Roundups of influential people often focus on either past achievements or future potential. But in an industry as dynamic as foodservice, it's just as important to understand what those heavy hitters—be they chefs, C-suite leaders, sommeliers, restaurateurs—are doing right now. Whether it's scouting locations for a new concept, curating wine lists from obscure regions, overhauling staff-training practices, or painstakingly crafting the perfect pastry, these up-and-comers aren't waiting for the future; they're creating it today.
Without further ado, here are 32 Rising stars under the age of 40 who are making a splash.
Adrienne Cheatham (pictured above)
Chef and Founder
SundayBest, New York
When considering Adrienne Cheatham's culinary chops, creativity, and magnetic personality, it's no wonder she has become an all-star. After years mastering her craft at some of New York's finest restaurants, the chef became a fan favorite when she competed on Bravo's "Top Chef" and went on to start her own pop-up dining series, SundayBest. But Cheatham never sought out celebrity chef status. Rather than chase the spotlight, she had always worked toward behind-the-scenes mastery.
Ages: 37 / 32
President and Brewmaster / CEO
Moody Tongue Brewing Company,
The best businesses marry creativity with practicality. That meeting of minds is part of the secret sauce behind Moody Tongue Brewing. President and brewmaster Jared Rouben brings the right-brain, culinary approach, while his cofounder (and cousin) Jeremy Cohn leads the business, investment, and strategic growth initiatives as CEO.
Rouben started his career on the food side, having attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked at restaurants including Thomas Keller's Per Se. After making the switch to beverage and cutting his teeth at Chicago's Rock Bottom Brewing and Goose Island, he cofounded Moody Tongue in 2014. In the crowded world of craft beer, Rouben stands apart for his chef's approach to brewing.
Following a decade-long career as an investment banker, Cohn had never worked in foodservice prior to Moody Tongue. Since leaving Wall Street for the craft beer world, he has solidified relationships with farmers and purveyors for sustainable sourcing, developed the brand's strategy for national expansion, and made Moody Tongue one of the first American craft beers to enter China.
Together, the two have not only grown the brewery, but they have also built a strong restaurant presence. Last year, the Tasting Room Bar at Moody Tongue Brewery won the Jean Banchet Award for Best Bar, and the company unveiled two restaurants within its new, expanded facility: The Bar for a more casual experience, and The Dining Room for elevated, fine dining.
Jonathan's Grille, The Rutledge,
Along with his brother Mason (a 2016 Rising Star), Curt Revelette has been steadily growing a restaurant empire in Music City. Since assuming full ownership over Jonathan's Grille in 2009, the pair have expanded the upscale sports bar to seven locations and landed it on CNN's Top 101 Sports Bars and Inc.'s 5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies lists. Last year marked Revelette's first foray into fine-dining with The Rutledge, which serves sushi, seafood-heavy starters, and prime proteins such as filet mignon, bone-in ribeye, and Scottish salmon. Revelette hopes to soon expand both businesses beyond Tennessee state lines.
Ages: 35 / 34
Owner, Founder, and Executive Chef / Partner
Over the last decade, Oklahoma City's dining scene has exploded, thanks in large part to creative concepts by Rachel Cope and Jeff Chanchaleune. Both got an early start in the industry, with Cope working front-of-house and managerial positions and Chanchaleune cooking in his family's OKC diner. While the former stayed put in the Oklahoma capital to open her popular pizza spot, Empire Slice House, the latter worked at a number of sushi and ramen spots in Portland, Oregon, and Chicago before returning home in 2013 to launch his ramen food truck, Kaiteki.
Soon after, the pair teamed up for underground ramen pop-up called Project Slurp. Based on its sellout success, Cope and Chanchaleune opened Gōro Ramen in 2015 and launched Gun Izakaya just last year. The traditional Japanese pub offers an Oklahoman twist on classic Asian fare, with standout dishes like Catfish Kara-age served with koji marinade and a yuzu kosho tartar sauce, as well as Tokyo Hot Chicken, which is bathed in sesame-soy chili oil and served with fried shallots. Gun Izakaya also boasts Oklahoma's largest selection of Japanese whiskys.
