As we count the sleeps until the 2023 CultureMap Fort Worth Tastemaker Awards, our annual celebration of the best in Fort Worth food and drink, we have arrived at our final category of nominees - Chef of the Year.
It’s not a job for the weary or faint of heart, cooking for the public. Throw in managing staff, battling food costs, and countless other challenges, and most quickly find being a chef – especially one who runs their own restaurant – is one of the hardest gigs around. These 10 make it all look flawless.
Over the past few weeks, our special editorial series has been profiling all of the Tastemaker Award nominees - Restaurant of the Year, Best Brewery, Bar of the Year, Best Burger, Rising Star Chef of the Year, and Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year.
You can still vote for Best New Restaurant in our bracket-style competition.
Who’ll be crowned the best of the best? Find out at the our reveal party and signature tasting event, happening Thursday, April 27 at the 4 Eleven (411 S. Main St.) and benefiting Cuisine for Healing. Hurry and get tickets before they officially sell out.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the 10 nominees for Chef of the Year:
Jacqueline Anaya - Calisience
From cooking for friends out of her apartment to opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in less than four years, Jacqueline Anaya has put in work. Her food truck, Calisience (cah-LEE-see-ence), was a smash hit when it debuted in 2020, stopping traffic for its long lines near the intersection of East Belknap and North Beach streets. Anaya gained a cult following for her birria tacos - California-inspired crispy grilled tacos filled with slow-simmered beef and melted Monterrey Jack cheese – back then a novel concept in Cowtown. Folks also arrived in droves for the birria ramen, which comes steamy in a cup with ramen noodles. Anaya opened her brick-and-mortar location last year on Race Street in the former Dino's Live space. Today she has plenty of room for customers to spread out, though hours are limited as she awaits a liquor license.
Juan Ramón Cárdenas - Don Artemio
Juan Ramon Cárdenas is credited as the concept creator and founder of Don Artemio, which continues to hover in the national spotlight thanks to a nod by the James Beard Foundation Awards. The upscale Mexican restaurant on West Seventh Street is one of 10 finalists for Best New Restaurants in the country. A native of Coahuila, Cardenas has a business degree but grew up with restaurateur parents, which fueled his desire to become a chef. His culinary ventures have taken him around the world, from Chicago to Berlin. At Don Artemio, which opened last year, diners take a journey deep into Mexico through cuisine and atmosphere. Dishes like the crispy fried cactus and Chilean sea bass in black mole add to the adventure.
Chetra Chau – Dream Tacos
Bedford got a dreamy new taco joint last summer when veteran chef Chetra Chau opened Dream Tacos, a global fusion taco restaurant and bar featuring flavors from around the world. Influences include French, Japanese, Southern East Asian, and Southern barbecue. Tacos come in varieties like banh mi, sushi, tandoori chicken, Philly cheese, and even beef Wellington-wrapped tacos in puff pastry. The eclectic lineup combined with live music, good cocktails, and friendly customer service generates rave reviews. Dream Tacos sits next to Chau’s other restaurant, Chetra’s Kitchen Grill & Bistro, where he first introduced his globe-trotting cuisine before launching the taco spinoff.
Belen Hernandez - Belenty's Love
“Mexican food” and “vegan” aren’t terms that typically go together, but Belen Hernandez is out to change that. She opened Belenty’s Love, a completely vegan-Mexican restaurant, on Bluebonnet Circle nearly two years ago, welcoming diners looking for plant-based options for Mexican food favorites. But even carnivorous types have found lots to love at Belenty’s (it won Restaurant of the Year at last year's Tastemaker Awards), as Hernandez proves meat-less versions of pastor and barbacoa tacos along with portobello tostadas can be just as flavorful as the original varieties. An expansive menu, from cauliflower wings and Mexican pasta to brunch dishes and burgers, combine for a creative bill of fare that keeps hungry diners – vegan or not – coming back.
