21) James Malaby, 36
Mullica Hill, N.J.
Born in Philadelphia and trained at New York's Culinary Institute of America, chef James Malaby has been in the restaurant business for nearly 20 years. He originally worked for several years as a first cook, at Jake's Restaurant and Bar in Philly and then at several locations in Arizona, including Vincent Guerithault on Camelback, the Arizona Biltmore and the Phoenician's Windows on the Green. Malaby then returned to Jake's as sous chef before working at Philadelphia's well-known Brasserie Perrier.
In 2000, Malaby moved to South New Jersey, and in December 2005 he opened the doors to blueplate. As the restaurant's owner and chef, he offers creative dishes that combine New American and French cuisines. He has also developed a close bond with local farmers over the years, and from the beginning of the produce season, blueplate runs special multicourse themed dinners, starting with its highly successful "Asparagus Dinner" (asparagus is featured in a variety of ways throughout the meal, including dessert).
Blueplate showcases peaches from Holtzhauser's Farm alongside local apples and tomatoes through the growing season, and during the crunch time of summer it offers a "Farm to Fork" menu celebrating local produce. Malaby not only uses local crops all year, but on two special weeks he offers an "Off the Hook" menu that uses seafood from the local waters of New Jersey.
Some daily signature dishes that Malaby has created for blueplate include his carrot-apple risotto with andouille sausage, his oven-roasted mahi served with roasted tomato and fresh crabmeat, and his warm chocolate cake, otherwise known as "Sex on a blueplate."
22) Josh Lawler, 30
Chef de cuisine, Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns chef de cuisine Josh Lawler began his life as a chef in his grandparents' Pennsylvania kitchen. Learning about cuts of meat from his butcher grandfather and cooking alongside his grandmother as she prepared the family's Sunday dinner, Lawler came to appreciate the value of well-sourced and authentic ingredients.
As Lawler entered his early teens, it was unclear whether his future would lead him toward working the fields or working the line. He divided his free time between his personal one-third-acre backyard "farm" and frying up treats at the local fish shack. After graduating from Drexel University's School of Hospitality and interning at the Lanesborough in London, he spent time in the New York kitchens of Bill Telepan and Laurent Tourondel.
Lawler joined Blue Hill at Stone Barns in 2006 as sous chef. After a year of working behind the stove and with Blue Hill Farm and Stone Barns farmers, he became the restaurant's chef de cuisine in the spring of 2007. Lawler and his wife (and chef) Colleen, who are expecting twins any day now, live in nearby Tarrytown with their Siberian husky, Zoe.
23) Anthony Chittum, 32
Executive chef, Vermillion
Born on Kent Island off Maryland's Eastern Shore, Anthony Chittum spent his youth fishing in Chesapeake Bay, where he learned from local fishermen how to prepare the bay's daily offerings. When he wasn't fishing, Chittum could be found in the kitchens of many local eateries, earning his allowance while learning the trade. He would later hone his skills taking culinary classes at Anne Arundel Community College.
In 1998, a 21-year-old Chittum relocated to San Francisco, where he studied under executive chef Donald Link at the Creole and Cajun-infused Elite Cafe. Link became one of Chittum's culinary mentors, exposing him to the nuances of fine dining. Working with Link, Chittum learned the secrets in preparing Big Easy favorites, as well as classical French techniques.
Chittum moved back east a year later, landing at Equinox restaurant in Washington, D.C. Under the tutelage of executive chef Todd Gray, Chittum quickly climbed the ranks from garde manger to sous chef and, finally, chef de cuisine. In 2002, he was tapped to open Aria, a new Italian trattoria-style restaurant. The menu allowed Chittum to introduce his unique approach to regional Italian cuisine with creative combinations and innovative tastes.
In May 2005, at just 28 years old, Chittum joined Potomac Hospitality to serve as the executive chef of both Notti Bianche and Dish, both located in the West End neighborhood of Washington. Under his leadership, Notti Bianche received a three-star review by the Washington Post and was named "Best New Restaurant" by Washingtonian magazine in 2005. His creativity also earned him a nomination for Rising Culinary Star by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 2006.
In February 2007, Chittum accepted the position of executive chef of Vermilion, an 86-seat restaurant located in Old Town Alexandria, Va. In this post, Chittum draws inspiration from his previous positions, offering patrons modern American cuisine infused with the Italian flair for which he's now known. Menu items emphasize fresh, seasonal products balanced with an innovative style rarely experienced in a neighborhood restaurant. In 2009, Chittum won a RAMMY award for Rising Culinary Star of the Year from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
24) Carrie Mashaney, 32
Sous chef, Spinasse
Carrie Mashaney moved to Seattle in 1998 to attend the baking and pastry program at Seattle Central Community College. She worked at Etta's Seafood and De Laurenti Specialty Food and Wine while in school, and after graduating in 2000, she moved to France for an apprenticeship at Patisserie Grandin.