Director of Bar and Beverage
When it comes to out-of-the-box cocktails, one-off independents have mostly cornered the market. After all, the bartender at a local watering hole has the time and latitude to riff on elaborate, pricey drinks. For Nate Grover, the creative challenge is more complex; as the director of bar and beverage for casual powerhouse Applebee's, he's tasked with building libations that are not only interesting, but also easily replicable and inexpensive.
"As the largest casual-dining brand in the country, we get to be a catalyst for change. We get to be disruptive, and we get to lead. … That's a lot of responsibility, but it's a fun responsibility," Grover says. "You have to understand the different market needs and preferences. Your solution needs to be one that will fit across the country."
As a marketing major in college, Grover originally set his sights on the sports world, which, oddly enough, is what landed him in foodservice. In 2010, he began working as a marketing manager at sports-centric chain Buffalo Wild Wings, where he quickly became enamored with the beverage sector. Over his seven years with the company, Grover worked up the ladder, eventually becoming beverage program and innovation manager. In that time, Buffalo Wild Wings also doubled its footprint, making it the largest pourer of draft beer in the country.
Within six months of Grover's tenure at Applebee's, the brand introduced the Dollarita—a $1 margarita special—which quickly led to the creation of the Neighborhood Drink of the Month. Over the past three years, the limited-time, seasonally inspired beverage program has introduced competitively priced drinks, including the $1 Vodka Rum Frostbite, the Malibu Dollarmama, and the $1 Vampire, complete with a red cherry and set of fake fangs as garnish.
"At the foundation, we're going to create a great-tasting drink, whether that's a beer, cocktail, or wine, but we also get to tap into the emotions and needs that our guests are going through on a particular day, month, or season," Grover says. "As our culture and our environment and guests' behaviors change, we get to be a part of that."
President and CEO
Castellucci Hospitality Group
Federico "Fred" Castellucci entered the workforce at arguably the worst time in recent history—right ahead of the Great Recession. But while economic downturn hampered many entrepreneurial spirits, Castellucci built an dynasty. Over the past 13 years, he has expanded his parents' single concept, Sugo Kitchen, into Castellucci Hospitality Group. Castellucci runs the group's collection of seven Atlanta-area restaurants along with his parents, siblings, and wife, and is building a pipeline for more in the future. In 2018, Castellucci was named the Restaurateur of the Year by the Georgia Restaurant Association and one of Atlanta Business Chronicle's 40 Under 40.
Ages: 35 / 32
Between the two of them, chefs John Vermiglio and Joe Giacomino have held roles at more renowned restaurants than many culinary professionals combined.
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University, Vermiglio joined the team at the Charlie Trotter Corporation in Chicago before working as executive sous chef at Graham Elliot Bistro. He later spent time as director of culinary operations for Folkart Restaurant Management, whose concepts include A10 Hyde Park, an upscale French-Italian restaurant in Chicago's South Side. It was here that Vermiglio worked alongside Giacomino, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu's Chicago campus, who had worked as chef de cuisine at area restaurants including Quince and Jam. Together the two earned A10 a Michelin Bib Gourmand Recognition.
In 2016, the pair teamed up—along with Vermiglio's twin brother, David, and mutual friend Will Lee—to open New American establishment Grey Ghost in Detroit (the Motor City being Vermiglio's hometown). Just two years later, the team launched Second Best across the street, a neighborhood hangout serving a 10-item menu of signature creations like the Pizzadilla (made with pepperoni, salami, and mozzarella) and a Scotch Egg served with sausage, grits, and spicy maple syrup.
Chef and Owner
Beto & Son
At just 26 years old, Julian Rodarte's résumé reads like that of someone much more seasoned. After graduating from culinary school at age 21—and working under chef Dean Fearing at The Ritz-Carlton Dallas—Rodarte became a corporate chef for casual-dining chain Denny's before working in food science at CTI Foods, where he developed soups, sauces, and dressings for brands like P.F. Chang's and Panera Bread.
