Rising Stars in Philadelphia's kitchens

Which restaurant reservations in Philadelphia just became harder to make? Photo: B.Kolesar/TheBrewLounge.com

PHILADELPHIA, February 23, 2013 — StarChefs descends upon four cities each year to showcase Rising Stars in the respective city’s kitchens, bars, and breweries. StarChefs has been working with and celebrating the best, the brightest, and the most exciting of the culinary and beverage worlds since 1995.

On Thursday, February 21, in Philadelphia, the Kimmel Center on the city’s Avenue of the Arts (aka Broad Street) hosted the organization’s first Revue of 2013. The performing arts multi-theater venue in the heart of the city provided a striking backdrop for the best of food and beverage in Philadelphia. It was the first return visit to Philadelphia for the organization since 2004, when notable chefs such as David Ansill, Terence Feury, Jose Garces, and Bryan Sikora were recognized for their excellence.

Jeremy Nolen of Brauhaus Schmitz in Philadelphia accepts the StarChefs Rising Star award as top Concept Chef.

The VIP session began in the Hamilton Garden room, which is perched above the entire complex of theaters with breathtaking sky and street views. Champagne, wine, caviar, and Spanish Ibérico ham awaited guests who socialized before sitting for the awards show where the most acclaimed culinary and beverage experts from Philadelphia’s past, present, and future gathered on stage.

The Rising Star awards were presented to up-and-coming industry professionals with the general rule that they have less than ten years of experience and are under the age of forty. Awards to these Rising Stars were presented in the following categories: Chef; Pastry Chef; Hotel Chef; Sustainability Chef; Community Chef; Concept Chef; Restaurateur; Mixologist; Sommelier; and Brewer.

Rising Star Mentor is a prestigious award in its own right in that it bestows recognition upon the chef who has done the most to support the young culinary professionals in their careers. The award is voted upon by all Rising Star award-winning chefs in the given city.

Legendary Philadelphia chef, Georges Perrier, describes his protégé, Nicholas Elmi of Rittenhouse Tavern, as “the best, the best, the absolute best”.

Chefs Nicholas Elmi (Rittenhouse Tavern), Yun Fuentes (JG Domestic), Chris Kearse (Will), Eli Kulp (Fork), Josh Lawler (The Farm and Fisherman), Greg Vernick (Vernick Food & Drink), and Will Zuchman (Alma de Cuba) were all named Philadelphia’s Rising Stars 2013.

Other notable awards were presented to Jeremy Nolen (Concept Chef; Brauhaus Schmitz), Michael Solomonov (Restaurateur; Zahav, Citron and Rose, et al), Al Sotack (Mixologist; Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.), and Scott Rudich and Rich DiLiberto (Round Guys Brewing Company; Brewer). For a full list, visit the official StarChefs website.

Jean-Marie Lacroix, a professional chef with a 30-year history in Philadelphia — at both the Fountain Restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel and the Lacroix Restaurant at the Rittenhouse Hotel — was recognized as Philadelphia’s Rising Star Mentor.

The tasting portion of the night, known as the Rising Stars Revue, followed the awards presentation and provided guests the opportunity to taste the food prepared and served by the chefs themselves. These culinary delights were, in fact, the creations that gained them recognition with StarChefs during the vetting and nominating process and ultimately resulted in their lofty awards.

Jean-Marie Lacroix, culinary legend in Philadelphia, addresses his proteges after being named StarChefs Rising Star Mentor.

With presenting tables spread across the room, beer and wine tables alternating between them, guests could easily between tables and mingle with friends over delectable bites of scallop, lamb, sausage, maitake mushroom, salmon, lobster, crab, trout, eggplant, and pasta. Accompaniments to these dishes covered the spectrum of palate-pleasing textures and flavors like sea urchin, sweetbreads, pig’s heart ragout, and harissa.

Not to be outdone by the savory, the salty, and the bitter, selections of french toast sticks, ice cream soda, and plates of chocolate and caramel were available to satisfy the sweet spot on the palate.

Wines selected by the winning sommelier, Brian Kane, and beers from a few of the nominated brewers as well as Ommegang (NY) and Flying Fish (NJ) were presented as pairings with each table of food. Winning mixologist, Al Sotack, tended bar, whipping up tequila-based drinks to the delight of the crowd while live music played from the corner.

After sampling around the event, it became clear that in a field of far above-average food selections, none stood out more so than the Sea Scallop with King Crab-Corn Quinoa and Merken Vinaigrette from Alma de Cuba’s chef Will Zuchman. Not only was the scallop perfectly prepared (not the easiest feat, even for professionals) and the accompaniments perfectly balanced, the pairing with Vault Brewing Company’s (a brewer nominee for the evening’s award presentation) Belgian Blonde was more perfect than any other food and wine pairing of the evening. Of course, full disclosure says that I’m a beer guy first, but my open-minded palate would have gravitated to the best tastes regardless if from grape or grain. This dish gained my recognition as well as from the popular vote amongst the guests as the Best Dish of Philly Rising Stars.

Guests of the Revue gala were sent home with a current copy of the StarChefs magazine which both profiles each winner as well as lists a full recipe for those wishing to try their hand at recreating the tasting event’s food selections at home. It was a night that celebrated the best of the local Philadelphia food and beverage scene. Going home hungry or thirsty was not an option.

Will Zuchman of Alma de Cuba took home the Best Dish award, voted upon by the public, at the StarChefs Rising Stars event for his Sea Scallop with King Crab-Corn Quinoa and Merken Vinaigrette.

For those that follow the restaurant and bar scene and want to catch up with the next Rising Stars, they need not wait long. New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, and the Carolinas will host similar awards/tasting events in 2013.

Cheers to great taste and to all of the winners in Philadelphia.

Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.

Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.


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Bryan Kolesar

Bryan Kolesar has been tracking down great beer for over twenty years. From the most hard-to-find delicately balanced low alcohol beer to the big monsters weighing in at over 10% ABV, he has yet to find a style that does not have a story to tell and a taste to share. Though, when pushed, Kolesar has historically staked a claim to the Saison style as one of the most versatile and his favorite.

In 2005, Bryan co-founded The Brew Lounge blog/website as a canvas to illustrate the best of the craft brewing industry and to document his own travels within it. Though he has lived in Philadelphia and is currently headquartered in the city's western suburbs, Kolesar shares a wealth of information and images that he collects from his travels around the world and some of the best beers that he has tasted along the way.

In 2010, Kolesar came aboard the Communities section of The Washington Times to contribute stories from across the craft brewing industry as it continues more than ever its explosive growth amongst increasingly more of the mainstream alcohol-consuming public. 

While the beer - its tastes, aromas, and incredible pairing opportunities with food - is often the beginning of a story, he often finds it more interesting to dive into the stories behind the people, places, and events associated with the final product. 

Locally around Philadelphia, he has been named a Beer Writer of the Year finalist multiple times, hosted beer/running events during each annual Philly Beer Week, served as a Philly Beer Geek judge, paneled local beers for submission into the Great American Beer Festival competition, judged beer and food competitions, been featured in local publications chronicling the beer scene, and been named the "Best Beer Guy" of 2008. 

In addition to his beer-y pursuits, Kolesar works a professional career in the business world by day and dabbles in distance running, cooking, homebrewing, gardening, photography, and is a staunch advocate for animal rescue/adoption. He lives with his wife, Patty, of fifteen years and has been a long time, mostly suffering, supporter of local Philadelphia sports.

Contact Bryan Kolesar

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