As the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival Heineken Light Burger Bash presented by Schweid & Sons hosted by David Burtka & Neil Patrick Harris rapidly approaches, it’s time to meet the rock star chefs who will be facing off to take home The Very Best Burger Award for 2019! Let’s take a look at our chef/contestants and the restaurants that they will be represented during this year’s competition.
Pincho Factory, Nedal Ahmed
Founded in 2010 by cousins Nedal Ahmad, Otto Othman and Nizar Ahmad, Pincho Factory, Inc., is a family-owned, Miami-based fast casual culinary brand. A dining concept centered around an eclectic menu of burgers and kebabs, Pincho Factory has gone from an in-the-know locals’ secret to a well-known Miami concept, gracing many national foodie “must try” lists. Now with seven South Florida locations, more in the works and franchising in place, this unique concept is preparing for major expansion. Serving elevated street food in vibrant, casual spaces – perfect for a lunch away from the office or a late-night bite with family or friends – Pincho Factory is both something uniquely Miami and, like the city of its birth, very international.
Coppa, Toro, Toro NYC, Little Donkey, Jamie Bissonnette
In 2011, Bissonnette was awarded the prestigious honor of Food & Wine magazine’s first ever People Choice Best New Chef. Since then, Bissonnette has been named Best Chef: Northeast at the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards. Bissonnette is a champion of nose-to-tail cuisine and is well-known locally and nationally for his exceptional charcuterie and passionate dedication to supporting local, sustainable purveyors. In September 2014, Jamie launched his debut cookbook—The New Charcuterie Cookbook: Exceptional Cured Meats to Make and Serve at Home, featuring a foreword by Andrew Zimmern. Additionally, Jamie is a past winner and current judge of the Cochon 555 nose-to-tail competition.
In Fall 2013, he opened Toro in New York City’s South Chelsea neighborhood and it was met with critical acclaim from The New York Times, New York Magazine and others. In 2016, Bissonnette and Oringer brought Toro overseas to their first international location in Bangkok, with Dubai up next in Fall 2017. The duo also debuted their first project in Cambridge, MA—Little Donkey—in Summer 2016, which received a glowing review from Boston Magazine and Restaurant of the Year in The Boston Globe.
Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox, Brian Cartenuto
Along with the arsenal of successful restaurants Chef Brian currently operates, he also has a rather impressive culinary resume ranging from his schooling at Johnson & Wales University to a number of top tier Executive Chef Positions at restaurants such as Anthony Bourdain’s Brasserie Les Halles, NYC & Miami, FL and Dean & Deluca in Washington D.C. as well as Cantinetta & Queen City Grill in Seattle, WA.
Chef Brian is a Florida favorite, winning a number of awards across the state for his craft burgers at Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox. He has also appeared on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen not once, but twice. He was a season 1 winner and was invited back to participate in another battle of wits in March 2014 with other previous winners, where he again prevailed. Most recently he appear on Beat Bobby Flay, Season 5, Stars & Stripes.
With Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox locations a food truck thriving, and While We Were Young in NYC always busy, his sites set on opening more locations along the eastern seaboard –it appears the culinary possibilities are endless for Chef Brian Cartenuto.
109 Burger Joint, Jose & Luis Blanco
Our father-son chef duo Jose and Luis Blanco concentrate on always providing the most creative and innovative burgers and food items on the market. They accomplish this by using the freshest ingredients and never being afraid to test the limits of new flavor combinations.
Chef Luis Blanco brings about two decades of culinary experience to the table. Traditionally trained in Italian cuisine he does not lack imagination or talent for burgers and American food that makes up the menu at 109 Burger Joint. The chef works with pride and love for his craft
Le Chick Miami, Victoria Dell’Oca
Executive Chef Victoria Dell’Oca, was born in Miami, Florida. She began her career at Bachour Bakery. She followed her dreams and attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales in Denver, Colorado. She continued her culinary passion in the kitchen at Vail, Colorado favorite Sweet Basil, before moving back to Miami and joining the team at BB Bistro. She never stopped working hard to continue growing and learning.
The menu at Le Chick features fried chicken, slow-cooked baby back ribs and fries served four ways – Truffle Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, French Fries and Loaded Cheese Fries. Main courses feature rotisserie chicken, burgers and sandwiches. Desserts include the restaurant’s signature Goodie Jar, Banoffee Pie, Carrot Cake and baked to order Apple Tart. Le Chick stands by fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch daily, including their delicious burger buns.
Pretty Sweet, Stephanie Diaz
The Diaz family-owned business initially opened in South Miami in March 2010. Soon after, they generated attention when they won Miami New Times Best Bakery, The best-kept secret in Miami turned into a regional favorite. With a location in South Miami Sweetness Bakeshop hits the spot with their creative combination of flavors, some of which are so unique, they’ve become synonymous with Miami. Their signature desserts, including the Guava & Cheese Cupcakes, Cake n’ Shakes, Crack Cookies and Key Lime Dessert Shots support an ever-changing menu that also includes limited-edition and seasonal flavors.