Then, at the ripe age of 23, he teamed up with his father, Beto (a chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America) and Phil Romano (founder of Romano's Macaroni Grill)to create his own concept in Dallas, Beto & Son. Named one of Zagat's Top 15 Hottest New Restaurants in 2017, the contemporary Mexican restaurant specializes in stacked enchiladas, tacos, tortas, and, its signature item, the Liquid Nitrogen Margarita.
"We created something that was very cool, but very hard to replicate," Rodarte says. "We have more than 80 employees and do a lot of tableside stuff that's very fun but also very hard to maintain." To that end, Rodarte and his father are working on scaling Beto & Son both up and down, with a fast-casual concept scheduled to debut this summer and an elevated, white tablecloth–style establishment in the works for 2021.
Rodarte says much of his early success comes from his willingness to take risks and not fear failure—though the young restaurateur does have a healthy respect for it. "When I was 14, my dad had invested everything into a restaurant that was not successful," Rodarte says. "My family had that heartbreak of a failing restaurant, and it had a lasting impression on me."
So when he was presented with the opportunity to open his own concept in his early 20s, he knew the risks and what was at stake. "That experience always motivated me and put a fire underneath me, knowing that was what life could look like if things don't work out," Rodarte says. "I've seen the bottom of the pit, and I know I don't want to be there."
Executive Chef and Owner
Automatic Seafood & Oysters
Just shy of its first anniversary, Automatic Seafood & Oysters has already made a splash, appearing on the Best New Restaurants lists from Esquire and Thrillist. Owner and chef Adam Evans made a name for himself in Atlanta at The Optimist and later opened Brezza Cucina with chef Jonathan Waxman. In his first solo venture, the Alabama native prioritizes whole-fish cooking; rather than harvesting just the fillet, Evans utilizes the skin, tail, eyeballs, and more. He also partners with sustainably minded fishermen, including one who routinely dives to depths of 200 feet to spear-shoot fish.
Director of Event Sales and Marketing
While the culinary spotlight often shines on those who make the food, the people behind the scenes play an equally important role in a restaurant's success. People like Raquel Sharma, a marketing and sales specialist who's spent the past three years developing fresh sales channels and marketing opportunities for D.C.'s Dirty Habit, a restaurant and private-dining space inside the iconic Hotel Monaco. Sharma's innovative catering displays and themed wedding packages have caught the attention of media outlets like Yahoo! News and SheKnows, while her efforts to retain clients and build new relationships have helped the company exceed its financial goals. Sharma is also an active member of Destination DC, a nonprofit organization that supports the city's tourism industry.
Executive Pastry Chef
Stubborn Seed and Bebito's
Dallas Wynne entered the restaurant industry with one goal in mind: to get her foot in the door at Michael's Genuine, a Miami bistro from James Beard Award–winning chef Michael Schwartz. And while she made a few stops along the way—including one at Schwartz's pizza concept, Harry's Pizzeria—Wynne finally got the chance she'd been waiting for. The only catch? She'd be working in pastry.
"My exact words were, 'I don't want to bake cookies,'" Wynne says of her resistance to transition from entrées and savory fare to the sweets side of the business. However reluctantly, she did accept the position, learning all things pastry from James Beard Award nominee Hedy Goldsmith. "I kind of fell into the world of pastry and realized how much I loved it," Wynne says. "It was a new challenge for me to not just say, 'Oh, this might need a little more salt,' or, 'I can throw in a splash of vinegar.' Now it was, 'You'd better weigh that out to the gram, and you better know what you're doing.'"
Fast-forward a few years, when Wynne received a life-changing call from former coworker, Michael Beltran, who offered her the executive pastry chef role at his soon-to-open restaurant, Ariete. But again, her initial instinct was to turn the job down.
