Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs list for 2021 just dropped, and two of the 11 chefs hail from the Bay Area: Horn Barbecue's Matt Horn, and State Bird Provisions Chef de Cuisine Gaby Maeda.
Maeda has been in the kitchen at State Bird Provisions since it opened a decade ago and now, at age 30, is running the show day to day as chef de cuisine. She was also recognized with a James Beard nomination last year — and because the James Beard Foundation decided not to name winners last year or have a ceremony at all this year, we won't know if she would have won that honor.
But the Food & Wine Best New Chefs list, presented almost every year since 1988, is a big honor in and of itself. And past honorees in the Bay Area include the likes of Thomas Keller, Hubert Keller, Gary Danko, Nancy Oakes, Traci Des Jardins, Corey Lee, James Syhabout, and Joshua Skenes. Also among them was Stuart Brioza, Maeda's executive chef at State Bird Provisions, who was honored back in 2003 when he worked at Rubicon downtown.
Maeda tells Food & Wine that she and Brioza connected immediately when she started on the line at the restaurant six years ago. "He had a plan for me before I had a plan for me," she says.
And, she says, "Every day when I go to work, I am just as excited as I was on day one. All I want to do is work hard with my team and grow with them every day."
Maeda, who grew up in Hawaii, now leads the team at State Bird and has but her own stamp on the menu with dishes like the shrimp toast, and a dish of carrot mochi with carrots prepared several ways. She says eventually she'd like to open her own spot, which will be a California-driven restaurant with "snapshots of Hawaii."
Horn also has been raking in the accolades over the last year, and Horn Barbecue in West Oakland is still barely a year old. Horn was, just in July, part of a big New York Times piece about California barbecue, in which he primarily featured.
Horn's profile published today by Food & Wine is a glowing tribute to his journey as a chef, and his journey to create his own style of barbecue.
"The brisket may be the star of the menu, but there's also the house-made hot links, plump and bursting with spicy meat, and the smoked turkey breast, flavorful and tender, even without the use of a brine," Khushbu Shah writes. "It's worth saving room for the cheesy potato casserole. In an ode to his grandmother, Horn bakes little dominos of potatoes with cream of chicken soup, sour cream, butter, and cheddar cheese."
Horn says that he wants to pay homage to black pitmasters of the past with his food, but also to tell his own story and make his own mark on barbecue.
"When I cook barbecue, I look at it, and I'm like, 'How can I turn this raw piece of meat into something that's a work of art?' That's how I look at the barbecue that I do. But also, I want it to tell a story," Horn says.
Congrats to both the Bay Area honorees and the other nine as well! As Shah notes in Food & Wine, the very concept of a restaurant seems to have undergone some seismic shifts over the past year.
"From coast to coast, the 2021 class of Best New Chefs is reinventing what it means to lead in the kitchen while cooking the food that matters to them most," Shah writes. "Restaurants may no longer look the same, but with this class of chefs at the helm, I am excited to see—and eat—what the future holds."
Photos of Horn and Maeda by Aubrie Pick