Sweetness has been acclaimed by Food and Wine Magazine as having one of the Nation’s Best New Cupcakes, Zagat ranked them one of the top 50 Donuts in the Country and Miami New Times named them Miami’s Best Bakery and Miami’s Best Cupcakes.
Sergio’s Cuban, Carlos Gazitua
While the core concept is rooted in Cuban culture and tradition, there is an exciting evolution in the healthier customizable menu and environment that promises a diversity beyond what you will find in the traditional Cuban restaurant.
• Concept: Sergio’s is famous for their homemade Frita (Cuban Burger). The sandwich has its origin in Cuban in the 1930s as street food. The burger patty is blended with black angus beef and chorizo with spices and seasoning giving it a unique Latin flavor. Now Carlos Gazitua has brought his famous cuban burger patty blend and created a Cuban cheeseburger paying homage to the Cuban roots but complimenting it with the American culture.
• Cuban Cheeseburger; chorizo and black angus beef patty with melted cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, finished with a secret pink sauce and topped with light fried salted string fries on a potato bun.
El Ray De Las Fritas, Mercedes Gonzalez
The Original Cuban Frita is a Cuban-Style Burger made with Fresh Ground Beef, mixed with our Special Family Recipe of Herbs and Spices. La Original Frita Cubana!
Bird & Bone | Sakaya Kitchen, Richard Hales
Hales is Chef Owner and concept creator for Blackbrick Chinese, Sakaya Kitchen, Bird & Bone, The Backyard at The Confidante Hotel, Dim Ssam a gogo and Chef Richard Hales Events.
Hales has appeared on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives for his restaurants’ Blackbrick and Sakaya Kitchen as well as co-hosted an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Chef Guy Fieri, appeared twice on Guys Grocery Games winning as an All-Star Chef DDD tournament, Americas’s best bite for best burger, 24 hour layover with Anthony Bourdain, Fast Casual Nation for Sakaya Kitchen, The great food truck race with Dim Ssam a gogo, The Daily Meal annual best in the country top 100 for Sakaya kitchen, Blackbrick and Dim Ssam a gogo, Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, Vivala Latin show, Eat street Canada, Cheddar TV in NYC, Extra Crispy NYC, NBC The Feast, NBC Six in the Mix, CBS 4 Miami, WSVN Channel 10, Channel 7 Bite with Belkeys. Hales appeared as himself in an independent film called “Whatever it takes”. Radio appearances on Sirius XM radio, Y100, and multiple podcasts. Recipes published and features in Bon Appetit magazine, Food and Wine magazine, Esquire, Marie Claire, Maxim, Epoch Times, Luxury Travel Advisor, Crain’s NY, Time Out New York, Tasting Table, Vice Munchies, Eater NY, NY Post, Miami Herald, Miami New Times, Andrew Zimmern St Paul Magazine, Delta Sky Magazine.
Hales has been nominated and awarded Top 50 Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit Magazine, Best Hotel Restaurant Miami, Best Fried Chicken, Best Brunch, Best Chinese Restaurant, Best Healthful Fast food by Miami New Times, Top Food Truck in America Bon Appetit, South Beach Wine & Food Festival Best Bite, South Florida Food 50 by Miami Herald, Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year nomination by Eater.
Chef and his wife Jenny live in Miami Beach with their children and support personally and through their restaurants No Kid Hungry, Food Rescue US, Lotus House, St Jude’s Hospital and Special Olympics.
Hate Mondays Taverns, Karl Hayden
After spending 20+ years growing professionally at a Big Box Retail, Karl Hayden, owner of HMT decided he wanted a change. This led him to pursue his passion for grilling and creative home cooking. HMT opened in October 2015 when they took over a struggling Latin Cafeteria. Karl introduced something new to this community- mouth-watering, creative backyard, old school BBQ. After being open two months Burger Beast came in and invited HMT to Hamburger House Party 2016. With his competitive edge, Karl became fueled to win this competition. When he was invited again in 2018, Karl gave it his all to become the People’s Choice Award winner of the Hamburger House Party. Open almost 3 years now, Karl has gone from a home cook to owning a restaurant that consistently achieves 5 stars on Yelp. The restaurant has been featured in Travel And leisure magazine, Money magazine for Best Comfort Food, Best Burgers and Best BBQ.
Today Hayden continues to grind every day with a 6 am start to get his smoker going and prep his great ingredients for his lunch crowd. Karl Hayden known to his patrons as El Bearded Chef of HMT is focused on creating and serving amazing food and providing outstanding customer service always.
