The 8 Most Exciting Chefs in the West
The American West is a natural breeding ground for rule breakers, so it's no surprise that its latest generation of chefs is pushing the boundaries of what goes on the plate, how it gets there, and what you should call it on Instagram. From extreme farm to table to kangaroo and sea vegetables (yes, those exist), these are the chefs to watch. Want some coffee mayo with those bahn mi fries?
Eric SakaiWhere to find him: Restaurant Marron, Seattle, WA
Why he’s a game changer: He’s channeled his fine dining background into an elegant, yet delicious New American cooking style that reflects his Japanese heritage, Hawaiian upbringing, and Pacific Northwest roots.
His cooking style in three words: “Hopefully really delicious”
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “In my dreams I would own all of the Cabela’s stores and my family and I would have pretty much everything we needed to live.”
Favorite ingredient: “Acid, whether it be citrus, vinegar, etc. Pepper is highly overrated as a seasoning. Salt and acid are the secret weapons of the kitchen.”
Chef hero: “Remy the rat from the movie Ratatouille because he could obviously outcook anyone and he just did his own thing and didn’t worry about all the B.S. Everyone always tried to bring him down but in the end he came out on top.”
Jered CouchWhere to find him: The Dish, Boise, ID
Why he’s a game changer: He’s introducing ethnic flavors to familiar dishes (banh mi fries, espresso mole grilled chicken thighs).
His cooking style in three words: “Global comfort cuisine”
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “I was in a construction management program at Boise State before I went to culinary school so probably construction. It’s very similar to cooking. The physical work is really hard but there’s also a creative aspect.”
Favorite ingredient: “Seafood from the Pacific Northwest like Stretch Island oysters and Penn Cove mussels. Morels, chanterelles and other wild mushrooms from Oregon and Idaho.”
Chef hero: “Vern Bauer was a mentor of mine when I worked for Thomas Cuisine Management. He was a master of organization, multi-tasking and culinary creativity.”
Laura ColeWhere to find her: 229 Parks Restaurant & Tavern, Denali National Park, AK
Why she’s a game changer: She’s committed to showcasing the best Alaskan ingredients in the middle of a national park and creating community around her restaurant by hosting local art shows, holding cooking classes, and enlisting neighbors to pick up ingredients when they drive to Anchorage. She utilizes everything from whole reindeer purchased from small-scale ranches to barley flour -- the only grain grown in Alaska.
Her cooking style in three words: “Alaskan, seasonal, straightforward”
If she weren't a chef she'd be: “A social worker”
Favorite ingredient: “Pig, all parts. I love making sausage, belly, head cheese, bone broths.”
Chef hero: “Alice Waters is an iconic woman and game changer in farm-to-table and community support. Reading Ruth Reichl’s books made me strive to have my own voice in the culinary scene and still be able to celebrate family and friends.”
Josh HebertWhere to find him: POSH, Scottsdale, AZ
Why he’s a game changer: Dining at POSH is like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Hebert’s “improvisational” cooking style allows diners to check off what they like (wild boar bacon) and dislike (kangaroo) on a sushi-style menu, and then Herbert masterminds a tasting menu accordingly.
His cooking style in three words: “Am I dreaming?”
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “On the PGA Tour, assuming that my handicap dropped by 15 strokes.”
Favorite ingredient: “Uni. People take uni for granted. It’s clean, but rich. It’s temperature sensitive. It takes practice to understand uni. It’s amazing by itself, but also versatile. It’s fatty. I make cheesecake with it. I use it instead of butter. You have to let it talk to you.”
Chef hero: “It’s a toss up between Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin and David Kinch of Manresa. They exude professionalism, soul, and are masters of execution.”
Beau SchoolerWhere to find him: The Rookery Cafe, Juneau, AK
Why he’s a game changer: His mini culinary empire in Juneau is changing the way Alaskans eat. Schooler’s unassuming coffee shop, The Rookery Cafe, turns out inventive, made-from-scratch dishes like baked reindeer neck rillettes with smoked cherries and vegetable bibimbap. The Taqueria brings authentic Mexican flavors to Juneau, and his specialty food shop Panhandle Provisions sells extraordinary artisanal goods. An Italian spot is in the works.
His cooking style in three words: “Globally-influenced Alaskan”
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “Probably in prison.”
Favorite ingredient: “Pork is so versatile. We’ve been getting in Alaskan-raised whole hogs and I love breaking them down and figuring out how many different dishes I can get out of them.”
Chef hero: “Jacques Pepin. His PBS show had a huge impact on me when I was a kid. I didn’t even know I wanted to be a cook. I just loved watching his show.”
Matt MaseraWhere to find him: Mother, Sacramento, CA
Why he’s a game changer: Only in his 20s, Masera is reimagining vegetable cooking, alongside partner/chef Michael Thiemann, in zany and delicious ways that extend to both savory (carrot nut burgers) and sweet (beet cake inspired by his mom’s red velvet recipe) as well as inventive condiments such as agave mustard and coffee mayo.
