2015 Seattle Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2015 Seattle Rising Stars: Why They Shine

In Seattle, young professionals are shaping the industry in their own image. They’re doing it casually and with an ethical, environmental mindset, setting trends for the rest of the country.

Since StarChefs was last in town in 2009, chefs like Maria Hines, Josh Henderson, Matt Dillon, Vuong Loc, Renee Erickson, and Dana Tough and Brian McCracken have turned into restaurateurs. As their roles have evolved and fiefdoms grown, they’ve managed to stay fiercely independent, reinforcing their creative voice restaurant by restaurant. The formula for growth is not formulaic in Seattle

The city is transitioning fast, but into exactly what, we’ll see. For now, Seattle is leading the way in beer, distilling, and the $15 minimum wage, which is changing cooks’ lives and the way restaurants do business. It’s a bastion for independent chefs who want to do it their way. With that, we present the city’s best and brightest, the taste makers and trends leaders who are the future of food and beverage in Boom Seattle: the 2015 class of Seattle Rising Stars and why they shine. 


Chef: Cameron Hanin, Tavern Law

Cameron Hanin wants to move the Seattle dining scene forward and take chefs and guests along with him. He wants to draw cooks from New York and Chicago to work for him, and then stay in Seattle. Hanin seamlessly combines luxury and conventional ingredients, plating a technically masterful foie torchon with earnest button mushrooms and a local delicacy, the saskatoon berry. He's a cook that started out flipping burgers at the Clyde County Fair and wants to see how far he can take it. And with Hanin's platform at MacCracken Tough's Tavern Law, he's enticing, elevating, and educating cooks who will build on the legacy he's already started.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Foie Gras Torchon, Button Mushroom Salad, Saskatoons, Chive Blossoms, and Baguette
  • Parisian Gnocchi: Herbs, Comté, Carrot Juice, and Brown Butter
Chef: Edouardo Jordan, Salare

Despite having a résumé that includes The French Laundry, Per Se, and Lincoln, Edouardo Jordan is not all truffles and caviar. Though he makes a dreamy foie torchon, he's more off-cuts and dirty rice. Jordan has an innate ability to bring decadence to dishes without relying on the most decadent of ingredients. His plates are simple in conception, masterful in technique, and outrageous in flavor. At his family-friendly neighborhood restaurant, Jordan want guests to get in there, get dirty, get loud, and get happy. He's the kind of chef that cooks seek out, and Jordan wants to inspire and support them while promoting Seattle's rep as a food destination. With ambition and heart to spare, Jordan has planned Salare as his flagship—this chef is a restaurant juggernaut in the making.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Cold Dungeness Crab Custard and Brioche 
  • Deep-fried Duck Leg Confit, Quinoa, Liver Mousse, Grilled Pluots, and Collard Greens
Chef: Travis Kukull, Mollusk

Perusing Travis Kukull's menu is like getting a glimpse inside his brain. Just as with his beloved Gastropod, at his new restaurant, Mollusk, Kukull is dedicated to three things above all else: his staff, his clientele, and the creative process. Kukull lives in a world of ideas in which anything can be a source of inspiration, from Alaska and Asia to YouTube, Grandpa's salmon bake, and his dog Daria. As ideas meld in his head, so do cultures and flavor combinations, so by the time a dish hits the table it's most likely something a guest (even a chef) hasn't seen or tasted before. Dining from Kukull's menu is genuinely exciting, and now with the vast resources at Mollusk, his no-limits, no-labels style of cooking will give the Seattle dining scene an even bigger jolt of creativity.  

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Cast Iron Okonomiyaki: Pickled Octopus, Peas, Kewpie Mustard, and Bonito Flakes
  • Brioche Steamed Bun: Morels, Fava Beans, Black Walnuts, and Pineapple Grass-Black Garlic Pesto
Chef: Marie Rutherford, The Whale Wins

Marie Rutherford is a food explorer. She got her early formal training on a cruise ship (“culinary camp for strange people”), and her food takes guests on such travels, as well through the taste buds of her imagination. Rutherford's vegetable-forward dishes have depth. They're simple and organic yet audacious, confident, whimsical, and romantic, as with her pickle plate inspired by the crisp kosher half-sour ensconced next to her favorite deli sandwich. Each plate is a fully composed salty-sour-bitter-spicy-creamy-crunchy-sweet thought that’s as unusual as it is satisfying and nourishing. At the helm of a Rene Erickson powerhouse restaurant, Rutherford's voice comes across loud and clear, and we're all aboard for the journey.  

