The day draws near for the 2016 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, when we honor the top talent in local food and drink. In anticipation, we celebrate the best chefs in Fort Worth right now. The field is broad, the menus are many, but these are the names that instantly come to mind when you think about food in Fort Worth.
Feel free to get up to speed on all there is to know about Tastemakers, which takes place May 19 at the Hall of State in Fair Park. Count the five reasons why you should buy tickets right now, and there's still time to vote for your favorite new restaurant.
Here are our eight candidates for Chef of the Year.
Jon Bonnell, Bonnell's, Waters
A native of Fort Worth, Bonnell transformed his childhood pastimes of hunting, fishing, and cooking into his culinary inspiration. After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, he opened Bonnell's Fine Texas Cuisine in 2001, spotlighting wild game meat. In 2013, he opened a second restaurant, Waters, in the trendy West 7th district to showcase his love of seafood. In 2014, he published an accompanying cookbook, Jon Bonnell's Waters: Fine Coastal Cuisine. He's a culinary instructor at the Culinary School of Fort Worth and teaches wine classes at Texas Christian University as well as monthly classes at Central Market.
Andrew Dilda, Independent Bar & Kitchen
A native of Northern California, Dilda is one of the most "DFW" chefs around, skipping between restaurants in Dallas and Fort Worth. His culinary history includes Reata in Fort Worth, Central Market, Neighborhood Services, and CBD Provisions, where he delved into charcuterie. His tenure at Woodshed Smokehouse led to his collaboration with chef-owner Tim Love on Barter, the restaurant in Uptown Dallas where Dilda was chef, earning him a Rising Star Chef of the Year nomination in 2014. He returned to Reata, before leaving for a new position at Deep Ellum "supergroup" restaurant Independent Bar & Kitchen.
Lanny Lancarte, Righteous Foods
Chef-owner Lanny Lancarte II grew up as part of the dynasty behind Joe T. Garcia’s, famous ’round the world for its simple Tex-Mex. Lancarte’s great-grandfather was Joe T. himself. After a culinary odyssey, interning with the likes of Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintanna, and Diane Kennedy, he returned to Fort Worth to open Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana. In 2014, he did a reboot by embracing healthier dining with his restaurant Righteous Foods, where he does juices, great coffee, and a broad menu that's totally on trend.
Tim Love, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Love Shack, and Woodshed Smokehouse
One of the best known chefs from Texas, Love is a TV regular and Food Network favorite who also co-hosts CNBC show Restaurant Startup. Somehow he's able to juggle that with a portfolio of restaurants that keeps growing; he recently opened a Lonesome Dove in Austin, and has plans to open a Lonesome Dove and Love Shack to his alma mater city of Knoxville, Tennessee. His signature cuisine is "urban Western," but he has a canny knack for staying au courant. Woodshed Smokehouse may be a meat place, but it was also one of the first in the area to serve kale.
Kevin Martinez, Tokyo Cafe
Young, tattooed chef who helped revive Tokyo Cafe stays a few steps ahead of the curve, embracing trendy dishes such as sushi and ramen before they hit the mainstream. In 2011, he gained acclaim when he won a regional competition for the Chefs Under Fire regional competition for Dallas-Fort Worth. Though he was already making a name for himself, he went back to school to get his degree in a culinary arts. When he isn't attending school, spending time with his wife and two sons, or helping out at Tokyo Cafe, he works at his food cart Yatai, focusing on Japanese and Asian food.
Hans Peter Muller, Swiss Pastry Shop
After Swiss Pastry Shop founder Hans Muller died in 2013, son Hans Peter could have rested on the laurels of the shop's trademark Black Forest cake. But instead, he began mixing things up. Expanding the menu from prototypical breakfast and lunch, he added burgers — and not just any burgers, but burgers made with local Prime Wagyu, and topped with ingredients like bacon, cheddar, smoked brisket, grilled onions, jalapenos, and more. From there, he added dinner service with burgers and German food. He's always up to something whether it's a neat burger creation, a special weekend offering of flaky kouign amann pastries, or an impulsive batch of chocolate-covered bacon.
Marcus Paslay, Clay Pigeon
Arlington native took a detour from his business training to attend the Culinary Institute of America, then took a culinary odyssey, working in states such as Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington. Around Dallas, he was at Neighborhood Services and the Rough Creek Lodge in Glen Rose. He moved back to the area in 2011, with his wife and two children, and opened the critical favorite Clay Pigeon in 2013. In the fall, he'll open a second restaurant called Piattello Italian Kitchen in Fort Worth's new Waterside development.
Blaine Staniford, Grace
Staniford always knew he wanted to be a chef and was a prodigy. At a mere 19, he became one of the youngest graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, before spending two years under the tutelage of award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit Restaurant in New York City. He joined San Francisco-based Aqua and Pisces in 1998, then returned to Dallas in 2003, where he was sous chef at the acclaimed Lola, then ran Fuse, a chic restaurant in downtown Dallas where he fused Texas and Asian cuisines. Highly decorated with awards, he's been with Grace since it opened in Fort Worth in 2008 and also oversaw the September 2013 opening of sibling restaurant Little Red Wasp.