Award Season

Restaurant Industry Magazine StarChefs Names 2019 Houston Rising Stars

From Indigo to Eunice, these are the people and places to watch in the Bayou City.

By Timothy Malcolm November 13, 2019

Erin Smith and Patrick Feges of Feges BBQ.

Who do you need to know right now in the Houston food and drink scene? National restaurant industry magazine StarChefs has your list.

On Wednesday, StarChefs announced the industry professionals it's honoring at its 2019 Houston Rising Stars award ceremony and gala celebration Dec. 10 at the Corinthian.

The winners:

  • Game-Changer Chef: Jonny Rhodes of Indigo, for his work in advancing the restaurant industry through boundary-pushing cuisine.
  • Community Chefs: Patrick Feges and Erin Smith of Feges BBQ, for giving back through industry events and being pillars of the Houston food community.
  • Rising Star Chefs: Natasha Douglas of Better Luck Tomorrow and Penny Quarter; Drake Leonards of Eunice; Bobby Matos of State of Grace and La Lucha; Kaitlin Sheets of Theodore Rex; Nick Wong of UB Preserv
  • Rising Star Pastry Chef: Meredith Larke of Uchi
  • Rising Star Concept: Jasmine Chida of Sweet Cup Gelato & Sorbet Originale
  • Rising Star Bartenders: Tommy Ho of Anvil Bar & Refuge; Westin Galleymore of Underbelly Hospitality
  • Rising Star Artisans: Mathieu Cabon of Magnol French Baking (baker); Benji Aguilar and Kaitlin O'Brien of Xela Coffee Roasters (roasters)
  • Rising Star Restaurateur: David Keck of Goodnight Hospitality
  • Rising Star Sommeliers: Andres Blanco of Caracol; Lindsay Thomas of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

After the awards ceremony, guests will be able to indulge in a walk-around tasting gala. Winning chefs will each contribute a dish, while bartenders will each create an original cocktail and artisans will provide bread and coffee. Keck's partner and chef Felipe Riccio of Rosie Cannonball will cook a dish to mark the restaurateur award, and winning sommeliers will choose wines to pair with the food. 

Slum Village, a dish by Johnny Rhodes of Indigo.

Special guests include master carver Manuel Reco of Ibérico Carver, and StarChefs will announce three additional awards at the event for Art of Presentation, Mentor, and Sommelier.

Generally, Rising Stars should have less than 10 years of experience as executive chef or as a menu-controlling chef de cuisine, and should be younger than 40, though there are exceptions. An advisory board nominates the Rising Stars, and the magazine's editorial team chooses winners after in-person tastings and interviews over multiple visits.

StarChefs honors four chosen locations per year with an awards presentation and a magazine issue celebrating each location. This will be the organization's second time in Houston; it first visited in 2011, and winners included Chris Shepherd (then-Catalan Food and Wine), Manabu "Hori" Horiuchi (Kata Robata), Bryan Caswell (Reef), Vanarin Kuch (then-Tiny Boxwoods), Seth Siegel-Gardner (then-Kata Robata), Bobby Heugel (Anvil), and Sean Beck (H-Town Restaurant Group).

"Houston is ready for lift off. It’s been eight years since we first wrapped our arms around the sprawling metropolis, and we found America’s fourth-largest city crackling with kinetic energy," says StarChefs editor Sean Kenniff. "This class of Rising Stars is giving definition to Houston’s famed multicultural stew, as with Johnny Rhodes's neo-soul cuisine at Indigo and Natasha Douglas’s inventive, worldly menu at laidback, jovial, twinkling Better Luck Tomorrow."

Natasha Douglas of Better Luck Tomorrow and Penny Quarter.

The StarChefs event comes at a good time. While Houstonians may have been surprised in March that the city garnered zero finalists for the annual James Beard awards (despite that organization announcing those finalists right here in town), it's clear Space City is amid a daring new period of culinary excellence as a new generation of chefs, beverage professionals, and industry folks are changing the very idea of what it means to experience food and drink.

“The city that Chris Shepherd, Bobby Heugel, and Hugo Ortega built is entering a new era," says Will Blunt, managing partner of StarChefs. "And these Rising Stars represent both the talent they have nurtured and the talent that is now attracted to Houston, such as Erin Smith of Feges BBQ and Nick Wong of UB Preserv."

Some proceeds for the event, of which Houstonia is media sponsor, will go toward I'll Have What She's Having, the local nonprofit raising awareness of women's health issues, especially in the hospitality industry. The evening begins with a VIP reception at 5:45 p.m. Dec. 10, and the awards begin at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $85 for general admission (awards and tasting gala) and $125 for VIP access that also includes reception, and can be purchased here.

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