San Antonio’s top 6 chefs are at the heart of our vibrant dining scene
In recent years, American cuisine has experienced seismic change, a trend accentuated by the pandemic. Gone is the preciousness and the pretentiousness and the notion that the high fare only comes from Europe. No more snobbery, a trend that made our plates absolutely identical.
Think of the six nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Chef of the Year award as the new cutting edge. Although some are industry veterans and a few new upstarts, they all share one trait. The food should be personal, reflect the diversity of their backgrounds and cultures, and reflect the community in which they work. Thanks to them, San Antonio’s food scene has never been more vibrant.
Learn more about their pioneering work below, then join us on April 26 at The Espee when we reveal this year’s winner. A handful of tickets are still available – grab yours today!
Jason Dady, Garden
Maybe it’s the culinary wanderlust. No San Antonio chef has explored a wider range of flavors than local hero Jason Dady. Since opening his first restaurant in his 20s, the busy restaurateur has experimented with Spanish tapas (Bin 555), Asian fusion (Umai Mi) and Tuscan Italian (Tre Trattoria) in a city not often recognized for its taste. cosmopolitan. His newest venture, planted at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, basks in Mediterranean vegetarian dishes. As always, his encyclopedic palace is there.
Known as “Chef Kirk” by their many fans, Jesse Kuykendall is perhaps the busiest restaurateur in Alamo City. In addition to running a brick-and-mortar and food truck under the name Milpa, they serve as the executive chef to Ocho at Hotel Havana. Oh, and they still found time to become the Food Network’s first local winner Chopped. Classically trained at the Culinary Institute of America and mentored by Oaxacan culinary expert Susana Trilling, Kuykendall’s cooking is rooted in their mother’s South Texas cuisine. It shows in everything they do, whether it’s the intricate marinade of Arabian Tacos or the sheer comfort of fideo loco.
Kenny Loo, Scorpion
A veteran of San Antonio’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Tre Trattoria and Hot Joy, Kenny Loo is now making his mark with something more personal. Hailing from Lima, Peru, Loo’s work is rooted in the country’s traditional cuisine, including chifa, the region’s coveted Chinese fusion. What sets him apart is his contemporary approach. Of course, its ingredient list includes Criolla salsa, chimichurri, and a quick leche de tigre. It also makes room for a Black Mint Ranch. And its vibrant veneer is exuberant in Scorpion’s minimalist desert dining room.
Steve McHugh, Landrace
A note to the judges of this year’s James Beard Awards: Go ahead and give the medal to Steve McHugh already. With his inventive menu at Cured, the six-time nominee more than proved his mettle. Not content to rest on those laurels, McHugh now dazzles patrons at Landrace, the upscale restaurant inside the downtown Thompson Hotel. There, his exploration of Americana hones in Texas through regional ingredients and an investigation of historical eating habits. That doesn’t mean the food gets too intellectual. Chili lime popcorn served with hushpuppies is always undeniably fun.
Laurent Réa, Mon Chou Chou Brewery
Laurent Réa cut his teeth at Chef de France, the Orlando restaurant imagined by the giants of new cuisine Paul Bocuse and Roger Vergé. However, his career in San Antonio was marked by the more informal aspects of Gallic gastronomy. With stays at Etoile and Signature, Réa specializes in hearty, casual French cuisine. It took off at the Southerleigh Group’s Pearl Brasserie with perfectly executed dishes like Lyonnaise Onion Soup and Chicken Cordon Bleu. There’s no doubt he could whip up any mother sauce in his sleep. This municipality is also fortunate to know the simple pleasures of juice.
Caesar Zepeda, Sangria on the Burg
Caesar Zepeda was born in the small town of Banquete, South Texas, and that rural spirit still shines through in his cooking. It’s not that he’s unfamiliar with today’s arsenal of international ingredients; he’s more interested in crowd-pleasing flavors than buzzwords. Bon Appétit subscribers surely appreciate how pasilla peppers add depth to onion strings or smoked brisket reinvents cheesesteak. But it doesn’t matter if the guests know the difference between zhug and za’atar. Zepeda makes some damn good food, and it does for everyone who walks through its doors.