Upon returning to Seattle, Mashaney worked in the front of the house at the Hunt Club in the Sorrento Hotel, where she expanded her wine knowledge and sense of service. In 2005, she was hired on at Café Juanita, working as pastry chef, line cook and pastaiola. Two years later she moved to Beato, where she continued to hone her skills and was soon promoted to sous chef.
In 2008, Mashaney accepted the sous chef position at the acclaimed Dinette in Seattle's Capitol Hill. While at Dinette, she enjoyed ample creative freedom while learning management skills. Mashaney has since joined the team at Spinasse with chef Jason Stratton, and says she's excited to explore the potential of Piedmont cuisine while supporting small local farms and artisans of the Pacific Northwest.
25) Ben Halperin, 39
While chef Ben Haperin has spent most of his life in food service, he says his time in New Orleans — where he worked for many notable chefs with years of experience — influenced him the greatest. Gerard Maras taught him about French technique and Cajun cooking when he worked for Ralph's on the Park (a Brennan Family restaurant). Later he worked for Susan Spicer at Bayona and learned a lot from her culinary style.
Hurricane Katrina sent Halperin and his wife, Jeri, to stay with family in Chicago, where he worked for several notable chefs, including Carrie Nahabedan at Naha, then John Caputo at Bin 36. Next, Halperin went on to work as the chef of La Tache, a small French bistro. Finally, he became chef at Holly's American Bistro. While on a trip to visit Jeri's family in Iowa, the young couple stopped to visit the town of Oxford. When a friend pointed out a vacant restaurant, they quickly decided to pack up and move.
Augusta has now been open for two years and has become a popular destination. In October, the restaurant was awarded the first-place prize for the best tenderloin in Iowa by Iowa Pork Producers. Halperin and the staff at Augusta continue to strive to serve local, freshly prepared food and create a friendly and satisfying dining experience.
26) Spike Mendelsohn, 28
Chef, Good Stuff Eatery
After receiving childhood training in the kitchen of his parents' own Pepin Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Fla., Spike Mendelsohn started his formal education at the Culinary Institute of America in 2004. He worked with chef Gerard Boyer at Les Crayeres in Reims, France, for his externship, and upon returning to the States he joined his school's Culinary Society and cooked with chefs Michael Pardus and Michael Huynh in a series of fusion dinners. Mendelsohn was chosen as one of the 10 students to accompany both Pardus and Huynh on a "culinary adventure" through Vietnam.
After graduating in March 2005 and receiving the Francis Roth Leadership Award, Mendelsohn landed a job working for Thomas Keller at Bouchon restaurant in California's Napa Valley. He later moved to New York City to work for the Maccioni Family at Le Cirque, until chef Huynh approached him and Drew Nieporent of the Myriad Restaurant Group, asking them to help him open Mai House in Tribeca. Mendelsohn says he had always wanted to add an exotic flair to his knowledge of French cuisine, and couldn't pass up the opportunity to be mentored by Huynh. In 2008, Mai House was listed as one of the 10 best restaurants by the New York Times, due in no small part to Mendelsohn and his team.
Mendelsohn's new concept, Good Stuff Eatery, was inspired by his vision for a place where people can enjoy the nostalgia of eating the best of their American favorites: handcrafted burgers, handcut fries and handspun shakes made with high-quality, farm-fresh ingredients. The pilot store of Good Stuff Eatery opened in spring 2008 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Although Mendelsohn had the vision, his family is also involved with the startup.
Mendelsohn, who appeared on Top Chef: Chicago, is currently in the kitchen at Good Stuff Eatery, where the Obama family has visited several times. He is also participating in cooking demonstrations around the country and can be seen on the Top Chef Tour Bus and Food Network's Food 2 website with a show called "By the Book, Off the Hook."
27) Aaron Millon, 36
Chef/owner, Restaurant Phoebe
Washington, D.C. native Aaron Millon practically grew up in the kitchen, learning from an early age that cooking and dining were about more than just eating. He appreciated the social and communal aspects of the dining experience, but more so he understood that food didn't simply come from the grocery store. It came from farmers, foragers, producers, bakers. Food had a story, a seasonality and a history.
After working under classically trained French chefs and graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, Millon became aware of the return of small farming and the sustainable food-supply movement in Vermont. In 1998, he bought a corner market in a small Vermont town, with the vision of offering local meats and produce to the residents. Old-time Vermonters and young newcomers alike slowly awakened to the importance of buying local, a trend that would explode over the next decade. In this, Millon combined two of his passions: supporting sustainable, local agriculture and educating consumers about its importance.