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Smoked Herring Tonato, Braised Collard Greens, Puntanelle, Coriander, Dill, and Rye Crumbs
  • Pickled Apricot, Shiso Plum, Brined Sugar-Snap Peas, Armenian Cucumber-Horseradish Cream, and Tarragon
Chef: Jeff Vance, Spur Gastropub

Jeff Vance is a chef who likes playing in the dirt and hanging out on the farm, and he translates those experiences to the table without a pinch of cliché. He's only just begun to make his mark from SPUR, the flagship of the McCracken & Tough restaurant group—an incubator for talented young Seattle chefs. Vance's cuisine is all about big flavors, modern technique, and surprising outcomes. His anything-but-casual play on chips and dip is cool and clever with rabbit liver and pink peppercorn dusted chips. Eggplant gets charred, custardized, and paired with chocolatey urfa chile and house paneer. We see the lighter side of Wagyu with pickled rose petals and potato-apple purée. Vance makes unexpected, exciting, and exuberant food, and his boldness stands out in a booming Seattle market.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Wagyu Top Sirloin, Potato-Apple Purée, and Pickled Rose Petals
  • Rabbit Liver Pâté, Fermented Elderberry, Pickled Black Mustard Seed, Pink Peppercorn-dusted Potato Chips
Chef: Brady Williams, Canlis

It's not Brady Williams' job to make you love Canlis. Seattle already does, and has for more than 60 years. Williams is in a singular position as the chef at one of America's fine-dining institutions. What does he want? For you to taste EVERYTHING. Williams' tasting menu is an undaunted tour de force, and he's cooking like he's lived in the Pacific Northwest his entire life. His approach relies on simplicity and subtlety, which gives him the opportunity to inconspicuously pack every element with as much flavor as possible. He edits dishes until all that remains is pure creativity and taste. As with his food, there is a beautiful simplicity to Williams' mission at Canlis: to cook the best food in America.

Dishes that clinched it: 

  • Hay-smoked Albacore, Watermelon Radish, Shiso Salsa Verde, Olive Oil, Lemon, White Balsamic, and Maldon
  • Spot Prawns, Vermouth-Shallot Beurre Monte, Onion Flowers, and Espelette
Hotel Chef: Joe Ritchie, Goldfinch Tavern at Four Seasons Seattle

Joe Ritchie has never been afraid of change or challenges. He was the opening chef of Mkt., The Ethan Stowell restaurant that's 600 square feet and seats 26—a chef's dream. What gig did Ritchie decide to take on next? Just overseeing all of food service for the Four Seasons Seattle, including 180-seat Goldfinch Tavern, banquets, rooms service, and even the pool menu. Covering breakfasts, lunch, and dinner, Ritchie's kitchen never shuts down. And his drive, agility, and discipline are evident in quality control and consistency—from in-room burgers to hamachi crudo at Goldfinch Tavern. Ritchie is making the Four Seasons Seattle a focal point for fine dining in Seattle, and a model for American hotel food and beverage programs.      

Dishes that clinched it: 

  • Geoduck Crudo: Cucumber, Sichuan Peppercorn, Celery Leaf, and Lemon
  • Hamachi Crudo, Horseradish, Chervil, and Ligurian Olive 
Community: Brandon Pettit, Delancey

Why do you put fish sauce in your burger's aïoli? Why do you age your chocolate chip cookie dough for seven days? Why use local garlic hung in the salt air? Because you care. Because you care about each person who walks in and works in your restaurant. Because you're Brandon Pettit and you know that being a chef and a restaurant owner is the same as being a teacher and a community leader. Pettit, who runs Delancey, Essex, and a forthcoming Capital Hill pizzeria, offers his community space, time, and mentorship. Rachel's Ginger Beer, The Pantry, Admiralty Salt Company, Marge Granola, Not Without Salt, and aspiring pizzeria owners from across the country are all examples of people and businesses launched with the support of the community Pettit has created around his beloved Ballard restaurant and bar.