Avec, Perry Hendrix
Hendrix was lured west to Utah in 2003, where he led the kitchen as executive chef at The Metropolitan in Salt Lake City. He then spent time in St. Louis, Missouri, where he helped open the classic French-focused restaurant Brasserie by Niche as executive chef, and conceptualized their sister restaurant, Taste.
Hendrix moved to Chicago in 2010 to take the helm at Custom House Tavern as executive chef, eventually moving into the same position for the opening of Maison in 2012. In June of 2013, Hendrix joined One Off Hospitality Group as Chef de Cuisine of James Beard award-winning avec in the West Loop. His penchant for fresh local ingredients and enthusiasm for wine make him perfectly suited for avec’s core cuisine of Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
Fooq’s, Victoriano Hernandez
To Chef Hernandez, the allure of food is the bonds it is capable of forging. His memories are littered with treasured moments highlighted by the making of, or sharing of a meal. Growing up in the culture-rich neighborhood of little Hati, Chef Victoriano quickly learned how food had the power to act as both a respite from hardship or a hallmark of happiness. At a young age, he threw himself into the culinary world the only way he could, washing dishes; and quickly rose through the ranks of Miami’s flourishing restaurants. Armed with a wealth of knowledge, a ton of heart, and charisma to spare, Chef Hernandez looks to bring his brand of vibrant and memorable cuisine to all his patrons.
The Meatball Shop, Daniel Holzman
The Meatball Shop is located on New York City’s Lower East Side. The mix-and-match menu of meatballs, served in a warm and convivial environment, was an instant hit. Five more locations of The Meatball Shop soon followed – in Williamsburg, the West Village, Chelsea, the Upper East Side, and Hell’s Kitchen. Daniel also co-authored The Meatball Shop Cookbook, which was published to much acclaim in2011. Daniel has appeared in countless broadcast segments including ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s TODAY Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as in an array of widely reaching local and national publications such as The New York Times, Food&Wine, Saveur, People, Food Network Magazine and GQ.
His culinary expertise has also extended to consumer-packaged goods as he owned and operated Cubies Treats and spearheaded the creation of The Meatball Shop’s Classic Tomato Sauce jars, distributed in Whole Foods supermarkets nationwide.
An avid restaurant-goer, recipe writer, and talented photographer, Daniel was the co-author and photographer behind the popular Saveur column, Asian Food Adventures, and his work has been published in the New York Times, Afar, among others.
H&F Burger | Hop’s Kitchen, Linton Hopkins
In 2004, he opened Restaurant Eugene with his wife Gina, the co-founder and co-CEO of Resurgens Hospitality. The duo proceeded to open Holeman and Finch Public House in 2008, followed by Holeman and Finch Bottle Shop in 2011, two locations of H&F Burger and Hop’s Chicken at Ponce City Market. They most recently opened C. Ellet’s in summer 2017, a modern American steakhouse in The Battery Atlanta.
Hopkins received the prestigious award of James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast in 2012 and was named champion of Iron Chef: Atlanta, moving on to take the silver medal on Iron Chef: America after facing Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto.
Hopkins and Gina are true stewards to the Atlanta community. The two co-founded the Peachtree Road Farmers Market and began working hand-in-hand with Delta Airlines in 2013 to provide the menu on international flights from Atlanta to Europe. Additionally, Hopkins continues a treasured partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, serving as consulting chef with each of the Garden’s culinary programs.
The Atlanta Braves are also a valued partner of the Hopkins’ team, with two H&F Burger outposts at new SunTrust Park, in addition to C. Ellet’s steakhouse directly outside the stadium.
Hopkins and Gina, along with their son and daughter, share a passion for cooking at home, surrounded by family. They are committed to and involved in the ongoing good-food movement, with endless support of the community and dedicated efforts to making Atlanta a better place for food and experiences through local ingredients and farmer connectivity. Linton has served as President of the Southern Foodways Alliance and partnered with Michelle Obama to celebrate the First Lady’s Chef’s Move to Schools Initiative, and additionally supports the James Beard Women in Culinary Leadership Program. He insists that making mayonnaise from scratch, and teaching others to do the same, can change the world.
Avec | Blackbird, Paul Kahan
Over the past two decades, One Off Hospitality’s Executive Chef and Partner Paul Kahan has become the nationally recognizable face of Chicago chefs. Passionately seasonal and unconventionally creative, Paul has received international acclaim for Blackbird, avec, The Publican, Big Star, Publican Quality Meats, Nico Osteria, Dove’s Luncheonette, Publican Quality Bread, Publican Tavern and most recently, Publican Anker.
Awarded the coveted honor of Outstanding Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation in 2013 and Best Chef of the Midwest in 2004, Paul has earned the praise of many who claim him to be one of America’s most influential working chefs. In September 2017, Paul released his long-anticipated debut cookbook, Cheers to The Publican. When Paul isn’t in the kitchen, or guiding and mentoring young chefs across One Off, he can be found fishing in Wisconsin, biking or expanding his impressive and admittedly obsessive vinyl collection.
