The last year and change in the Bay Area food scene has felt like something of a recession — or at the very least a course correction. While restaurants at the high end of the local luxury spectrum seem to be thriving, there are near constant laments about the tribulations of restaurant ownership in San Francisco. The last nine months have been marked by more noteworthy closures of well loved restaurants than by prominent openings, and this was the first time in ten years that not a single San Francisco restaurant was picked for Bon Appetit's annual round up of best new spots in the country.
But no one can say that our overall restaurant scene isn't as marvelous and diverse as it's been for years — or that it's not as marvelous or diverse as it was in recent decades, which would not be true in the least.
And the release today of the Chronicle's latest class of Rising Star Chefs is a testament to all that's good about our current food culture and local dining options.
After a year in which former critic Michael Bauer likely would only have noted the dip in restaurant openings deemed significant in his book, new critic Soleil Ho finds inspiration in eight chefs — two solo chefs and three duos — who are doing great work early in their careers and helping shape an evolving local food scene. "The chefs here aren’t necessarily tied to traditional restaurants," she writes, "an indication of the many ways the basic task of making food for the public has shifted in the Bay Area."
Indeed, two of the operations highlighted, Horn Barbecue and Cafe Ohlone, don't have permanent brick-and-mortars right now, and one, Pearl 6101, grew out of a multi-year pop-up staffed entirely by women. With the aid of writers Paolo Lucchesi (who is also food editor at the Chronicle) and Justin Phillips, Ho bestowed 2019 Rising Star honors on Meghan Clark, the chef de cuisine at newly opened Thai spot (and Kin Khao spinoff) Nari; Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, the couple behind Berkeley's Cafe Ohlone, which operates four days a week in back of University Press Books serving food inspired by the native Ohlone people of the Bay Area; married coupled Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz of Pacific Heights Mediterranean spot Noosh; Joyce Conway and Mel Lopez of Pearl 6101; and Matt Horn of Horn Barbecue, which is getting set to open in the former Brown Sugar Kitchen space in West Oakland after an extended pop-up run.
These are the Bay Area chefs you need to be paying attention to. Check out our list of the 2019 Rising Star Chefs. https://t.co/7eRXJfoWej— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) September 27, 2019
Phillips writes that Horn's smoked sausages and hot links are "unlike any versions elsewhere in the Bay Area," and that his "amalgamation of various influences" from barbecue traditions makes him a perfect fit for the Bay Area, which has never had a real barbecue tradition of its own.
Ho writes that Clark is a brilliant interpreter of Thai cuisine, having worked briefly as a line cook at Kin Khao after working in an array of high-end restaurants including Aster. Under the tutelage of chef Pim Techamuanvivit, she's traveled many times now to Thailand, and worked briefly alongside Techamuanvivit's team before they landed a coveted spot on the World's 50 Best list this year for Techamuanvivit's revamp of Bangkok's Nahm.* "The plethora of surprising Californian ingredients on the menu [at Nari] is the result of Clark’s and Techamuanvivit’s collaboration," Ho writes, noting that Clark has been adept at adapting traditional Thai recipes using local farmers' market items.
Lucchesi explains that Conway and Lopez became friends while working together at Bix downtown, and they started a monthly pop-up called B.L.U.D., staffed only by women, and when friends at the Richmond's Pizzetta 211 saw the laundromat on the corner of that restaurant's block come available, they jumped to open a new spot there with B.L.U.D.'s sensibility. Lucchesi groups Pearl 6101 among the "storied tradition of transcendent neighborhood restaurants" like Frances, Outerlands, and AL's Place, and says the "pair have created something special in that little kitchen."
See the full Chronicle piece for more details, quotes, and photos.
*This story has been corrected to show that Meghan Clark was not involved in the revamp of Bangkok restaurant Nahm.