Dishes that clinched it: 

  • White Pizza: Aged Mozzarella, Breeze Milk Ricotta, and Garlic
  • Wood-fired Burger: House Cherry Bomb Pepper Aioli, Top Wood-roasted Shallot Aioli, and Fish Sauce
Concept: Monica Dimas, Neon Taco

Neon Taco and Tortas Condesa are concepts that conjure the image of a person as much as a gleaming taco or juicy torta. That person is chef Monica Dimas. Her businesses are built on her decade in the kitchen and white-tablesclothed pedigree, but Dimas is as much “dive” as she is “fine dining.” Her tacos take hold of you as much as you take hold of them, and the outrageous torta on Neon's menu spawned Dimas' next concept: Tortas Condesa. With her heart and Mexican heritage, Dimas represents the kind of Mexican food every American city deserves, and a growing business model that will have tacos, tortas, and Dimas dominating the Seattle food landscape.

Dishes that clinched it: 

  • Torta: Carnitas, Salsa, Pickled Jalapeño, Avocado, Mayonnaise, Cabbage, Cilantro, and Queso Fresco
  • Braised Tripe Taco 
Restaurateurs: Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang, Joule

They’d rather be called chefs, not restaurateurs, despite having three of Seattle's most distinctive restaurants. Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi have the power of multiplicity (read: remarkable work ethic) and the proof is in their kitchens at Joule, Revel, Trove. Employing a team of 100—including enough management so they're not shackled to desks—the husband-wife duo makes time for every decision, down to wallpaper design and spotless chair legs. Models of the chef-as-restaurateur business, their mission is simply to take care of people (employees and customers) as they continue to grow. With soulfully Korean-influenced cuisine, they fought the fusion moniker before embracing it, and being embraced by all of Seattle. And next time you see someone taking out the trash at Joule or Revel, say hi to Rachel or Seif for us.

Dishes that clinched it: 

  • Wagyu Hanger Steak, Charred Cucumber Larb, and Sorrel-Shrimp Sauce
  • Geoduck Fried Rice, Pickled Pork Rind, Sweet Dust, Geoduck Butter, and Leeks 
Pastry Chef: Baruch Ellsworth, Canlis

Baruch Ellsworth is on a journey of self discovery through pastry, and he's taking diners along for the revelatory ride. Ellsworth's desserts are what diners talk about the next day, which means a lot at Seattle fine-dining temple Canlis. There's a brain-like orb that must be shattered to get to layers of miso, peanut, banana, and chocolate underneath. There's fig leaf and black walnut paired with sweet-smelling pipe tobacco. Every dessert is like a full-sized amuse bouche or the finale to a decadent tasting menu, except Ellsworth must be ready with at least 150 a night. His desserts are singular but for everybody. With loyal guests and a vision for his staff to follow, Ellsworth is the future of pastry.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Banana Brains: Chocolate, Banana, Miso, and Peanuts
  • Black Sesame Cake, White Chocolate Sorbet, Umeboshi, and Toasted Kasu
Pastry Chef: Clare Gordon, General Porpoise

Clare Gordon is a chameleon. The world is her pantry and she knows how to use it. Gordon cooks desserts like your beloved Grandmother from the Old Country and a precocious wiz-kid all at once. The traditional and modern meld seamlessly in her mind and kitchen. Gordon takes baklava out of its Persian roots and brings it right into the traditional American kitchen with the simple addition of peanuts. Chocolate falafel anyone? She takes classic, slow-cooked rice pudding from Normandy and uses Spanish bomba paella rice, long pepper, and passionfruit. A minimalist with strong principles, Gordon is poised to make a big pastry impact as she heads up the pastry programs at Rene Erickson's General Porpoise, Bateau, and Bar Melusine.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Cardamom Meringue Millefeuille, Coffee Cream, Honey-Roasted Pineapple, and Pistachio
  • Apple Galette and Camembert
Pastry Chef: Junko Mine, Cafe Juanita

Junko Mine is an artist and a bridge builder, metaphorically. Originally from Japan, Mine wants to bridge the gap between East and West in terms of pastry. Pastry in Japan is different down to the yeast, and she sees first-hand the Japanese interest in how American scientists, farmers, and culinary professionals are partnering to experiment with wheat cultivars. As a Japanese pastry chef working in a prominent American restaurant, she's in a position to nurture that interest. She admires the beauty of exquisite composed desserts but also appreciates and shares the wabi-sabi aesthitic—the beauty of imperfection. Her desserts are refined but you can still dig in with your hands. Mine's pastry is organic, naturalesque, and tells the story of the season as well as her own, rewriting the story of pastry in Seattle.

