The 11 chefs and their restaurants, which will be profiled in the July issue of Food & Wine, span the country as well as the culinary spectrum, specializing in Spanish tapas, rustic Italian, modern American, farm-to-table and even the breakfast and lunch rush. What they all have in common is a willingness to take risks while satisfying the palates of many, says Food & Wine Editor in Chief Dana Cowin.
"I was surprised, and delighted, by how personal these restaurants are," said Cowin. "The chefs seem to be cooking to please themselves, and in the process have dazzled diners."
Cowin noted a trend: The chefs are nodding toward the past while innovating.
"Chefs are also looking to their families as touchstones," she said. "We've seen a lot of paeans to grandmothers. In fact, Olamaie is named for one of the two chefs' grandmothers. Tim Maslow of Ribelle took over his father's restaurant, Strip T's, and reinvented the food, while leaving the décor the same. Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria was born into a family that had a Mexican-American restaurant and now he's elevated that traditional cooking."
Though many of the chefs are looking to a simpler time in their lives for inspiration, picking the top cooks in the country is no simple task.
First, Food & Wine editors reach out to a "trusted group of nominators" around the country, which includes writers for the magazine, past honorees and industry insiders, for their picks. They're looking for chefs who have been creating dishes and running a professional kitchen for five years or less.
Editors also comb local magazines and newspapers to find out who is generating buzz regionally. Once the group of candidates is whittled down, Food & Wine visits the restaurants to taste the local fare anonymously.
This year's selections include a former scientist, chef Katie Button of Curate in Asheville, North Carolina; "Top Chef" season 4 contestant Zoi Antonitsas of Westward in Seattle; and blues-lover Bryce Shuman of Betony in New York City.
"Top Chef" host Tom Colicchio, famed restaurateur Thomas Keller and international megachefs Daniel Boulud and Nobu Matsuhisa are past honorees.
The July issue of Food & Wine hits newsstands in mid-June, and the honored chefs will be in attendance at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado, that month.
A complete list of this year's Food & Wine top chefs is below. See the gallery above for more on the chefs and their cuisine.
Bryce Shuman; Betony; New York City
Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas; Olamaie; Austin, Texas
Zoi Antonitsas; Westward; Seattle
Jake Bickelhaupt; 42 Grams; Chicago
Jonathan Brooks; Milktooth; Indianapolis
Katie Button; Curate; Asheville, North Carolina
Jim Christiansen; Heyday; Minneapolis
Tim Maslow; Strip T's and Ribelle; Boston
Ori Menashe; Bestia; Los Angeles
Carlos Salgado; Taco María; Costa Mesa, California