With the lifting of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, eating out is once more back on the menu. Below are five of the hottest and most influential chefs and restaurants that are sure to be serving up something fabulous in 2021.
Paolo Velez, Bakers Against Racism
The pastry chef who fused activism with baking is on a mission to bring joy to people through her desserts while addressing inequalities in the kitchen culture, such as racism, toxic environments, wage disparity, and the treatment of marginalized groups within kitchens. Bakers Against Racism was born in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, which brought together 24,000 bakers and customers in over fifteen countries. The funds and level of awareness raised by the organization have since helped hundreds of charities.
Velez’s creations are wonderful things: the pina colada doughnut is a huge confection of brioche pastry wrapped in an intensely flavorful pineapple glaze, with a rum and coconut-infused cream center. And then there are the heavy-weight cookies loaded with matcha powder and white chocolate chunks – Velez calls these ‘thick’ems.’ These aren’t subtle little sweets to be placed elegantly on restaurant tables and picked at after the main meal. Indeed such decadent desserts are the stars of the show.
Velez’s own star is still rising, so watch out for her influence in the culinary world in 2022 and beyond.
Gaby Maeda, State Bird Provisions
Gaby Maeda is Chef de Cuisine at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco and was named as one of the Oakland Rising Stars in 2019. She was awarded the accolade of Best New Chef earlier this year.
Maeda’s dishes are infused with the flavors of her childhood home, Hawaii, and blended with the tastes of California and those of Asia, where she has traveled extensively. The dishes that the chef has created for the State Bird Provisions menu include carrot mochi, where pounded rice is served with a mixture of roasted and pickled carrots and a carrot vinaigrette. Egg tofu is another glorious medley of flavor influences: this combination of steamed eggs, dashi, white soy, mirin, pickled mushrooms, and Korean chili flakes is further evidence of Maeda’s knack of creating dishes that are both familiarly rustic yet excitingly contemporary.
Madera at Treehouse, London
Ashley Wells is the Executive Chef heading up the team at Madera, which was selected as one of the best new restaurants of 2020. The aim of the restaurant is to offer reimagined Mexican cuisine using organic ingredients and strong, punchy flavors. Eating as an experience is key here: the venue serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, and the mood and lighting shift and change to reflect each different serving period.
Dishes that can be savored while enjoying the view of the London skyline include Mexican Fattoush Salad, Josper-Smoked Salmon, Calimari Frito, and Tequila Prawns. Masera also offers a full vegan menu, featuring items such as Soyrizo Bowls, Vegan Ceviche, and Wild Mushroom Enchiladas.
The weekend brunch is a popular event at Madera, with classic brunch food being given a Mexican twist and served with bespoke cocktails.
Ji Hye Kim, Miss Kim
Food and Wine magazine named Ji Hye Kim as Best New Chef of 2021 for her skill in reimagining centuries-old Korean recipes. Kim opened her restaurant, Miss Kim, located in Ann Arbor, in 2016, before which she ran a food cart serving pan-Asian style street food.
Miss Kim’s ethos is all about marrying traditional Korean food with seasonal local produce to produce an eclectic mix of a menu. For Kim, learning about the history of Korean food and its evolution has been vital in informing how she creates dishes: for example, the lack of chili flakes in the chef’s kimchi is due to the fact that they are a relatively recent addition to the meal, only being incorporated as an ingredient about two-hundred years ago.
Kim chefs at pop-up events around the region, as well as running the restaurant kitchen, and these will no doubt be in even higher demand following her Best New chef Title awarded earlier this year.
Boxer, Auckland, New Zealand
The restaurant, Boxer, epitomizes experimental eating. Diners sit all facing the front and watch the chef, Ed Verner, and the beverage expert, Hillary Eaton, prepare the menu. Guests are presented with a warm fermented mushroom broth upon arrival, having been required to text a number in order to be granted access to the dining space, serving to further ramp up the expectation and air of mystery. The decor is part science fiction movie, part retro lounge, and the menu is a set one, with ever more wonderous dishes appearing from beneath the hands of the culinary maestros front and center. Delights include crisped bok choy fronds on ice and pumpkin nasturtium tacos.
Drink matching wizardry results in serving banana wine, peapod martinis, and flutes of vintage Krug.
The theatrical elements of this dining experience can be challenging: the on-stage killing of a crayfish, in preparation for it to be poached in butter and served later, may well not be stomachable (if you can excuse the pun) for some.
Boxer has been named one of the best new restaurants of the year, and there is a clear expectation that its influence will be wide-ranging and significant in the culinary world for years to come.
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