Diez y Sies, Jose Icardi
After working under Chef Makoto for four years, Icardi felt prepared to take his career to the next level and accepted the position of Executive Chef at sbe’s Katsuya Restaurant by Starck at the SLS Hotel South Beach. The world-renowned restaurant by Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi, made its Miami debut in June 2012 with unique rolls and spectacular sushi and sashimi platters, skillfully translating Japanese flavors to the American palate. Since opening, Icardi has offered many additions to the menu, infusing his unique style into the traditional Japanese fare.
In 2015, Icardi expanded his culinary role with sbe as Area Executive Chef of The Restaurant at The Raleigh. During his time at The Restaurant at The Raleigh, Icardi imagined a brand-new menu offering “Nuevo Americano” fare that brought rave reviews from guests and media alike.
In 2017, Icardi was selected to concept a new restaurant at the iconic Delano hotel, which he calls Leynia. Icardi serves as Leynia’s Executive Chef, bringing forth imaginative Dynamic Argentinian cuisine. From the moment guests order, they are taken on a journey through the imaginative mind of Chef Icardi, visiting Argentina, Asia and the world of sbe.
In 2018, further developing his role with sbe, Icardi took on a brand-new culinary project, launching Diez y Seis, sbe’s very first Mexican concept located at the beach-side resort hotel, Shore Club South Beach. Named to pay homage to Mexican Independence Day, which takes place on September 16th, Diez y Seis is a genuine celebration of Mexican tradition and an apt metaphor to Chef Icardi’s take on the classic cuisine.
Curbside Burgers, Nick Huft
Curbside was started by Nick Hufft in 2010 as a one-man late night food trailer. Peddling “truck ground” burgers in the LSU bar area in order to pay the bills through college was the idea, but that late night business quickly turned into a passion project and the dream to one day open a brick + mortar restaurant was set. Over the next 6 years, Curbside expanded to three trucks gained a spot on the menu at a local bar and was lucky enough to be featured as “top burger in BR.” After many late nights and a lot of grease burns later, Hufft’s opportunity to open a burger joint for the amazing people of Baton Rouge became a reality. In the fall of 2016, they opened the doors to Curbside in the capitol heights neighborhood, serving up burger lovers favorite’s like his signature Brian burger, topped with pork belly preserves or the KGB, topped with praline bacon and a sunny side up egg.
Curbside has been lucky enough to be showcased in city, regional and national media outlets like the cooking channel and food network. The philosophy for Nick and Curbside has been the same since day one. Serve guests a superior product in an awesome atmosphere with customer service that can’t be beaten.
Matt Kuscher’s (better known as Kush) childhood dream has always been to develop restaurant concepts. He grew up spending every summer in his grandfather’s breakfast spot, The Plantation Nook. It’s why he worked every position at his father’s Washington D.C. cafeterias from age 7 on up and after that attended Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality, graduating in 2000. That landed him in Miami where he’d fulfill his destiny as a third generation restaurateur. He currently has 4 restaurants: The Spillover, Kush, LoKal & Vicky’s House and has with hopes to open many more concepts in the 305.
Planta South Beach, David Lee
Chef David Lee along with partners Groot Hospitality and Chase Hospitality of Toronto has introduced the first United States location of PLANTA in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood. In addition to his role as chef-partner at PLANTA, Chef Lee is a successful sole proprietor of the Toronto restaurant, Nota Bene.
LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue, Evan LeRoy
Known for his innovative takes on Texas barbecue, Chef and Pitmaster Evan LeRoy incorporates elements of fine dining and from-scratch cooking into his menu, shining a new light on the traditional cuisine at LeRoy and Lewis. While his focus is on responsibly raised and sustainable meat and alternative cuts such as beef cheeks, the Smoked Burger was recently called “one of the best in Texas” by Texas Monthly.
Evan’s culinary experience ranges from fine dining, at Hudson’s On the Bend (Austin), to a barbecue at Hill Country Barbecue in NYC. After returning to his hometown of Austin, he served as the founding Pitmaster and Executive Chef at Freedmen’s, where he offered innovative takes on traditional cuts of meat and flavor profiles. He has traveled to Australia, China, and Russia, to train and work with prospective pitmasters and has been known for his openness to teaching and sharing smoking secrets.
Evan was crowned the King of Porc at the Austin Cochon555 in 2017 and was named one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 rising stars in the Austin culinary scene in 2014. He has also taken home awards at the Quesoff, the Austin Meatball Festival as well as multiple wins at the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. Evan has appeared on The Food Network’s Burgers, Brew & Que, FYI’s Food Porn, and in 2014, he took home the title of “Austin Grill Master” on the Travel Channel’s American Grilled Texas episode.