Dishes that Clinched it:

  • Espresso-Chocolate Crostini, Ricotta, Honey, Citrus, Hazelnut-Chocolate Paste, and Edible Flowers
  • Passion Fruit, Dehydrated Chocolate Mousse, Crispy Meringue, Chocolate Crumb, Micro Greens, Whipped Meringue, Roasted Blackberries, and Burnt Meringue
Roaster: Drew Fitchette, Elm Coffee

In a time of consolidation, when major second and third wave players are merging and muddying the world of independent coffee, Elm Coffee has a crystal clear, autonomous voice. It's the voice of Roaster Drew Fitchette, who’s approach and coffees are clean, minimalist, simple, fresh, and intentional—no natural-processed or honey-processed beans at Elm. Fitchette roasts light, balancing acidity and sweetness to allow for maximum natural flavor and drinkability. Simultaneously, Fitchette's straightforward philosophy lets the farmers' work shine through. He's interested in the hospitality of the coffeeshop business, not hip-ness. And as Elm is already poised to expand beyond it's pristine Pioneer Square space, the volume of beans and Fitchette's voice is primed to make an impact on Seattle and beyond.

Coffees that clinched it:

  • Kenya Kiunyu AA: notes of Raspberry, Currant, and Grapefruit
  • Ehtiopia Aroresa: notes of Lime, Cabernet Grape, and Mandarin Orange
Artisan: Matthew Hofmann, Westland Distillery

Westland is more than whiskey. It's a movement. Distiller Matt Hofmann is at the helm of a distillery that’s creating an entirely new category of spirit: American single malt whiskey. Hofmann has a vision inclusive of a whole ecosystem, starting with Pacific Northwest barley. It sounds like a simple twist on Old World whiskey, but no one has done it until recently, and never on this scale, and certainly not with the intent of this passionate distiller. Hoffman is influenced by Dan Barber, by brewers, and by vintners. He’s the resident distiller at Steve Jones' groundbreaking Bread Lab, an open-source platform from which he’s sharing everything from grain bills to formulas. Hofmann is unanbashedly crusading to make not only the best American whiskey, but he the best whiskey on the planet.

Whiskeys that clinched it:

  • Westland American Single Malt Whiskey
  • Special Release 3-Year Pedro Jimenez-Sherry Cask Aged Whiskey
Artisan: Brendan McGill, Hitchcock Deli

Brendan McGill has been cooking in Seattle for more than a decade. Troubled by the echo chamber he thought the city's restaurant scene had become, he decided to dig in and change that, from Bainbridge Island. He opened Hitchcock with a mission “to get close to the food.” Working with the island's farmers, he created a restaurant with a sense of place, and his holistic, sustainable approach naturally extended to charcuterie. With the conviction that responsible, local food shouldn't be just for tasting menus, McGill opened Hitchcock Deli, where neighborhood folks and their families can have an affordable, hormone- and antibiotic- free lunch. The concept filled a niche and took off, and McGill opened up a second deli in Georgetown, where the cases are filled with pastrami bresaola, lamb ham, and lomo that are worth a ferry ride or any wait in Seattle rush hour traffic.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Charcuterie Board: Lanza, Breasola, Smoked Ham, Pâté Campaña, Basque-style Chorizo, Whey-fermented Whole Grain Mustard, Bratwurst, Dill Pickle, Sauerkraut, Pork Rillettes, and Grape Mostarda
  • Piled High Pastrami on Rye 
Brewers: Colin Lenfesty, Mike Murphy and Adam Paysse, Holy Mountain Brewing

It's simple economics. Scarcity creates demand. So does quality and creativity. What trumps all that? Delicious beer. Holy Mountain Brewing captures all of this in limited release bottles. The beer brain-trust that is Brewers Colin Lenfesty, Mike Murphy, and Adam Paysse is also doing it without the obligatory flagship IPA, and with plenty round-the-clock work. From unfiltered Czech-style pilsners to American table sours and triple-fermented barrel-aged brews, each beer is a statement, individually conceptualized, and deliberately made. By thumbing their collective nose at trends, they're making room for new ones and flooding the market with ideas and positioning themselves as brewers to watch.

