From LA to New York, Minneapolis to Nashville, we found a talented new generation of women and men telling their stories through cooking. With exceptional skill, regional and global influences, and an eye for great ingredients, they’re showing that the country’s culinary future is bright. These are the seven best young chefs in America.
The oyster menu at Henrietta Red offers a glimpse inside Julia Sullivan’s head. Instead of two or three options to choose from, guests peruse a selection of as many as 16 varietals sourced from around the United States, from the Atlantic to the Gulf to the Pacific. Beside each name is a place of provenance and a trio of evocative descriptors to help guide diners’ decisions.
The restaurant’s meticulous and thoughtful menu celebrates great product—and comes as no surprise when you learn that Sullivan spent her formative years working for master of craft Thomas Keller and champion of farm-to-table Dan Barber. Following her time at Per Se, Blue Hill, and other New York restaurants, she returned to her hometown of Nashville, where she opened Henrietta Red in 2017.
While her menu at Henrietta Red reveals the influences of U.S. culinary greats, Sullivan has a style all her own. The restaurant’s airy and welcoming design, seafood-driven cuisine, food with a touch of personal history, and beautiful wines curated by her business partner and sommelier, Allie Poindexter, stand out in food-rich Nashville. “Most of the restaurants I saw opening in Nashville were large industrial spaces with concrete floors, brick walls, exposed ceilings, serving Southern food and whiskey,” Sullivan says. “We wanted something more feminine and convivial, like the kind of place that we would want to go with our girlfriends.”
The idea began as an oyster bar but grew to include a seasonal menu full of delicious and thoughtful dishes. House-made flatbread is served with butter whipped with anchovies. An impossibly light and delicious brown-butter-and-parsnip puree comes crowned with an array of seared scallops. And a perfectly constructed salad of red butter lettuce, mustard, toasted almonds, pickled turnips, Cara Cara oranges, and Castelvetrano olives hits every note from salty to sweet to sour. Also spanning the flavor spectrum are Sullivan’s oyster offerings, which on any given night might range from briny Night Tides to creamy Murder Points to sweet Saucey Lady Shells.
Photo: Mark Mann
At his restaurant, Bellemore, Jimmy Papadopoulos quickly made an impression on Chicago—and Instagram—with a showstopping starter. “I’m a big believer that first impressions matter,” Papadopoulos says. “What is that first impression going to be? I want to serve something grand.”
Grand but in a tiny package, his miniature custard pie topped with caviar, an oyster, and crisp green apple to cut through the richness is a luxurious and inspired little bite that’s as beautiful as it is delicious. And yet there’s another, humbler starter on Papadopoulos’s menu that is perhaps an even greater testament to his creativity and craft: his dinner rolls.
Back in 2016, as he was brainstorming for his New American restaurant, Papadopoulos was snacking on some sweet, fluffy, store-bought rolls when he had an idea. “Growing up in the Midwest, we’d have King’s Hawaiian rolls served with my mom’s molasses ham,” he says. “They’re the most basic, delicious roll.” Indeed, it’s hard to improve on the Hawaiians—but Papadopoulos has. Not only do his staff members bake fresh rolls in house, they also create their own butter, by steeping ham scraps in Wisconsin cream to make a salty, smoky cultured spread. “The magic is the butter,” he says.
The real magic is Papadopoulos’s entire menu. The same care he takes in making butter is seen throughout the selections at Bellemore. From his rolls to his steak tartare (made with venison, not beef) to his ham-and-cheese sandwich made with broiled raclette and shaved country ham to his duck breast dry-aged for 21 days in house, he has an ability to take a familiar dish and add a twist that’s clever without being obnoxious—even if it is a social-media star.
Like many chefs, Jamie Malone learned to cook using French technique. In fact, she fell in love. “It’s almost an emotional thing, like when you first start listening to music when you’re a kid,” she says. “And no matter what, your whole life, if you first start listening to punk rock, that’s the music you always love. And I guess maybe it’s that way with food, too.”
That sentiment might explain why Malone ditched a fine-dining restaurant she was conceiving to devote herself to the 70-year-old Grand Café in Minneapolis. At first, Malone merely put her own project on the back burner to help the Café’s previous owners; but when they decided they wanted out of the restaurant entirely, in 2017 she saved the Twin Cities institution from closing by buying it, remaking it to her own vision, and devoting it to her first food love. “It was so obvious to me it needed to be an old-fashioned French restaurant because it’s a really old building and needed to stay that way—keep that sweet, soulful sentiment,” Malone says. “It’s really fun to go back and play with French food in a setting that makes sense.”
Her menu features traditional dishes like pike quenelles, and twists on classics like a Paris-Brest that’s filled with chicken-liver mousse. The result is one of the Midwest’s most exciting restaurants. But the success is not just on the strength of the food; Malone has also created a playful atmosphere to enjoy it in. “The food is masculine—it’s meat heavy. We’re not doing tweezer food,” she says. “But the restaurant is super feminine. It’s all pink and flowers, and we’re making fun of ourselves a bit. I like to be a little gaudy and ridiculous.”