Hugh-Baby’s | Martin’s Bar B Que, Pat Martin
Pat Martin, one of the country’s most renowned pit masters, is self-taught, having learned the art and craft of West Tennessee-style smoke and meat in the small town of Henderson, Tennessee, before making Nashville his home. West Tennessee’s legendary whole-hog barbecue tradition is the cornerstone of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. The restaurants have been featured on the Food Network, Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, and The Today Show, as well as in publications such as Bon Appetite, Esquire, Conde Nast Traveler and Men’s Journal.
In 2017, Pat opened Hugh-Baby’s BBQ & Burger Shop in Nashville, a fast food concept offering a back-to-basics menu of burgers, fries, and milkshakes made fresh every day.
Pat is a member of the Fatback Collective, a group of restaurateurs, chefs, farmers and writers advocating the benefits of heritage breed livestock. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Martha Ann, and their three children, Wyatt, Daisy and Walker.
Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar, David Maini
David Maini is the Corporate Executive Chef of one of the top 50 emerging restaurant chains named by FSR magazine, Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar. Maini was taught to cook at a young age by his grandmother who immigrated to the US from Florence, Italy. Her passion and traditions are what later inspired Maini to get his Culinary Degree from Rhode Island School of Design.
Although Maini currently resides in Connecticut with his wife, he has a lifetime of experience in a wide range of industries including hotels, cruise ships, and restaurants throughout the US and Europe. Some notable highlights include working at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, as a Corporate Chef for Morton’s Steak House, owning his own restaurant in Atlanta, as well as working throughout Europe where he further developed his techniques and individual style. “Food is a celebration of life” is the moto that Maini lives by, which is displayed through his passion for cooking as well as mentoring young chefs.
His vision for Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar is to keep it modern and contemporary. Maini likes to create Burgers of the Week and ever-changing specialty menus to keep the restaurant fresh and trendy. Some favorite Burgers of the Week creations include: The French Dip, which is a Certified Angus Beef & Prime Rib blended patty, provolone cheese, fried onion strings, parmesan horseradish crème with aus ju and The Southern Gentlemen which is a Certified Angus Beef patty, pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, Duke’s mayo, vinegar slaw.
COYO Taco/Les Banh Amis, Scott Linquist
After the wild success and demand for COYO Taco, Linquist recently opened their second location in the center of Miami’s financial district, Brickell. Future plans for COYO include a worldwide expansion of their irresistible and authentic Mexican street food concept. The newest addition to the COYO Taco family includes a destination in the capital of Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo. Last year, Chef Scott opened OLLA, where he received outstanding accolades such as “Chef of the Moment” by MIAMI Modern Luxury Magazine, “Best Reviewed Restaurants of 2017” by Miami New Times, “Hottest Restaurant in Miami” by Eater Miami and “Best New Restaurant” by Time Out Miami. Due to high rent, the South Beach location had to close its doors in early 2017, a week after Miami New Times named OLLA “Best Mexican Restaurant,” for their ‘Best Of’ issue. OLLA is still on the hunt for a new destination but nothing is confirmed yet.
Shortly after, Chef Scott can agree this project isn’t too close to home – Xico, (named after a town in Mexico) opened in Mumbai, India, Sept. 2017. Xico is located in the heart of the bustling city, neighboring Top Chef Master winner, Floyd Cardoz’s restaurant, The Bombay Canteen. Xico is also the first contemporary Mexican restaurant for Mumbai. Linquist’s most recent concept Les Banh Amis opened at the end of last year inside Miami’s first food hall, 1-800-Lucky. Inspired by his travels in Vietnam, he noticed a lack of authentic banh-mi and wanted to use the best bread in Miami partnering with Sulivan Street Bakery bread creating some of the best sandwiches in the magic city.
Linquist added the title of author with the 2007 release of Mod Mex: Cooking Vibrant Fiesta Flavors at Home and is consistently featured on the morning shows of the major television networks and has become widely known as an ambassador of modern Mexican cuisine.
Lillie’s Q, Charlie McKenna
Florida State University alum Charlie graduated from New York’s Culinary Institute of America in 2000 and got his start cooking under legendary chef Norman Van Aken in Florida. He then relocated to Chicago to become sous chef at two of Chicago’s four-star fine-dining landmarks: Tru and Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel. During this time, he racked up numerous awards on the competition BBQ circuit including two first place wins at Memphis In May in 2007 and 2016, one of the most prolific competitions in the country.
