Chefs of the Year 2016

Meet Thrillist DC's Best Chefs of 2016

Nora Pouillion
Courtesy of Nora Pouillion
Editor’s Note: This article is part two of Thrillist DC’s year-end look at the best of our city’s local food and drink scene in 2016. In addition to our annual Best New Restaurants award, this year, we’re spotlighting the men and women behind the dishes we love to tell you to eat. Whether they bucked the national trends, revived classic local flavors, or otherwise drove the city's culinary scene, these are the chefs that stood out this year. You can also check out our picks for the rest of America’s 2016 Best Chefs, and then catch up on our Best New Restaurants.

If you haven’t heard by now, DC’s food scene had a pretty remarkable year. One filled with national and international accolades, a dizzying number of restaurant openings, and a new level of innovation and talent on menus and tables across the city. It will truly be a year to remember in our nation's capital. Of course, none of this would be possible without the captains of our culinary ship steering the way.

The community of chefs in DC is as impressive as they come, so choosing the standouts to knight this year was quite the challenge. Winning awards certainly helped but so too did their years dedicated to building and reinvigorating that restaurant community. For some chefs, they're going out on a high note. For others, they're just getting warmed up. They're outspoken inside the kitchen and out while often turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. In the end, we decided that these four visionaries tangibly changed our dining scene all year long. These are Thrillist DC’s Best Chefs of 2016.

José Andrés
Courtesy of José Andrés

José Andrés


When you think culinary giant, you think José Andrés. His personality fills a room just like his cooking fills a restaurant. Though he could arguably be crowned chef of the year in any given year, 2016 proved unique for him because of his political influence, his Michelin recognition, and his “monumental” debut at MGM National Harbor.

Andrés has been outspoken on hunger and food policy for years through his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen. Now he’s raising his voice in the sphere of politics. After taking a stand against Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about Mexicans in 2015 by pulling out of the Trump Hotel in DC, Andrés began advocating on behalf of immigrants. He hit the campaign trail in Miami for Hillary Clinton, and he sounded off to Eater about the importance of immigrants in America.

He’s still in litigation with Trump over the hotel restaurant contract, but that hasn’t stopped Andrés from reaching new heights with ThinkFoodGroup. This October, he was awarded two Michelin stars for Minibar, and four of his concepts earned spots on the Bib Gourmand list: China Chilcano, Jaleo, Oyamel, and Zaytinya. He also opened a seafood-focused concept, Fish by José Andrés, in the DMV’s newest casino.

What do you see as this year’s biggest changes or developments in DC’s food scene?
José Andrés: I think the big change is the continuous flow of chefs. Some that were here before and they left and they came back. Some that were here and they left the restaurant or chef that they were working under and they are opening their own. Or other big name chefs that are saying they're moving in, like Nobu and others. So I think the biggest thing is how much this city has attracted so many chefs of different levels. I think DC is doing very well. Every restaurant is like a startup. Some of the restaurants can one day become a chain, and I think Washington, DC has developed this kind of startup mode where anybody can own a small business and everybody can dream that one day they could conquer the world with some of those concepts.

Tell us about your favorite dish or food trend from 2016, and why you loved it.
Andrés: It’s very funny when I hear that olive oil is the new trend, and I’ve been using it and everybody’s been using it for 25 years. Or when someone says the tradition of cocktails are coming back, when actually they never left us. I read so many things about trends and things that to me it’s kind of funny. So for me, the biggest trend is keep doing things as good as you can every day. This is the way it’s always been, the way it is, and the way it will be. So for me, the biggest trend is that in my life, I don’t follow trends.

What excites you most about DC’s food scene right now?
Andrés: I think the most exciting is that we have a lot of small concepts. They’re concepts that one day hope to be bigger. They’re creative. Even some of the food trucks. Some of these concepts one day could be making it mainstream, and making it bigger into America. So they’re concepts that while they are one, the people are opening them with the idea of one day to have multiples. That’s to me very exciting about DC. The other exciting thing is the neighborhoods. It seems that forever new neighborhoods are being added to the map of Washington, DC, the offerings of the different places, and I think this is very unique. And number three, it seems Michelin coming to town is giving this city the love that it deserves. That somebody like Michelin is coming, that’s a good love to have.

Given your involvement with the presidential election this year, it’s safe to say that chefs can have an influential role in political and cultural discourse. Why do you think it’s important, as a chef, to embrace that role?
Andrés: I’m just one more citizen. In this election, I got involved because I am an immigrant, a new American. A success of my company is having many Americans, but also many immigrants working with me. I am who I am thanks to all of them, and to me to feel that they have been under attack, was an opportunity to speak up. Without insulting or saying anything wrong about anybody, but saying that we cannot be allowing anybody, no matter who you are, to be taken down. So I don’t think it’s because we are chefs. It’s because we are citizens.

But then the same way I’m telling you this, the election is over, the votes talked and we chose the president that the majority of the electoral votes decided. That’s the new leader, and whether we like it or not, that’s who we need to be supporting. Because again, America has always been bigger than any one man. America was created precisely on the premise that we’ll be led by a man, but a man will not necessarily impose on America. Every American is represented by their representatives, by the senators, and that has a super huge power in how we should be. We all rally behind the flag. We all rally behind the constitution. Every citizen has the power to work hard to make sure that America continues to be the amazing country we all know it is.