Brews that clinched it:

  • River of Ash: Barrel-aged Farmhouse Ale
  • Apricot Table: American Table Sour 
Sustainability: Heong Soon Park, Tray Kitchen

Tray Kitchen is full of sunlight and joy, which you can also see in Heong Soon Park's face and in the personality of his umami-ful cuisine. He's originally from Korea where there's a strict cultural edict that parents provide a better future for their children. And as a father of two, that's what sustainability means to Park: the future. He was one of the first customers of Seattle Urban Farm Company, from which he leases land to cultivate produce for his restaurants. During the summer, up to 90 percent of the produce he serves comes from his plot of land. Park also strives to provide more than sustainable product, throwing dinners on the farm, where he cooks and then lets nature provide the rest—air, ambiance, and a connection. It's an ethos that will only grow as Park opens more sustainable concepts, like a Korean fried chicken joint or an after-hours industry spot with a menu to nourish mind, body, and soul.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Confit Duck Fried Rice, Soy-cured Egg Yolk, Maitake Mushroom, Leek, Sesame, and Sherry Vinaigrette
  • Charcoal-charred Octopus, Cucumber, Cherry Tomato, Mint, Red Onion, Sherry Vinaigrette, and Charred Chiles and Lemon


Bartender: Seth Sempere, Spur Gastropub

Seattle Sommeliers be warned, Seth Sempere is encroaching on your territory, and he's doing it smoothly and mindfully with spectacular cocktail pairings. Sempere is a unicorn among bartenders, possessing the rare skillset required to mix cocktails that not only stand on their own stems, but heighten, elevate, and even change a dish for the better. Working with Chef Jeff Vance at SPUR, Sempere is pairing cocktails with the constantly evolving fine-ding pub fare. His chef-friendly sensibility and perceptive palate tell him when Armagnac is called for to complement the metallic notes of pâté, or when the saffron aromatics of Strega are necessary. As vice president of the Washington State Bartenders Guild and with work at influential Suite 410 and Rhumba under his belt, Sempere is mixing the future of cocktail culture in Seattle.

Cocktails that clinched It:

  • Mambo Sun: Oloroso Sherry, Averna, Raspberry, Falernum, and Sour Orange
  • Mr. Moonlight: Armagnac, Vermouth del Professore, Orange Flower Water, Strega, and Scrappy's Orleans Bitters
Bartender: Tommy Stearns, Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium

Tommy Stearns not only works behind one of the most well-stocked bars in the world—with 3,500 labels, two-thirds of which are whiskey—he's on a stage, and he knows it. Pulling a stool up to Canon's bar is like buying a ticket to show, a purposeful spectable of flaming herbs and billowing liquid nitro smoke. More than mixing a cocktail, Stearns is creating a visceral experience with aroma and sensation. And he's doing so at a rate of 200 drinks a night—about one-third of which are bartender's choice. Though Stearns takes the responsibility of working behind Jamie Boudreau's award-winning bar seriously, there's still a sense of play. Stearns, who is head of the USBG for Washington State, represents the passion, talent, and technique bubbling up in Seattle, and he’s pushing to make the city as renowned for its cocktails as New York or San Francisco.

Cocktails that clinched It:

  • The Anchor Clanker: Smith and Cross Gin, Vanilla Giffard Liquor, China China, VS Cognac, Lime Juice, and Bitters
  • Campfire in GA: Mezcal, Peach-Habanero Shrub, Orange Juice, Angostura Bitters, and Smoke (French -oak barrel woodchips and cinnamon stick)
Sommelier: Jackson Rohrbaugh, Canlis

Jackson Rohrbaugh started at Canlis as a back server in 2008. By 2012 he had taken the Advanced Sommelier Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers and had the highest score that year, receiving the Rudd Scholarship and Johnston Medal. Now the assistant wine director, Rohrbaugh has his sites set on passing the Master Exam by 2016—no biggie. Sake, Chenin, Sherry, Syrah ... Jackson's got you covered at Canlis. Pairing with Brady Williams' vibrant, sumptuously subtle menu takes nuance and care. Rohrbaugh also has to adeptly navigate the restaurant's diverse clientele, which includes a new crop of tech hipsters as well as families that have been dining and drinking at Canlis for decades. Now, with Rohrbaugh helping to build the restaurant's internal wine culture, his influence will only grow from the Pacific Northwest to the wine world at large.

Pairings that clinched It:

  • Hay-smoked Albacore, Watermelon Radish, Shiso Salsa Verde, Olive Oil, Lemon, White Balsamic, and Maldon paired with Namagenshu Geshu, “Red Snapper” Sake, Genjao, Japan
  • Verjus-marinated Grilled Fig, Turnip, Whey, Pine Nut, Fennel Pollen, and Caramelized Walla Walla Onion paired with Palo Cortado Viejo C.P., Valdespino Sherry, Spain