Opening Lillie’s Q (named for his South Carolinian grandmother, Lillie, and his father, Quito) allowed Charlie to return to his southern roots – slow smoking pork shoulder, tri-tip, baby back ribs, hot links, and chicken in custom-built smokers over peach wood. Now Lillie’s Q has four restaurants between Chicago and Florida, and its artisan sauces, rubs and chips line the shelves of more than 6,000 retailers internationally. In 2018, Charlie brought his award-winning smoked pork direct-to-consumer online and in select retailers, and is concurrently rapidly expanding the Lillie’s Q foodservice and deli business.
Charlie has traveled across the U.S., Australia, and Europe for food, wine, and entertainment events, and cooked at the James Beard House in New York. His expertise spans beyond the kitchen, partnering with brands that share a similar ethos like YETI and Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet on cooking classes and lifestyle events.
The National Pork Board, Jose Mendin
In 2003, Mendin traveled to Spain to work for Chef Jesus Ramiro in Valladolid, and later Chef Juan Pablo Felipe in Madrid at Michelin-starred El Chaflan. Upon returning to Miami, he joined Rising Star alum Jordi Valles to open Mosaico.
In 2004, Mendin open Sushisamba Miami Beach as chef de cuisine, rising to an assistant corporate chef for the company in two years and later opening Sushisamba Vegas. Continuing his streak of successful openings, Mendin opened Mercadito Chicago in 2009 and Mercadito Miami in 2010, where he met chef de cuisine, Sergio Navarro. The pair partnered up with Andreas Schreiner to found the Pubbelly Restaurant Group in 2010, where the trio won StarChefs Rising Star Restaurant Award in 2016.
Mendin is a five-time James Beard Award Semifinalist for “Best Chef, Southeast.”
Morimoto, Masaharu Morimoto
Chef Morimoto first competed on Japanese television show Iron Chef in 1998 and then became one of the stars of Food Network’s Iron Chef America in 1999. As Iron Chef, Morimoto was able to showcase his flawless technique and creativity with unique ingredients in front of millions of Americans. Chef Morimoto returns to the Iron Chef challenge in the spring of 2017 with “Iron Chef Gauntlet”
His first cookbook, Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking, won two International Association of Culinary Professionals awards, including the Julia Child Award for Best First Book. His second cookbook, Mastering The Art of Japanese Home Cooking, was released in November 2016.
Beyond his culinary genius and the exquisite design of both his food and restaurants, Chef Morimoto’s business acumen has helped him succeed in other related industries. Morimoto Signature Series of beer was launched in 2003 in partnership with Rogue Ales of Newport, Oregon. Chef Morimoto also has a line of premium sakes produced in collaboration with the Fukumitsuya Brewery, a prominent sake brewery in Kanazawa, Japan that was founded in 1625. In 2016, Chef added Morimoto grape-seed oil, and Morimoto wine produced in collaboration with Michael Mondavi.
His legendary knife skills led him to create a series of knives crafted by Zwilling J.A. Henckels, merging authentic Japanese blade styles with western inspired ergonomics and materials.
Abi Maria | Barley, Jorgie Ramos
Born and raised in Miami Dade County Chef Jorgie Ramos embodies Miami and its food. Taught at home by his Father and Grandmother he was able to grow into one of Miami’s top Chefs with his unique style of blending classic Spanish with Contemporary American flare. In his first years as a Chef, he has shown what he is capable of. As the Chef-Owner of Barley and of Abí María, there is no limit to where this home-grown Chef can take his city and his people on his culinary adventure.
SHAKE SHACK, MARK ROSATI
Mark joined the Shake Shack team at the original Madison Square Park location as a Manager in the summer of 2007. Since then, Mark has gone on to help develop permanent menu items and local seasonal specials for Shake Shack locations throughout the United States and abroad. Prior to joining Shake Shack, Mark cooked at NYC’s Gramercy Tavern from 2005 to 2007. He grew up in Stonington, CT, where at an early age he enjoyed many of the state’s legendary roadside seafood and burger shacks. Mark was named the Culinary Director of Shake Shack in 2013.
Twisted Fork Kitchen, Richard Plasencia
His skills in the kitchen have been widely recognized earning AAA’s 5 Diamond Award and six 4 Diamond Awards for his culinary expertise. In 2005, he was recognized by Esquire Magazine who ranked the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne’s Cioppino Restaurant as one of the Top 50 Restaurants in the country. Plasencia also snagged a spot on Racked Magazine’s “Hottest Local Chefs at the 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival,” in addition to being named E!’s “#ManCrushMonday: 12 Talented Latino Chefs You Should Be Following on Instagram” in March of 2016.
His signature dishes include New Orleans-style Shrimp and Grits made with beer, tomatoes, shrimp stock, Andouille, chorizo, gator sausage, aged cheddar and butter; Apricot and Smoked Plum Braised Pork Belly – a perfect combination of cold-smoked plums, braised belly, apricots, sake, mirin, soy and sweet chili; and Duck Confit – a melodious mixture of thyme, rosemary, garlic, duck fat roasted overnight and served with fingerling potatoes.
