Responding to criticism about the list's usual lack of diversity, and starting last year, the San Francisco Chronicle took the annual Rising Star Chefs feature out of the hands of critic Michael Bauer and left the choices up to other members of paper's food department, including Jonathan Kauffman, Tara Duggan, and Paolo Lucchesi. They repeated that with this year's class, who were featured in Sunday's paper, and for the first time (I'm pretty sure ever) the list includes not a single white male. Also, notably, the rising stars have been plucked from places besides the more expected, lauded, and Michelin-starred kitchens of the Bay Area.
As the team explains, "These are changing times for the restaurant industry, which is going through its most significant upheaval in years, a perfect storm of rising costs, staff shortages, saturation and, to be honest, an industry-wide realization that things — business models, pay equity, general morality — need to change if a business is going to be truly sustainable." So, they say, this year's list reflects who they think are among the food scene's "thought leaders" and culinary talents, and they've scrapped the age limitations that have been used for this list in the past this year's class simply has to have lead their own kitchen for less than five years.
And, also, not all of these chefs are actually running brick-and-mortar kitchens yet.
The 2017 Rising Star Chef class is Reem Assil of Oakland-based Arab food pop-up/farmers' market stand Reem's, whose brick-and-mortar bakery is set to open next month; Chris Kiyuna, chef-partner at The Perennial in the mid-Market neighborhood, whose resume includes Front Porch and Coi; Tu David Phu of Vietnamese pop-up Ăn, which he plans to open as a brick-and-mortar next year; Fernay McPherson, the chef behind roving soul food pop-up Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement; and Michelle Minori, the 30-year-old behind the pasta menu at Barzotto, one of a number of "fancier" fast-casual establishments that have taken root in the last few years in SF.
After announcing a list made up of entirely white male chefs back in 2010, Bauer and the Chronicle's food department have made conscious efforts to diversify things in recent years, particularly starting with their 2015 Rising Star class which was made up entirely of pastry chefs a field that tends to be dominated by women, and indeed three of the five chefs that year were women.
And now that this list has been helping catapult careers for Bay Area chefs for over 25 years now, it's about time that things should look a lot more diverse.