It's a well-known fact that chefs have become the new rock stars. From former party animal Anthony Bourdain to supermodel-like Giada De Laurentiis, the kitchen has become a stage for a variety of talents.
While chefs across the country are getting recognition from culinary bigwigs like the James Beard Foundation, reality TV series on the Food Network, and cooking magazines galore, just like the ever-growing farm-to-table movement, we like to keep it local.
We think we have some pretty damned good talent in these here parts. From Asian to new American to traditional French technique and everything in between, here are our picks for this year's ten best chefs in Palm Beach County:
10. Aaron Black
Chef de cuisine at PB Catch in Palm Beach
PB Catch chef de cuisine Aaron Black can do things to local seafood that most chefs only dream of. A former mechanical engineer, he dreamed of being in the kitchen and graduated from Florida Culinary Institute. From there, it was off to Park City, Utah, to spend a season working for Goldener Hirsch Inn, a posh, alpine-style ski-in/ski-out hotel beside Deer Valley Resort, and later for chef Zane Holmquist, who leads the talented food and beverage team at the Stein Eriksen Lodge while overseeing its biannual menu. Black also worked with James Dumas, an Austrian chef, during which time he learned the importance of refinement and balance. Today, however, he's best-known as the sustainable seafood superhero and creator of PB Catch's seacuterie offerings, something he's since officially trademarked. From salmon pastrami to octopus torchon, there's a reason this establishment received New Times' pick for Best Seafood Restaurant in 2013. Black has a way of coaxing out the ideal combination of flavors from the sea, and we can't imagine the South Florida food scene without him.
9. Matthew Byrne
Chef-owner at Kitchen in West Palm Beach
There is eating, and there is dining: At Kitchen in West Palm Beach, husband-and-wife team Aliza and Matthew Byrne aim to show you the difference. Here, executive chef-owner Matthew Byrne creates refined takes on comfort classics while his wife and business partner acts as the ultimate manager and hostess. Here, Byrne works under the mantra K-I-S-S, short for "keep it simple, stupid." That means buy the freshest ingredients, and do as little to them as possible. This philosophy has been with Pennsylvania-born Byrne for a long time, including the period he spent working in some of Philadelphia's most lauded fine dining establishments, like French landmark Le Bec Fin. Fourteen years later and after a number of gigs as a private chef — most recently for Tiger Woods — Byrne decided to make good on his lifelong vision of opening his own establishment in a quiet neighborhood space just north of the Southern Boulevard bridge in West Palm Beach. The chef named the restaurant Kitchen in hopes that the experience would be akin to sharing a home-cooked meal with him and his wife. The menu is seasonally inspired, but mainstays include fan favorites like the chicken schnitzel, Maple Leaf Farm duck, and a from-scratch lemon coconut cake. For all the sophistication of his current menu, Byrne is still not afraid to admit his first job was at a local deli, and the first dish he learned to make was onion rings.
8. Jordan Lerman
Chef-owner at Jardin in West Palm Beach
What happens when you pair a former Momofuku master with a protégé of Dominique Ansel Bakery? You get Jardin, the West Palm Beach restaurant from newlywed chefs Jordan Lerman and Stephanie Cohen. The couple met at the Culinary Institute of America before garnering experience in some of New York’s most notable restaurants and bakeries, including establishments like Eleven Madison Park, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Ai Fiori, and Dominque Ansel Bakery. Here in South Florida, the couple honed their skills at Boca Raton’s Rebel House (Lerman as sous chef and bar manager, Cohen as executive pastry chef). Today, 27-year-old Lerman is using his experience at many of the city's finest upscale dining establishments to usher in a new era of casual fine dining at Jardin where you'll find a seasonal menu representing the melting pot that is modern American cuisine, with international influences and flavors that also celebrate South Florida’s seasonal bounty. That means an inventive crispy fried hummus starter served with a vibrant lemon aioli; braised gator grits accented with bourbon pickled peppers; and an excellent selection of house charcuterie. Taking one step out of the kitchen and into the bar, Lerman has offered an innovative cocktail menu that's able to match the flavors coming from his kitchen to create the ultimate pairing experience (the homemade aquavit is a favorite). Here, the young chef also offers inspiring touches to each meal, from the complimentary bread service in the form of Stephanie's fresh-baked Madeleines at the start of your meal to the closing mignardises, a small desert served at the end of the meal along with your check.