By volunteering with organizations such as Common Threads and Florida International University’s community outreach program, Plasencia has helped inner city and low-income families improve their basic cooking skills and healthy eating habits by creating nourishing menus using WIC (food stamp) ingredients. He has hosted numerous cooking demonstrations geared towards teaching children healthy eating habits at the famed Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s annual family event, Jungle Island’s Fun & Fit. As a father of four, he has perfected the art of pleasing a variety of palates of all ages.
Today, Plasencia is the Chef and Owner of Twisted Fork Kitchen; a gastropub and tapas concept inspired by locally brewed beer and fresh, innovative ingredients. Plasencia’s menu offers American progressive cuisine that builds off classic foundations of cooking while pushing taste buds passed their comfort zone.
Coppa, Toro, Toro NYC, Little Donkey, Uni, Ken Oringer
In 2002, Oringer opened Uni in the lounge of Clio; a sashimi bar offering the freshest seafood from Tokyo’s Tskuji market as well as local fisherman. Uni earned four stars from The Boston Herald and in 2008 was selected “Best Sushi Bar” by Boston Magazine. In 2005, Oringer opened Toro in Boston’s South End, a Barcelona-inspired tapas restaurant influenced from his travels throughout Spain. In April 2008, Oringer stepped into Kitchen Stadium on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America where he faced Iron Chef Cat Cora in a coffee battle, ultimately winning by four points.
In November 2009, Oringer together with partner Chef Jamie Bissonnette opened the highly anticipated Coppa, an Italian-style enoteca featuring Italian wines, an experimental cocktail list, and an inventive menu showcasing Oringer’s fearlessness with ingredients and his drive to constantly take risks. Coppa was awarded 3 stars by The Boston Globe and has earned both local and national attention since its debut honorable mention in John Mariani’s 2010 list of “Best New Restaurants” in Esquire magazine. In 2010, Oringer garnered the Star Chefs Rising Stars Mentor Award for his dedication to teaching and inspiring the next generation of chefs. In 2011, he opened Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, Maine, which was met with critical acclaim. In the fall of 2013, he opened Toro in New York City’s South Chelsea neighborhood and it was met with critical acclaim from The New York Times, New York Magazine and others.
Following a nineteen year run in January 2016, Ken closed Clio and expanded his subterranean sashimi lounge, Uni. In Spring 2016, Oringer opened Toro Bangkok, and in Fall 2017 will open Toro Dubai, new outposts of his Barcelona-inspired tapas bar alongside Jamie Bissonnette. The duo also debuted their first project in Cambridge, MA—Little Donkey—in Summer 2016.
Latin House | Mad Love, Michelle Sanchez
He served in the United States Air Force and later entered the business world through his passion for cooking never faded. He began to cook at home and experiment with new flavors and dishes. With the help of his mother, she encouraged him to start his own business. Soon, Latin House Grill was born, though small and mobile at first, he gathered enough clientele to open his own restaurant. With his wife and mom and most of the family working alongside him, Latin House Grill is one of the most popular and talked about restaurants in Miami.
Knife, John Tesar
Tesar enjoyed a lengthy career in fine dining that stemmed from his upbringing in Manhattan and the Hamptons. Inspired by his mother’s cooking, Tesar picked up a job in a Hamptons pub during the summer, when he would head to the laid-back enclave to surf and skate, and progressed naturally towards a career in food. With classical French training from Paris’s La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine, Tesar worked at Westhampton’s Club Pierre, a premium French eatery, for six years until ultimately purchasing it. In addition, he furthered his craft throughout the ‘90s at iconic NYC restaurants including 13 Barrow Street, 44 & Hell’s Kitchen, Vine, and Supper Club—at which he worked alongside celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain—before leaving New York City behind in the early 2000s to join chef Rick Moonen in Las Vegas at RM Seafood.
With its blossoming food scene, Dallas drew Tesar to Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in 2006 to lead the high-end establishment as executive chef, rapidly garnering two five-star reviews. He later went on to open Spoon Bar & Kitchen to bring premium seasonal seafood to central Texas in 2012, meanwhile consulting on numerous DRG Concepts properties including Dallas Chop House and Dallas Fish Market, as well as on The Cedars Social, The Commissary, and more. Spoon gained immediate recognition as one of the best new restaurants in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, and Esquire, and Tesar’s visionary consulting worked helped shape the Dallas food scene.
Shifting his culinary focus to become an authority on steak, Tesar took on his steakhouse project in 2014 with the caveat that it be different from the rest—a distinction he achieved by investing in long-term dry-aging inventory and by contemporizing the classically stuffy steakhouse atmosphere into an intimate and engaging, product-driven experience. Recognition for Knife Dallas includes Eater National’s “Most Anticipated Openings,” Esquire’s “Best New Restaurants,” Zagat’s “Hottest New Restaurants,” Maxim’s “America’s Best Steakhouse Specialties,” D Magazine’s “Best Steakhouse in Dallas” 2015 and 2016, Gayot’s “Top 10 Best Steakhouses” 2017, and a feature on Esquire Network’s “Restaurant Revolution” program.
