The time has come for the 2017 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, our annual event honoring the best in local food and drink. It includes awards to top chefs and restaurants, culminating in a grand event featuring sips and bites from participating nominees, as well as our partners, Woodford Reserve and Whole Foods Market.
We've elected nominees in all categories of food and beverage, from best chefs to the best restaurant in Dallas-Fort Worth. We'll toast them at a party on April 20 from 7-10 pm at Sixty Five Hundred, with tastings and awards, emceed by Fort Worth celebrity chef Tim Love. Tickets are on sale now.
But first, let's take a look at the nominees for top Chef of the Year.
Blaine Staniford, Grace, Little Red Wasp
Staniford was a prodigy when he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York at 19. He worked at restaurants in New York (Marcus Samuelsson's Aquavit) and California (Michael Mina's Aqua and Pisces), then worked at the now-closed Lola in Dallas. He earned raves for his Tex-Asian menu at Fuse in downtown Dallas, before migrating to Fort Worth in 2008, to become executive chef at acclaimed restaurant Grace.
Eric Hunter, Fire Oak Grill
Hunter hasn't been afraid to move around, starting his cooking career in Georgia restaurants including the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group of Atlanta. He returned to Fort Worth to work at Tim Love's Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, then bought Fire Oak Grill in Weatherford with his wife Jennifer. The couple sold the restaurant in February, for more culinary adventures.
Grady Spears, Horseshoe Hill Cafe
It would take a book to cover the wide and charismatic swath of Fort Worth's larger-than-life cowboy chef Grady Spears. His awards and TV appearances are far too lengthy to list here; the roster of significant restaurants he's conceived or owned include Reata, the Chisholm Club, the Roadrunner in Las Vegas, the Burning Pear in Sugarland, the Nutt House in Granbury, and Dutch's Burgers. At his latest, Horseshoe Hill Cafe in the Stockyards, he revisits and updates the classic dish and his own signature, chicken-fried steak.
Jarry Ho, Tokyo Cafe, Shinjuku Station, Cannon Chinese Kitchen
Jarry Ho and his family and friends have been responsible for some of Fort Worth's top Asian eateries. His story started with Tokyo Cafe, which his parents opened in 1997; he took over in 2002. It suffered a devastating fire in 2014, finally re-opening in 2016. In 2010, Ho launched Shinjuku Station, noted for its excellent, creative sushi; and Cannon Chinese Kitchen, which opened in 2016.
Jesus Garcia, Oni Ramen
Fort Worth has become a ramen destination thanks to Garcia, who opened this fast-casual gourmet-caliber restaurant in 2016. Garcia was previously chef at Little Lilly Sushi, where he earned many a rave, and has also worked at Five Sixty By Wolfgang Puck, Piranha Killer Sushi, and Shinjuku Station. To learn the ramen ropes, Garcia moved to Seattle to work at ramen restaurants there, including famed chain Kizuki Ramen. At Oni, they make stocks daily and incorporate sous vide cooking techniques.
Juan Rodriguez, Magdalena’s Cocina Mexicana Local
Rodriguez is a Chicago native who has worked at such top Tarrant County spots as the Classic Cafe in Roanoke, Lonesome Dove, and Reata, where he worked for nearly eight years. In 2015, he and his wife Paige launched Magdalena's, a catering service named for his grandmother. Incorporating Mexican, Spanish, and Puerto Rican influences, the menu includes dishes such as paella and roasted poblano with confit.
Kevin Martinez, Tokyo Cafe
The wheels are always turning with Kevin Martinez, executive chef, culinary contest-winner, and foodie savant. After attending culinary school, Martinez learned the ropes working at hotels and institutions such as the Colonial Country Club, before making his mark as chef de cuisine at the Tokyo Cafe. On the side, he operates Yatai Food Kart, home to a "haute" version of ramen. He's also written food stories and founded support groups to encourage and mentor fellow chefs.
Mauricio Mier, Woodshed Smokehouse
Mier started his career early, at age 7, when he worked at a taco stand in Mexico. He worked at a Mediterranean restaurant in California before moving to Fort Worth, where he learned the ropes at PF Chang’s, took culinary classes at Tarrant County Community College, and worked with chefs such as Jon Bonnell. He joined Woodshed in 2012, starting as a line cook before ascending to the top slot of chef de cuisine.
Sarah Castillo, Taco Heads
Sarah Castillo was a visionary when she launched her Taco Heads food truck seven years ago, back when food trucks were still a new thing. The original truck remains open for business. But Castillo and her partner Jacob Watson have successfully made the jump to a restaurant on Montgomery Street where they ply the same tacos that earned them a spot on Texas Monthly's list of top 10 tacos to eat before you die. It's no wonder, as Castillo uses the best ingredients and devises gourmet combinations. Breakfast tacos are tops.
Terry Chandler, Fred's Texas Cafe
Terry Chandler, aka the Outlaw Chef, is a lovably colorful character, Food Network guest, and true Fort Worth institution. He comes from a food-oriented family, including his uncle Guy Goen, who was a West Texas chuck-wagon cook, that has helped shape his signature fusion of chuck-wagon and high cuisine. His parents bought a restaurant calls Kens Cafe, which would eventually become Fred's, home to one of the best burgers in the city.