7. Julien Gremaud
Chef-owner at Avocado Grill in West Palm Beach
Chef Julien Gremaud grew up under the glittery culinary backdrop of Saint-Tropez, France, where he dreamed of becoming a professional chef for as long as he can remember. He credits his mother for inspiring him to pursue his dream of opening his own restaurant. As a child, he spent countless hours learning the basics of French cooking under her patient instruction in the family’s kitchen. She equipped her son with the confidence and skills to become a professional pantry chef at just 14 years of age. Shortly afterward, he honed his skills at several of the finest restaurants in the UK, including London’s Le Colombier and Goolies. In 2000, he arrived in the U.S. at 20 years old to hold consecutive positions at two of Chicago’s leading French restaurants: Le Francais and Le Vichyssoise. In 2002, he relocated to South Florida and accepted the position of personal chef for notable celebrities on Jupiter Island and Palm Beach Island. Gremaud later joined Pistache French Bistro in 2009 as a consultant, moving up to executive chef in just a few weeks. His innovative approach to French cuisine quickly transitioned the restaurant into a food critic favorite, garnering numerous accolades. Two years later, he was promoted to partner and co-opened Palm Beach’s famed seafood eatery, PB Catch. Finally, in fall 2014, Gremaud opened the doors of Avocado Grill in downtown West Palm Beach. In spite of a nonstop schedule, Gremaud has been a frequent participant at a large number of local charity events that mark the Palm Beach social calendar, making him one-part local superhero as well.
6. Tim Lipman
Chef-owner at Coolinary Café in Jupiter
Tim Lipman and his wife Jenny are the cool kids behind Coolinary Café, Jupiter's 47-seat eatery that is often so packed, reservations are recommended for the nightly seatings. What's most impressive, however, is that Lipman changes his specials menu twice daily. Implementing such frequent menu changes is a habit Lipman learned as the original executive chef for well-known Jupiter establishments Little Moir's Leftovers Café and Little Moir's Food Shack, where he was known for putting out 10 to 15 new dishes twice daily. The New Times 2013 pick for Best Restaurant in Palm Beach County, today Lipman's Coolinary Café offers some of the county's most interesting and delectable dishes. You've obviously had tacos before, but rabbit tacos? Unless you've been here, we doubt it. There's rabbit sausage on the menu now, too. Love chicken and waffles? Lipman's innovative take will have you begging for more with a jalapeño-cheddar waffle served alongside preserved lemon and stellar Southern-style fried bird. A Florida native, Limpan is also steadfast about product sourcing, buying as much as he can close to home. This means produce from The Peddler in Juno Beach; milk from Daikin Dairy in Myakka; honey from McCoy's in Loxahatchee; and eggs from Lake Meadow in Ocoee. And what he can't buy local, he grows himself in community gardens his team has established nearby. It's all part of his personal motto: Serve food that is honest, fresh, simple, and refined.
5. Lindsay Autry
Chef-owner at Regional Kitchen + Public House
Much of Palm Beach County is looking forward to chef Lindsay Autry's newest culinary adventure alongside business partner and area restaurateur Thierry Beaud. Dubbed The Regional Kitchen + Public House and slated to open in West Palm Beach's CityPlace this September, the restaurant is the next step in this young chef's whirlwind career. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Autry first made headlines as a finalist on Bravo's ninth season of Top Chef. From there, Autry's skills in the kitchen earned her the reputation of one of America’s best chefs and provided her with the opportunity to work alongside some of the best in the world, including Michelle Bernstein at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami. More recently, many will remember Autry's delicacies at Delray Beach's Sundy House, perhaps the best example of this native North Carolinian's soulful cuisine and what she describes as a perfect melding of Mediterranean flavors with her Southern roots. In the past several years, the chef has spent her time preparing for her own establishment, but she's never far from the spotlight. In Spring 2015, Autry and a handpicked team of area chefs competed in the Miami leg of the traveling culinary battle Cochon 555, where they beat out more than five other teams of highly skilled competitors. The win crowned Autry the "Princess of Porc."