In 2006, Millon opened Restaurant Phoebe in downtown Montpelier. His wife, Debbie, co-owns the restaurant, which is named after Millon's sister, Phoebe. A devoted member of Slow Food USA and the Vermont Fresh Network, Restaurant Phoebe is a staunch supporter of the small family farm. Millon continues to nurture his unique ties with the farmland that makes Vermont one of the most agriculturally dependent and successful states in the country. Farmers, foragers and producers often come right to the restaurant's back door, and Millon knows each of them, their farms, their products and their story. In fact, in a true cyclical nature, farmers regularly dine at Restaurant Phoebe, enjoying their products prepared by Millon's caring hands.
Under Millon's guidance, Restaurant Phoebe transformed into a "community-supported restaurant," or a CSR. Similar to a CSA ("community-supported agriculture"), patrons can become members of the restaurant, pre-purchase meals for the season and receive discounts. Not only does Millon enjoy supporting the farming economy, he also works with Community Connections, a Vermont youth-mentoring program. Always an educator, Millon mentors troubled teens in his kitchen six days a week.
28) Tyler Skrivanek, 26
Chef de cuisine, Duo
Tyler Skrivanek was eased into the kitchen at an early age, when he would spend part of each summer visiting his Czech grandparents on their farm in Nebraska, watching them turn out countless batches of rolls and pork roast braised in caraway with dumplings. He worked at local restaurants throughout high school, which drove him to keep learning and see what the world of culinary arts had to offer.
"I wanted to get out," Skrivanek says. "Nebraska was steak-and-potato land, and I sensed there was more interesting food elsewhere."
He went on to attend Johnson & Wales University in Denver, where he interned at Vesta Dipping Grill under Matt Selby, one of the city's top chefs. Skrivanek joined the kitchen team at Duo in December 2005, and was promoted to sous chef in February the next year and to chef de cuisine this past spring.
"Working at Duo has been an eye-opening introduction to the world of farm-to-table restaurants," he says. "When you get to work with produce that has picked in the last 24 hours, you can really feel the connection between the farm and restaurant. Working with executive chef John Broening has taught me that when using just-harvested local ingredients, it's important to allow their fresh, clean flavors to speak for themselves."
During the growing season, Duo works with five local farms: Red Wagon Organic Farm, Cure Organic Farm, Monroe Organic Farms, Abbondanza Farms and Verde Farms. This month, Skrivanek teamed up with Windsor Dairy to compete in a local "Grilled Cheese Challenge." Additionally, he was selected as a "Rising Star Chef" in a recent issue of 5280 magazine.
29) Bryan Ogden, 33
Executive chef, Apple Restaurant & Lounge
Walking in the footsteps of his father — celebrated chef, author and restaurateur Bradley Ogden — Bryan Ogden certainly has big shoes to fill. Growing up cruising the farmers markets in Northern California with his father, Ogden learned the importance of farm-to-table cuisine at a young age. His father's strict devotion to supporting local farmers, fishermen and ranchers plays a large role in Ogden's seasonal menus today.
Originally from Overland Park, Kan., Ogden attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. While he joined his father for the first time in the kitchen at Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, Ogden has also worked with highly regarded chefs such as Charlie Trotter, Michael Mina, Alice Waters and Michel Richard. He previously served as executive chef at Apple in West Hollywood, Calif., and is currently executive chef at Apple's Miami location, where he sources ingredients directly from the farmers, ranchers and fishermen with whom he maintains close relationships. He's also currently putting the finishing touches on his own restaurant at Caesars Palace, a casual bistro called Munch.
30) Sawako "Sawa" Okochi, 32
Chef de cuisine, the Good Fork
Sawa Okochi moved from Hiroshima, Japan, to study at the University of North Texas in 1995. After getting her B.A. in communication studies, she moved to the Big Apple to attend the New York Restaurant School. Her first job was as a dishwasher in a sushi restaurant, where she eventually moved to the sushi bar. After a few other jobs, Okochi was hired at Annisa Restaurant in the West Village.
While working at Annisa, Okochi got to go on Iron Chef America with chef/owner Anita Lo to take on Mario Batali in a mushroom fight. They beat him. Now, Okochi works with executive chef Sohui Kim — also a veteran of Annisa — as chef de cuisine at the acclaimed Good Fork in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Okochi says her biggest influence comes from Anita Lo and her Japanese background. "Anita uses so many different ingredients from all types of cuisine," Okochi says, "but she does it smart, and it makes sense and tastes amazing."
The Good Fork's casual, neighborhood vibe in Red Hook has given Okochi the opportunity to work with local produce from Added Value, an urban farm just around the corner from the restaurant, and as a result, enhanced her interest in seasonal and local foods.