“Keep hustling, and never put a ceiling on your dreams” said chef Marcus Samuelsson, addressing the Eater Young Guns of 2019, a dozen up and coming culinary professionals selected from a field of over 500 nominees by the editors of Vox Media’s Eater. The winners included Max Boonthanakit, pastry chef at Los Angeles’ Nightshade, Zoe Kanan, head baker at Simon & the Whale in New York, Annie Kamin, chief of staff, Dandelion Chocolate, San Francisco, and Claudia Martinez, pastry chef at Tiny Lou’s, Atlanta.
Samuelsson was the keynote speaker at the Young Guns Summit, a day-long celebratory event, sponsored by Grey Goose, that lured 850 attendees to Brooklyn on July 27th for panel discussions, workshops, music and dance performances, and non-stop noshing on foods showcasing the talents of the Young Guns as well as local favorites.
The awards were launched in 2012 to salute the talents of candidates either under 30 or who have fewer than five years of experience in hospitality, “the people who make the food and restaurant world worth obsessing over.” This year the honorees were asked to sign a mission statement affirming their commitment to ridding the food and restaurant industry of the discrimination and abuse that has proved endemic. On a positive note, talking about trends, Eater editors commented that “Despite ongoing industry concerns about the economic viability of hiring pastry chefs, the exceptional work of our Young Guns who focus on the sweet side of the kitchen shows that plated desserts can be a vital part of dining out.”
Guests at the Summit had the opportunity to sample the work of several of the Young Guns. Martinez plated The Royale: Venezuelan chocolate mousse, coffee cream, biscuit joconde, and cardamom ganache. It is one of the favorites at Tiny Lou’s in Atlanta’s historic Hotel Clermont, famous for its ongoing adult entertainment in the Lounge below the French accented restaurant. Growing up in Atlanta, Martinez graduated from Johnson and Wales and started on the savory side, then switched to pastry, working with chefs in Atlanta and in Sweden with the imaginative David Vidal. Although she still combines savory and sweet seasonally like strawberries pickled with yuzu, the Ode to Blondie, a dessert she created for the legendary dancer at the Lounge, is sacrosanct: curried banana flambe, buttermilk ice cream and hazelnut cremeux with a brown butter blondie.
Max Boonthanakit, like Martinez, has Atlanta in his background, had a stint in Scandinavia (at Copenhagen’s Relae) and transitioned from savory to pastry, but their creations reflect the ambiance of their very different establishments. Boonthanakit’s modernist sculptural plated desserts complement chef/owner Mei Lin’s eclectic Asian influenced cuisine at Nightshade. Among his signature dishes: Coconut mousse in a specially made ceramic coconut shell, filled with pineapple that has been cooked with lemon verbena and folded with finger limes, then sprayed with Valrhona passion inspiration tinted green, on top of lime ice and nata de coco.
Houston-raised Kanan who oversees all the breads, pastries, and desserts for Simon & the Whale and the all- day casual Studio café at the Freehand Hotel, has focused on baked goods since the start of her career. After graduating from the International Culinary Center Kanan joined the team at Milk Bar, then honed her love of bread with master baker Melissa Weller and now heads a staff of four at the Freehand, proofing unusual doughs – black bread to babka, seaweed to simit. At the Summit, Kanan, a James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, acclaimed for her sourdough croissants, helmed a sourdough doughnut workshop with participants adding black and white icing and a variety of toppings.
Another Summit workshop featured a chocolate tasting by Annie Kamin, Chief of Staff at Dandelion Chocolate, who took participants on a bean to bar journey sampling chocolate from Costa Rica, Tanzania, Belize and Ecuador. A Culinary Institute of America graduate and production manager/ chef de cuisine for Francisco Migoya before joining Dandelion, Kamin was responsible for coordinating the design and construction of the Company’s brand new state of the art factory, café, and salon.
Savory-side Young Gun winners added to the bountiful array of food with chef de cuisine Ashleigh Shanti of Benne On Eagle, Asheville, North Carolina’s green plantain johnny cakes with corn husk sorghum and berry buttermilk, and pimento cheese and bacon gougeres from Libby Willis, chef/co-owner of MeMe’sDiner in Brooklyn. Sweet treats from popular New York bakeries included Bread Bakery’s chocolate babka, biscuits from Pies & Thighs, Petee’s Pies, and Mah Ze Dar’s Manhattan cocktail marshmallow of bourbon, orange, cherry, and angostura bitters.
After a day of grazing and listening to culinary luminaries like Mike Solomonov of Philadelphia’s Zahav recalling their ups and downs in the industry, the Young Guns would agree with Samuelsson that “There’s never been a more exciting time to be in food.”