His cooking style in three words: “Clever, composed, crave-able”
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “A jingle writer for commercials.”
Favorite ingredient: “Coriander has such an interesting flavor, which is versatile in both sweet and savory applications. I put it in almost everything.”
Chef hero: “Sam Mason’s cuisine, style and swagger really spoke to me as a young cook. The food he was putting out at wd-50 was so inspiring. He was that guy trying to push the pastry envelope and blur the line between savory and sweet. Now he has a mayonnaise company and a badass ice cream shop. I mean, how could you not want to be friends with this guy?”
Ian WilsonWhere to find him: Fenrir, Portland, OR
Why he’s a game changer: He’s cooking Pacific Northwest foods with a Scandinavian edge and pushing bitter flavors to the forefront of the plate.
His cooking style in three words: “Analytical, explorative, invested”
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “When I’m done being a chef I will be a woodworker, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Favorite ingredient: “The almost never used, but wildly flavorful reproductive parts of plants including immature seed heads and flowers. Oh, and Jersey butter.”
Chef hero: “The chefs who inspire me the most are the people who see cooking as a means to an end; any cook who can communicate an important message with food has a developed a type of intuition, but without a message to communicate, whether it's about pride in your community, farming practices, scientific prowess, spiritual significance, or any other ethereal quality that's necessary for a mold breaking restaurant... You've got nothing. I admire the cooks on my team the most.”
Jay BlackintonWhere to find him: Hogstone Wood Oven, Orcas Island, WA
Why he’s a game changer: The vegan-turned-butcher takes the farm-to-table concept to the next level. He raises his own pigs, tends his own garden and sources almost exclusively from the island. The results can be tasted in the form of killer pizzas and super seasonal $75 tasting menus.
His cooking style in three words: “Northwest agrarian cuisine”
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “We started this restaurant as an outlet for the produce of our farm and all the other lovely things we find on the island. I was a farmer first so I would go back to that full time.”
Favorite ingredient: “This is an impossible question. Around here, nothing is consistent and we have a new favorite ingredient every week. Right now it’s summer squash, next week, it will be melons or plums. The only thing consistent is the sun. Can the sun be my favorite ingredient? Or the soil?”
Chef hero: “Being self taught I have learned much of what I know from books and lot of trial and error. I have taken much inspiration from those who champion their region and terroir above all else. Chefs that I keep coming back to are David Kinch, Michel Bras, Alain Passard and Andoni Luis Aduriz. There is also the lady who cooks burgers at the tavern across the street. Holy shit!”
Johanna WareWhere to find her: Smallwares, Portland, OR
Why she’s a game changer: Rather than try to replicate Asian flavors, she’s boldly pairing them with Pacific Northwest ingredients in fun, inventive ways (think fried kale with candied bacon, fish sauce and mint or nori risotto spiked with ramps, snap peas and ham). Plus, her sake-focused cocktail menu perfectly complements her food.
Her cooking style in three words: “Barbaric, fun, balanced”
If she weren't a chef she'd be: “The next Jane Goodall”
Favorite ingredient: “The Japanese seasoning yuzu kosho. It’s spicy, salty and acidic -- all the things I love.”
Chef hero: “I really like Roy Choi. He really cares and appreciates his roots and gives back to his community… something I want to do more of.”
Will Preisch and Joel StocksWhere to find them: Holdfast Dining, Portland, OR
Why they are game changers: What started as a pop-up has turned into a ticketed dining experience full of non-gimmicky theatrics including a little speech to accompany each course and wine pairings chosen by a different guest each week. Oh, and the food is ballsy and brainy, highlighting local seafood and turning people on to the deliciousness of sea vegetables.
Their cooking style in three words: “Composed, subtle, micro-seasonal” -- Joel
“Clean, modern, thoughtful” -- Will
If he weren't a chef he'd be: “I’ve always thought it would be fun to be a bartender. I’m also really good at bagging groceries and have joked that it would be awesome to just hold a care-free, stress-free job like that some time.” -- Joel
“I’d follow in the footsteps of my dad and be a diner tycoon.” -- Will
Favorite ingredient: “Currently pickled ramps, but it changes all the time. Pickled ramps are the most addictive pickled item ever. Crunchy, sweet, salty, garlicky. It’s hard to do anything wrong with them.” -- Joel
“Coastal vegetables are very under utilized. If you want to put them on your menu you have to forage for them yourself.” -- Will
Chef hero: “Thomas Keller has been an idol since I was little and getting to briefly spend time in his kitchen is one of my fondest memories.” -- Joel
“David Kinch. His food is absolutely awesome. It looks simple, but there is an intense amount of precision and care that goes into each element and dish. I admire that with all of his success, he really hasn’t expanded much over the years.” -- Will