What are you looking forward to in 2017, and what do you think the new year has in store for the DC food scene as a whole?
Andrés: Every year that we have an incoming president with an incoming congress, the city is very alive. It’s a lot of new people that sometimes have never been in DC, and unfortunately we have people that leave, people that come. Neighborhoods are refilled with new blood, new hope, new optimism. I’ve seen already, three, four times, I’ve seen many congresses come in and come out. I’ve seen already two, three presidents coming in and come out and I’ve seen already two, three inaugurations. And it’s always super exciting. This election cycle, everybody will agree, has been slightly out-of-the-norm, but at the end we’ll all welcome the incoming administration and we’ll all keep making the Washington metropolitan area one of the most exciting cities in the world.

Smoked & Stacked
Courtesy of Marjorie Meek-Bradley

Marjorie Meek-Bradley

Smoked & Stacked

Top Chef finalist Marjorie Meek-Bradley made some big changes in 2016. After several years overseeing the kitchens at Ripple and Roofers Union, and bringing in awards for both, she decided to leave her posts to focus on her passion project. Smoked & Stacked opened in September to provide a much-needed infusion of pastrami to the city. The sandwich shop quickly became a favorite in the fast casual scene, and now Meek-Bradley plans to focus solely on the Shaw hotspot and develop new items for the menu. Judging by the meat coming out of her kitchen so far, expect big things in the future.

What do you see as this year’s biggest changes or developments in DC’s food scene?
Marjorie Meek-Bradley: I think that the attention we received this year has opened a lot of doors for people. All of the developers are investing in putting chef-driven restaurants in their buildings instead of chains, which helps people open restaurants who might not have been able to as easily.

Tell us about your favorite dish or food trend from 2016, and why you loved it.
Meek-Bradley: I love the diversity in cuisine that we are seeing. People are really drawing on their childhoods to inspire what they cook and I think that it is awesome. I am a huge fan of the wok-cooked noodles at Maketto.

Why did you want to join the growing fast-casual movement in DC? What’s special about Smoked and Stacked?
Meek-Bradley: I think that it is an opportunity to reach more people and focus on something you love that is scalable. As a chef, I am always looking for creative outlets.

What excites you most about DC’s food scene right now?
Meek-Bradley: I love the camaraderie in this city.  Chefs are always working together to elevate each other and the dining scene here in DC.

What are you looking forward to in 2017, and what do you think the new year has in store for the DC food scene as a whole?  
Meek-Bradley: I am really looking forward to watching the city continue to grow.  A lot of exciting things are happening at The Wharf and over by Union Market. I can't wait to see what happens in those neighborhoods.

Nora Pouillon

Restaurant Nora

Organic pioneer Nora Pouillon announced her retirement this year. While it’s a huge loss for the DC restaurant community, her legacy will endure long after she serves her final meal. Since opening Restaurant Nora in 1979, Pouillon has been a champion for local farmers and sustainable growing. In 1999, she secured organic certification for her restaurant -- the first in the nation to do so. She was also the driving force behind the creation of DC’s first producer-only farmers’ market, FreshFARM Markets, and sits on the board of several environmental advocacy organizations.

What do you see as this year’s biggest changes or developments in DC’s food scene?
Nora Pouillon: I think the biggest change is that many chefs and restaurateurs came to Washington from other cities to open their own restaurants. Most of them are a big bar with small plates, which seems to be the trend.

Tell us about your favorite dish or food trend from 2016, and why you loved it.
Pouillon: I love that many chefs are now buying produce and meats from local farmers, which I think is great, to support our local agricultural community.

What excites you most about DC’s food scene right now?
Pouillon: That there are many ethnic and fusion restaurants. And, as I said before, chefs are using local products.

What changes are you looking forward to seeing in the food scene in 2017?
Pouillon:​​​​​​​ I hope that there will be chefs who pursue organic certification, as I did. Especially since I plan to sell the restaurant, and therefore Washington will no longer have any certified-organic restaurants.

In light of your retirement his year, what legacy do you hope to leave in DC’s restaurant community?
Pouillon: I hope that I have inspired chefs to strive to use more certified organic products and cook and serve a healthy and balanced cuisine.

Aaron Silverman
Courtesy of Aaron Silverman

Aaron Silverman

Rose’s Luxury

The accolades just keep coming for Aaron Silverman. This year alone, he added five feathers to his chef’s hat. Food & Wine named him one of 2016’s best new chefs, he won a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic, and he earned three Michelin stars. The buzz surrounding his Capitol Hill hit, Rose’s Luxury, still hasn’t worn off, and now people can’t stop talking about his newly-opened Pineapple and Pearls, either. If all the love wasn’t so deserved, it would really be kind of annoying.

What do you see as this year’s biggest changes or developments in DC’s food scene?
Aaron Silverman: The amount of amazing new places opening up.

Tell us about your favorite dish or food trend from 2016, and why you loved it.
Silverman: Good food for affordable prices. It is a trend and a great one.

What excites you most about DC’s food scene right now?
Silverman: The creativity and unexpectedness.

What are you looking forward to in 2017, and what do you think the new year has in store for the DC food scene as a whole?
Silverman: Many great new places to eat!

How has being in the national spotlight changed your approach to cooking and running restaurants in DC?
Silverman: It hasn't. We still just do what we do every day. Try to create the most enjoyable restaurant (to work and dine in) that we can.

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Lani Furbank is a freelance food and drinks writer who is crushing hard on the star chefs in this year’s winners’ circle. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lanifurbank or read her work at
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