"At 21, it was like, 'No way, I'm not getting this opportunity right now,'" she says. "So I told him no, because I didn't think I was ready for that." But after a little thought—and heavy encouragement from her mom—Wynne accepted the position and created Ariete's pastry program from scratch. "I fell in love with the feeling of being in an open kitchen and seeing people's faces when they take the first bite of your dessert—that moment when their head tilts back and they close their eyes," she says.
Nearly two years later, Wynne joined the opening team at "Top Chef" winner Jeremy Ford's Stubborn Seed, where she works as executive pastry chef at the upscale Miami eatery. During her time at Stubborn Seed, Wynne has earned the title of "Best Pastry Chef" in 2019 by the Miami New Times and made Zagat's list of 8 Under-the-Radar Chefs to Know in Miami in 2018.
More recently, she's consulted on dessert menus for other local concepts, while also partnering in her own establishment, Bebito's. The Cuban-American café and bistro debuted in January, with Wynne crafting both sweet and savory dishes.
8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen
If you asked Henry Wesley in 2013 where he'd be at the start of the next decade, executive chef at one of Louisville, Kentucky's most sought-after rooftop restaurants likely wouldn't be the answer. Getting his start seven years ago as a server assistant at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, Wesley quickly made his way to the top of the food chain, working at popular concepts like The Village Anchor and Le Moo, where he received a 2016 Louisville Rose Award. Last November, the chef opened 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen. The 90-seat restaurant and lounge serves a range of seafood and Southern-inspired dishes with an eclectic twist, such as Crab Hummus and Rabbit Fricassee with Egg Noodles.
Delta Meat Market
What began as a humble butcher shop back in 2013 has grown into a nationally recognized restaurant nestled in the Mississippi Delta. Now housed in Cleveland's new Cotton House Hotel, Cole Ellis' Delta Meat Market has transformed from a tiny grocery and lunch counter to a full-blown restaurant, bar, butcher shop, and retail store that's garnered national acclaim in esteemed publications such as Bon Appétit and Southern Living. Ellis also earned himself a spot as a semifinalist for the 2017 James Beard Award Best Chef South. Most recently, the restaurateur opened rooftop Bar Fontaine, which delivers upscale small plates, hand-made pastas, and elevated cocktails to guests in the growing Delta dining scene.
Cali Comfort BBQ
Spring Valley, California
As lucrative as it would be to expand his single-location, widely beloved Cali Comfort BBQ, owner Shawn Walchef is making his mark beyond the restaurant's four walls. From the earliest days in 2008, Walchef has run the restaurant like a media company, using emerging platforms like Facebook to promote the brand. A few years ago he launched Digital Hospitality, a weekly podcast featuring nuts-and-bolts advice and interviews with fellow foodservice professionals. It's all part of his burgeoning media empire.
Consultant; Cofounder of DMV Black Restaurant Week;
Beverage Director of Zumo/Serenata
Andra "AJ" Johnson may serve as the beverage director at Zumo/Serenata inside D.C.'s Latin American food market, La Cosecha, but she's also making waves across the district. As a sommelier, cicerone-certified beer server, and in-demand mixologist, Johnson has developed beverage programs at acclaimed establishments like Le Diplomate, Mussel Bar & Grill, and Bresca. Beyond her day (and night) jobs, Johnson is a passionate advocate for greater diversity within the restaurant world. In 2018, she cofounded DMV Black Restaurant Week alongside chef Furard Tate and Georgetown University professor Erinn Tucker.
Chef and owner
Still shy of 30, chef Ryan Ratino has become a luminary as D.C. continues to prove its mettle as a foodie mecca. In 2018, Ratino's French bistro–inspired restaurant, Bresca, was awarded a Michelin star, making him one of the youngest chefs to receive such an honor. His commitment to the environment has also led Bresca to emphasize recycling, composting, and sustainable sourcing, earning it the honor of D.C.'s first and only carbon-neutral restaurant from the nonprofit Zero Foodprint. Next up, Ratino will be opening his second concept, Jônt—an intimate restaurant featuring multi-course, global fare.
