forward to seeing how things fare in 2012.
6. Angelo Elia of Casa d'Angelo: The Opportunist
Having opened D'Angelo Pizza, the acclaimed chef is at it again in Delray at D'Angelo Trattoria -- set in a historic home -- with plans to build out a bakery and gelateria. Things can't get much busier on the home front. Perhaps he'll earn more national acclaim in 2012.
5. Tony Sindaco of Sea Restaurant: The Comeback
Runner-Up: Takeshi Kamioka of Gaysha
Having dipped below the radar after leaving Sunfish Grill to his ex-wife, Sindaco has reappeared on the scene four years later at Sea, the superb seafood mecca that's run like a tight ship. With a chalkboard menu that changes twice a week, the restaurant feels both quaint and modern.
Runner-Up: Why Gaysha? Because Kamioka has carved a niche at his own neighborhood restaurant after he shuttered a restaurant on Las Olas. Kamioka also served stints at Nobu in Miami, Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, and working with his family for years at Japanese Steakhouse Village and Tokyo Sushi. At Gaysha, the chef has conceived his own delicious minimalism, with an emphasis on omakase.
4. Steve Martorano of Cafe Martorano: The Character
Who doesn't love this character? With his one-liners, muscles that dwarfs Popeye's, and a look that's Mr. Clean meets Mr. Tan Man, let's face it: The guy needs his own reality show. He is riveting.
3. Iwao Kaita of Cafe Sharaku: The Technician
Well-trained Japanese chefs are known for their attention to detail and Kaita's French-Asian cuisine illuminates his finely honed skills. His style is such that it behooves a diner to be present, to savor the interplay of textures and flavors for a special yet ephemeral dining experience.
2. Steven Zobel of East End Brasserie: The Carpetbagger
With a resume like Zobel's, having earned praise from The New York Times and elsewhere for his work at Triomphe in New York, we're glad to have him. His arrival this past spring is one of many factors to suggest the area is becoming more attentive to chef-driven cuisine. We sometimes wish he'd be more daring for a special dinner or two, wowing diners with beautiful ingredients like bone marrow, sardines, or sweetbreads, for example. It's tough in this location on the water in a Fort Lauderdale hotel. Still, we can dream.
1. Clay Conley of Buccan: The Crowd-Pleaser
Gourmands, clubby residents, and tourists in the know flock to this Caribbean-influenced restaurant that engages the mind and the palate. The modern yet cozy dining room pleases all types, as does the menu, which incorporates ingredients for daring diners and traditionalists.
Who have we missed? Let us know in the comments.
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