Photo: Mark Mann
Joseph “JJ” Johnson
“The photographer told me to bring my favorite kitchen utensil. I brought my boom box,” chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson exclaims with his ever-present laugh. “When I’m cooking, it’s ’90s hip-hop and R&B. It’s that sing-along, happy music. That’s really key when it comes to dining. It’s more now than just food and service.”
It doesn’t hurt to have great food, as well. Johnson delivers on that front with a cuisine he calls Afro-Asian, a style that was inspired by a trip he took with chef Alexander Smalls. “I was truly lost before I went to Ghana. It was a pivot point for me,” he says. “I had cooked at big restaurants before and worked in the Morgan Stanley executive dining room. Ghana taught me what I was going to become.”
There, Johnson saw how Chinese immigrants and Ghanaians blended their cuisines. He saw similar fusions—and the effects that migration had on food—on subsequent trips to Singapore, Israel, and India. “These cultures have lived together; I’m just bringing those flavors of food together,” he says. “It’s who I am as a person. My dad’s African-American; my mom is West Indian and Puerto Rican. I’ve been around this food, and I was never able to express it.”
After garnering acclaim as chef of the Cecil and the legendary jazz club Minton’s in Harlem, Johnson left to explore the bounds of his cuisine. Last fall, he took a stint as the first long-term chef in residence at Chefs Club in New York, a run that was extended for 2 months because of diner demand for dishes like beef short rib covered in hoisin barbecue sauce with beef-fat fried rice, roti, and kimchi. He recently published the cookbook Between Harlem and Heaven with Smalls, his old mentor at the Cecil and Minton’s. Now he’s at work on his latest project: a series of restaurants—from sit-down to casual—under the company InGrained Hospitality Concepts.
At Johnson’s new spots, you can be sure that R&B and hip-hop will be playing. “The music and food are a perfect fit,” he says. “The ’90s was an era of expression, and Afro-Asian food is expressing food migration.”
Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra
In the bathroom at Contra, one gets the sense that this Michelin-starred restaurant is more casual than most. Above the sink is a framed picture of the Manhattan hot spot’s star chefs, Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra, smashing cakes into each other’s faces. “Everyone told us we need to act a little older,” says von Hauske, who with his cochef and business partner also runs critical darling Wildair and the hotly anticipated Una Pizza Napoletana. “We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take what we do extremely seriously. We find humor in the same things, and we’re just able to channel that. That’s what gives our restaurants the energy they have.”
Adding to this unique energy is the time that Stone, born and raised in Maryland, and von Hauske, a Mexico City native, spent outside the Americas. They met in New York nearly a decade ago at about the same time each of them decamped to Europe to build their culinary chops. Von Hauske explored the budding New Nordic scene at Fäviken and Noma, while Stone worked in Paris as the city’s influential bistronomy movement blossomed.
“It was an exciting time,” Stone says. “It returned to cooking very humbly and simply. A sauce may not have had all the little details like you would see in New York, but man, once you tasted it, it was mind-blowing. We stripped away everything you didn’t need.”
Returning to New York, they opened Contra together in 2013. The tasting-menu restaurant is rooted in European cuisine, but the chefs call it modern American. “There’s a lot of influence from France, and all these little Japanese and Spanish influences, but nothing is too ethnically driven,” Stone says. “It’s a New York restaurant.”
In 2015 came Stone and von Hauske’s wine bar, Wildair, which is now beloved for its natural wines, delicious food, and lively atmosphere. “It’s not a wine bar in the sense of the American scene, but more of the really fun wine bars in Europe,” Stone says. Now they’ve partnered with esteemed pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri to bring his Una Pizza Napoletana back to the Big Apple. There’s no word yet on whether they’ll smash slices into each other’s faces to commemorate the opening.
Photo: Mark Mann
“My mom thought it was pretty creepy,” Jessica Largey confides. “Ever since I was a little kid, I was obsessed with our small-town butcher. My dad would take me down there, and I loved watching him work.”
Largey’s early fascination with food wasn’t restricted to the butcher—or to weirding out her mother. In fact, her mom played a big role in making the Los Angeles–based chef the budding star she is today. “We never had processed food,” Largey says. “If I asked for a snack, she’d give me a cucumber and a bell pepper—that’s it. I didn’t even get ranch. I love that she made us love vegetables.”
Cutting her teeth at Providence in Los Angeles—and later working her way up to chef de cuisine at Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif.—Largey was a student not just of expert technique but of sourcing great meat and produce. “I shopped for vegetables at Providence; I was a produce snob,” she says. “At Manresa, my favorite way to create was to go to the farm. Being at a market or farm is when I get flooded with ideas.”
That font of creativity helped earn Largey a James Beard Rising Star award in 2015 and, this year, the chance to open her own restaurant in Los Angeles. At Simone, she will take those fine-dining chops and relax a little. “It’s more stripped down and casual because that’s where I’m coming from. There’s still executing at a high level, but I don’t need a flower and a tiny garnish for every bite,” she says. “I’m making food I want to eat: clean, simple, and approachable.”
And though Largey had a special cold room built into Simone to indulge her love of butchering, it’s her mother’s influence that diners most readily see. It’s also what has made her a unique talent in the culinary world. “I always create food based around vegetables,” she says. “I don’t start with proteins and then build in vegetables, which is what you’re taught in culinary school. I start with vegetables, compose the dish, and find proteins to accent it.”