David Hollister - Boozie's
Boozie’s Brewery & Gourmet Sandwiches is new to Fort Worth, but its executive chef David Hollister is not. Hollister officially took the reins of the restaurant as part owner when the Camp Bowie Boulevard space recently transitioned from Wild Acre Brewing Company. He was the chef at Wild Acre, too, and still serves the same gourmet sandwiches for which the Ridglea Hills spot became popular. Before his stint at Wild Acre, he was the chef for Dallas’ Gas Monkey Live, but Fort Worth diners might remember Hollister most for his Dagwood’s concepts – one on Foch Street and the other by Ridgmar Mall. Wherever he goes, his sandwich fans follow for favorites like the Reuben with house-brined Akaushi Wagyu pastrami, and the Cuban Press with braised Duroc pork shoulder.
Tim Love - Tannahill's Tavern & Music Hall, Caterina's
Tim Love is busy, but that’s nothing new. The nationally recognized Fort Worth chef seems to always have lots of irons in the fire, but perhaps not as many as in the past 15 months. Since January 2022, he’s opened not one but three new restaurants plus a live music venue in the Mule Alley district of the Fort Worth Stockyards. First was Paloma Suerte, his colorful Tex-Mex restaurant with open air views. Then came Caterina’s, Italian fine dining with tableside cocktail service and house-made pastas. Then Tannahill’s Tavern & Music Hall opened by fall, where patrons can grab dinner and drinks before ticketed shows with big-name acts. Love’s name is also on a slew of other restaurants in town and from Austin to Tennessee, including Lonesome Dove, Gemelle, Woodshed Smokehouse, Love Shack, and more. It’s an impressive feat, to say the least.
Stefon Rishel - Wishbone & Flynt, Tre Mogli
Stefon Rishel's big personality shines through the big flavors in his dishes, from his famous PB&J chicken wings to his custom ground burger seared in duck fat. Rishel has a long history in Fort Worth, first making a name for himself at Max's Wine Dive, where for three years he served as executive chef and received many accolades for his upscale comfort food and his friendly, good-time demeanor. After stints in Houston and Keller, Rishel returned to open Wishbone & Flynt and Tre Mogli, both in the Near Southside and both popular for their lively atmospheres and luxurious, scratch-made dishes. His next project is Teddy Wong's Dumplings & Wine, a Chinese restaurant in the Near Southside, expected to open in May.
Dena Peterson Shaskan - 3rd St. Market
It was Dena Peterson Shaskan who planted and tended an herb and veggie garden in a corner spot on the lawn of the Modern Art Museum more than a decade ago, back when she was executive chef of Café Modern. Her fresh take on food has always been evident throughout her culinary career, including catering from her business Mockingbird Food Co., and now at her latest venture, 3rd Street Market. The cozy downtown spot offers a refreshing daily menu of salads, soups, and sandwiches using sourdough baked in-house by her husband, Trent. The duo is aiming to breathe delicious new life into a quiet sector of Sundance Square that’s marred with multiple closures. With more than 25 years of culinary experience, Shaskan certainly has the credibility to do so.
Hao Tran - Hao's Grocery & Cafe
Running a restaurant and market, hosting pop-up dinners, and teaching cooking classes is enough to keep any chef full. Add working full-time as a high school science teacher, and you’ve got Hao Tran, the namesake of Hao’s Grocery & Café located in the Near Southside on St. Louis Avenue. The space was formerly The Table Market & Culinary Studio, where Hao was a partner and sold her beloved Asian dumplings and hosted many foodie events. Now the space is all hers, where she features a flavorful array of Asian food for dine-in or to-go.
A tenured Fort Worth chef who’s worked in several respected restaurants around town, Victor Villarreal stepped out on his own when he opened La Onda – a Latin-fusion seafood restaurant – in 2021 in a 1940s house on Race Street. The menu specialized in exotic fish and artfully executed ceviche, charcuterie, and cocktails. Foodies loved it; La Onda was voted Best New Restaurant by readers in the 2021 Tastemaker Awards competition. While Bon Appetit took notice last year when the magazine named La Onda one of 50 best new restaurants in the country, Villarreal’s avant-garde, upscale endeavor didn’t quite catch on, unfortunately closing just this month. But Villarreal won’t sit still for long. A Facebook post announcing the closure ended with, “This is not a goodbye though, just a short commercial break…stay tuned!” We certainly will.