CEO and founder
Colada Shop and Zumo/Serenata
Daniella Senior has demonstrated restaurant business savvy since she started her own catering business as a teen in the Dominican Republic. Now the entrepreneur is spotlighting Latin America through three-location Colada Shop—a Cuban-inspired café and coffeehouse—and newly opened Zumo and Serenata, which serve regional juices, libations, and small plates reflective of various countries and flavors across the Americas and Caribbean. Senior is also a partner at chef Ryan Ratino's Bresca and serves on the board of directors for Women Chefs & Restaurateurs.
Poca Madre, Taco Bamba, and Huevos
After graduating from culinary school at the University of Tennessee, Faiz Ally headed to D.C., working under restaurateur Jeff Black at BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant. In 2013, he joined the team at Poca Madre—a full-service, contemporary Mexican restaurant—and fast-casual chain Taco Bamba. Here, he learned from James Beard Award–nominated chef Victor Albisu and won Washington Post's Battle of the Sous Chef in 2015. While Ally will also serve as corporate chef for the soon-to-open Huevos, it's his work outside the kitchen that's making the biggest impact. As part of José Andrés' World Central Kitchen, Ally has helped prepare meals for those devastated by hurricanes in the Bahamas and Houston, Texas.
Chef de Cuisine
Raleigh, North Carolina
Despite her lack of formal culinary training, Madison Tessener knew from a young age that she wanted to enter the restaurant industry. So after graduating from college, she marched into Charleston's FIG restaurant and offered to take out the trash, simply for the chance to work there. Fast-forward a handful of years, and Tessener has held positions in South Carolina kitchens like Husk, McCrady's, Chez Nous, and The Charleston Grill, as well as one in Sweden while she was backpacking around the country. More recently, Tessener headed back to her hometown of Raleigh, working under chef Scott Crawford at Crawford & Son and Jolie. With skills in butchery, molecular gastronomy, pastry, and catering, Tessener is also a Level One sommelier and a passionate advocate for other women in the industry.
Just a handful of years into her culinary career, Claudia Martinez has already earned her stripes at Atlanta hotspots like Eugene and Atlas; spent a year in Sweden working under chef David Vidal; and joined Tiny Lou's, a French-inspired establishment that was named Eater Atlanta 2018 Restaurant of the Year. Here, Martinez accentuates the savory side of sweet stuff, dreaming up dishes like The Royale—made with Venezuelan chocolate mousse, coffee cream, sponge cake, and cardamom ganache.Martinez also consults on all pastry programs for The Indigo Road Restaurant Group, which boasts more than 20 restaurants across the Southeast, including O-Ku, Oak Steakhouse, and Indaco.
The Blind Pig Kitchen & Bar
Rancho Santa Margarita, California
Who needs classical training when you can have on-the-job experience instead? That's how Karl Pfleider has approached the culinary industry. Learning from the finest at a number of Orange County concepts, Pfleider joined the opening team at The Blind Pig as sous chef before working his way up to the top gig. His seasonally changing creations have helped the restaurant land a spot on the Orange County Register's Top 75 Best Places to Eat and have been featured in nearly every regional publication possible, from OC Weekly to Coast Magazine. Most recently, Pfleider helped open the restaurant's second location, while also managing sister concept, The Trough Sandwich Kitchen.
Owner and founder
Magnum PR, The Riddler, Une Femme Champagne
San Francisco and New York
Jen Pelka's work in the restaurant world is as unconventional as it is dynamic. In 2015, after a decade working in marketing and strategy, she founded her own agency, Magnum PR, which counts chef Traci Des Jardins, Shake Shack, and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association among its clients. Since then, Pelka has created a Champagne bar, The Riddler, with bicoastal locations in San Francisco and New York. Not one to be idle, Pelka, along with her brother and business partner, Zach, are working on their own Champagne label, Une Femme.
Demand for international flavors and social media–ready aesthetics work in favor of Eunji Lee, whose eye-catching, out-of-the-box desserts have earned her fans among peers and foodies alike. Originally from South Korea, Lee studied in France before becoming the pastry chef at Jungsik, a neo-Korean, fine-dining concept that specializes in molecular gastronomy. Routinely blending French techniques with Korean ingredients and flavors, Lee has created a five-course dessert tasting menu and dishes—like the social media favorite, Baby Banana—that have garnered a cult-like following.