On the heels of Knife’s success and national recognition, Tesar has taken on the fast-casual dining scene with his burger stand spinoff project in 2017, Knife Burger, located at Legacy Food Hall, and opening soon in Fort Worth, with additional locations on the horizon. Continuing with the momentum, Tesar is heading to the West Coast, bringing his new seafood concept Outer Reef to the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point, CA. Outer Reef will pay homage to Tesar’s critically-acclaimed seafood restaurant Spoon Bar & Kitchen (Dallas, TX 2012 -2014) with a selection of favorites from its menu including crudo, caviar, and fresh shellfish, as well as select meat offerings from his steakhouse concept Knife.
A Sharper Palate Catering Company | Cool Smoke, Tuffy Stone
Originally trained in French culinary technique at La Maisonette, Tuffy has been on the Richmond culinary landscape since 1986. After founding one of the mid-Atlantic’s most successful special events companies, A Sharper Palate, with wife Leslie, Tuffy was looking to reconnect with his culinary instincts and challenged himself to learn an entirely new cuisine.
In 2004, Tuffy attended his first barbecue competition and found himself hooked. Though early cooks were humbling, to say the least, Tuffy redoubled his efforts and gradually became one of the most formidable competitors on the circuit. He has earned Grand Champion titles in nearly every major barbecue competition including back-to-back wins at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue, Grand Champion at the 2015 Kingsford Invitational, and his history-making run at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational.
In 2016, Tuffy and his Cool Smoke BBQ Team made history at The Jack, becoming the only team to ever win the contest three times and the only team to take home back to back top prizes. In addition to his place atop the competition barbecue circuit, Tuffy served as a judge for Destination America’s Barbecue Pitmasters for 5 seasons, traveled the world, including cooking for the troops in Kuwait and teaching classes at Meatstock in Australia and New Zealand, and has been invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City multiple times. On May 15, 2018, Tuffy released his highly-anticipated debut cookbook, Cool Smoke: The Art of Great Barbecue from St. Martin’s Press. For information on classes and competitions, visit the Cooking School and Calendar pages of coolsmokebarbeque.com, or connect with Tuffy Stone on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Babe’s Meat & Counter, Melanie & Jason Schoendorfer
Beginning in the summer of 2013, Melanie and Jason Schoendorfer began selling their handmade sausages and bacon at local farmer’s markets throughout South Florida. After many years and a bit of growth, Babe’s Meat & Counter, their shop in Southern Miami Dade county opened to much fanfare in April 2018. Blending a traditional butcher shop with a sandwich counter and selling other gourmet items, it has quickly become a neighborhood favorite.
Jrs Gourmet Burgers, Jesus De La Torre
Chef and owner of Jrs gourmet burgers, 2017 SOBEWFF burger bash winner
Best Chefs Catering | Florida Dairy Farmers, Chris Valdes
Valdes’ relentless drive to share his innovative recipes led him to be a finalist on Season 14 of Food Networks “Food Network Star” and staring in his very own series, Cooking With Chris – now entering its 4th season.
The Chef has a gifted palate and a unique ability to create amazing dishes. However, life wasn’t always easy for the Miami self-made celebrity Chef. Growing up without his parents, who lost their home and family restaurant when he was only 6 years old, Valdes had a rocky start. However, his passion for the culinary arts, coupled with his enthusiasm and hard work over the years earned him a scholarship to attend the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. After graduation, Valdes decided to rule out law school and create his very own catering company Best Chefs Catering.
From there it has only gone uphill. The young chef has accomplished feats that any successful seasoned chef would call impressive at his age. In addition to his successful YouTube series “Cooking with Chris”, he has been featured on the covers of several magazines, and in local newspapers in Miami and most recently was a finalist on Food Network Star and Star Salvation. He was also chosen to participate in the First Annual Mango Fest on South Beach.
Valdes has made an impact in the local Miami community by championing many philanthropic causes including the American Liver Foundation and Chapman Partnership for the homeless. He also visited Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma to aid in the disaster relief effort by bringing toys to the children at area hospitals. “Giving back to the community is very important to me and what I do”, says Chef Chris. “There’s a special feeling, an inner fulfillment when you do good and give back. Simply priceless. Giving helps you maintain a humble state of mind. We should share with others.”
Pizza & Burger by Michael Mina, Ivan Acevedo
The Betsy Hotel | LT Steak and Seafood | The Alley, Danny Ganem
Brain Freeze Nitrogen Ice Cream Lab, Christine Fraga