4. Jason Binder
Chef de cuisine at Brulé Bistro in Delray Beach
At Brulé Bistro in Delray Beach, it's the little things that count: finishing sauces with 20-plus ingredients that take two days to create; artfully designed plates that arrive at your table like tiny, colorful art sculptures; and uncommon flavor pairings that deliver the coveted wow factor. It's all thanks to Jason Binder, a chef with a 15-year career that's culminated in his current position as chef de cuisine at this beloved Pineapple Grove haunt. A New Jersey native, he attended the Culinary Institute of America before moving on to work with Miriam Wood at the Washington Inn in Cape May in 2005. It was there, serving guests who dined at the hotel's upscale American restaurant, that Binder learned the fundamentals. Those basics would lay the groundwork for skills he'd later acquire working in Philadelphia under well-known talks of the town Martin Hamann, David Jansen, and William DiStefano while they helmed the kitchen at Four Seasons restaurant The Fountain. Binder has since taken all that knowledge to create his own signature style and today is best known for the bold and daring fare he's been serving at Brulé since 2012. Armed with a bounty of local produce and high-end meats and fish, he applies the tenants of a classic French technique — blended with a little bit of mad scientist crazy — to perform mouthwatering culinary feats. You can sample items from the main menu that changes several times a year, or try something off the specials menu, which includes half a dozen dishes that present the best of the chef's most recent concoctions. New dishes are added daily, and often feature one of his specialties: housemade gnudi, gnocchi-like ricotta dumplings that appear in a rainbow of flavors. Favorite dishes here have stood the test of time, including permanent fixtures like ginger chicken meatballs served in a chili-oil-spiked coconut broth; seared ahi tuna poke with cilantro, Serrano chiles, basil oil, and toasted macadamia nuts; and Duroc pork belly plated with whipped sweet potato puree, lemongrass-game reduction, pistachio crumbs, and the chef's signature fried quail egg.
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3. Rick Mace
Executive chef at Café Boulud in Palm Beach
Café Boulud executive chef Rick Mace's childhood was spent on his family's hundred-acre farm in Ohio, where he was surrounded by gardening, hunting, fishing, and farming. These experiences inspired the chef's youthful culinary interests, which later blossomed into a full-fledged passion thanks to worldly adventures gained thanks to his father’s globetrotting military career. During those formative years, he gained an innate knowledge of many world cuisines, which solidified his aspirations to pursue cooking professionally at the New England Culinary Institute. Once he graduated, Mace accepted various positions in culinary institutions across the U.S., including at the award-winning Butler’s Restaurant at The Inn at Essex in Vermont and San Diego’s Barona Valley Resort. In 2007, Mace joined world-renowned chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group as executive sous chef at Daniel Boulud Brasserie at The Wynn Resort Las Vegas. In his three years there, Mace worked collaboratively with Boulud to develop the brasserie’s menu. This set the stage for his next move in 2013, when he took the position of executive chef of Café Boulud Palm Beach, where he's best-known for his stellar in-house charcuterie program and use of local Florida products and ingredients.
2. Laurent Godbout
Chef-owner at Chez L'épicier in Palm Beach
Splitting his time between his home base in Montreal, Quebec, and Palm Beach, this world-famous chef offers the best of the best when it comes to French-Canadian fare. The Canadian-based chef has competed in one of the world's most prestigious culinary competitions, representing his country in France's Bocuse d'Or, what some dub the "culinary Olympics." Today, however, he competes for a chance to win over your taste buds with his Palm Beach restaurant Chez l’Épicier, a second location for the original establishment he opened in 2000 alongside wife and business partner, Veronique, in Montreal. It was in this same city, under the tutelage of chef Nicolas Jongleux, where Godbout says he first discovered a passion for sophisticated and creative cuisine, the same you'll find at his Palm Beach Chez l’Épicier, which means “from the grocer” in French. In Palm Beach, he uses Quebec-sourced products married with local ingredients to craft dishes like his signature starter of crémeux de foie gras, a pudding-like version of the decadent goose liver; a divine salmon smothered in a mint-mustard sauce; and — of course — his own take on the Montreal classic dish poutine.
1. Clay Conley
Chef-owner at Grato, Buccan, and Imoto in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach
Had you asked Palm Beach chef and restaurateur Clay Conley several years ago if he planned to open three Palm Beach County establishments, he might have laughed in your face. That's almost the reaction you get when you ask him this question now, on the heels of his most recent restaurant opening, Grato, in West Palm Beach. Today, Conley says much of his appreciation of fresh ingredients and seasonality is born of his rural Maine upbringing. But his mastery of technique and flavor are from decades of experience in kitchens around the world. A Todd English protégé, he served as the celebrity chef's director of culinary operations for the Olives Group, overseeing 17 restaurants, including the opening of Olives in Tokyo, a lengthy stint that lasted eight years. Conley would eventually partner with South Florida's Piper Quinn to open a restaurant of his own. After searching Miami for the right location, the pair decided to take a trip to Palm Beach Island, an adventure that yielded the two-time James Beard nominee's popular haunts Buccan and Imoto. Today, not only has Conley racked up the numerous nods from the culinary elite, but he's received ours as well: He was named New Times' Best Chef 2013, and he made number one on our list of "Tastemakers" in Broward and Palm Beach several years ago. If that's not enough to prove his worthiness, try his food for yourself; dishes like Conley's handmade pastas — especially the popular squid ink orecchiette — will most certainly speak for themselves.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.