Director of Training
Biscuit Love, 'za
Most Southern California natives don't consider themselves Southern biscuit connoisseurs—unless they move to Nashville and earn a spot at one of the biggest names in the biscuit business, as was the case for James Handy. Traveling east to earn a degree in multimedia production from Belmont University, Handy joined the Biscuit Love team as a server back in 2015. Since then, he's worked his way up to assistant general manager and eventually director of training for the Nashville institution, which serves biscuits, brunch, and lunch to locals and tourists alike. Handy also performs this role at the wood-fired pizza concept, 'za, where he's made it his mission to create an equally elevated experience for both the customers and his staff.
Chef and Owner
If there's one Atlanta native who's changed the breakfast game for the better, it's Suzanne Vizethann. After opening The Hungry Peach in Atlanta's trendy Decorative Arts District at just 26, the Southern chef went on to become a "Chopped" champion and work under "Top Chef" Richard Blais. Now at breakfast and lunch spot Buttermilk Kitchen, Vizethann pays homage to all things Southern cooking, with items like Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Deviled Eggs and the Pimento Omelet. Her creations have appeared on "The Today Show" and "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," and Buttermilk Kitchen continually lands on national best-brunch lists. Vizethann's first cookbook, Welcome to Buttermilk Kitchen, is also slated to release next month.
An embodiment of what it means to live the American dream, Jay Zheng's family moved from China to New York in 1994, opening eight successful restaurants across the U.S. At age 18, Zheng headed to Chicago to work for the Peninsula Hotel, then served as general manager for pan-Asian restaurant Dolo, which was named one of Esquire's Best New Restaurants in 2015. After heading back to NYC, Zheng opened his own concept, Gaijin, a fine-dining omakase restaurant helmed by executive chef Mark Garcia. Just a few years later, upscale establishment Kōyō took its place. Offering only two seatings a night, Kōyō presents diners with a sushi omakase or kaiseki omakase menu, featuring items sourced from the famed Fukuoka and Toyosu markets in Japan.
Cooking in local restaurants in Lima, Peru, before moving to the U.S. at age 12, Carlos Delgado was working full time in the kitchen by the age of 16—all without any formal training. Since then, he's held executive chef roles at D.C. dining destinations like Smith Commons, The Caucus Room, Boveda, and his very own restaurant, Ocopa, which he opened at age 24. Most recently, he joined Chef José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup, serving as head chef at China Chilcano, an authentic Peruvian restaurant that combines the native Criollo cuisine with flavors of Chinese chifa and Japanese nikkei. Delgado was also named a Rammy Awards finalist for the Rising Culinary Star of the Year in 2018.
Sommelier Bourbon Steak
Every great sommelier knows how to tell a story with their wine. But Shanning Newell has an especially strong knack for that, thanks to her background in writing. Fresh out of college, Newell made her way to Nashville, Tennessee, to work as a journalist before joining the team at Bourbon Steak Nashville. Here, Newell puts her storytelling skills to good use, painting a vivid picture of the flavors, features, and unique characteristics of each wine on the concept's extensive list. Featuring more than 350 labels from both Old World and New, Newell has hand-picked a lineup that includes all the classics, along with lesser-known varietals like the Château Lafite-Rothschild from France.
At just 18, Shion Uino became an apprentice at Sushi Saito in Tokyo. The three Michelin-starred institution from renowned chef Takashi Saito lures guests from all over the world. Even in such a competitive environment, Uino's talent shined through. He quickly rose in the ranks to manage the nigiri bar, which he did for nearly nine years before relocating to New York City, where Michelin star recognition quickly followed him. Sushi Amane, an eight-seat omakase restaurant that Uino leads, has earned one of the coveted stars the last three years in a row—an honor largely credited to Uino's signature fish-aging and rice-seasoning techniques.