1. Woo Wai Leong, Restaurant Ibid, Singapore
While some young chefs can’t wait to open their own eatery, 2015 MasterChef Asia winner Woo Wai Leong decided to bide his time, opening Restaurant Ibid only three years after his win in 2018. Located in Singapore’s Chinatown, the contemporary Chinese eatery continues to win favour for its Nanyang cuisine. Woo’s meticulous touch shines through dishes like the Spring Onion Shaobing served with yeasted butter and just the right amount of dried laksa leaves. Then there’s the East-meets-West, fork-tender Lamb Belly that’s cleverly served with a burnt cream, fennel and Xi’an spice, and a perfectly braised Beef Short Rib accompanied by fermented Nashi pear, black fungus and Angelica root.
2. Monique Fiso, Hiakai, Wellington
If she looks familiar, you may have seen her on Netflix’s big-budget cooking show The Final Table. While Fiso didn’t win the competition, the young Maori-Samoan chef is a trailblazer in her own right. Her painstaking work with hard-to-find Maori and Polynesian ingredients such as the titi bird and red matipo shrub isn’t rolled out just for novelty’s sake. For Fiso, throwing the spotlight on Maori cuisine is a labour of love. She uses fire pits she dug herself for hangi – a traditional New Zealand Māori method of cooking food in a pit with heated rocks – and has modernised the meat recipes by brining them beforehand. Her innovative approach, honed while working in New York and from her travelling pop-up series around New Zealand, culminated in Hiakai (the name directly translates as hungry), her first restaurant in Wellington. There, Fiso’s tasting menus have a deliberate educational slant, and she often presents the native ingredient alongside the dish.
3. Pierre Touitou, Vivant, Paris
Holding court in the 10th arrondissement is hip Parisian bistro Vivant that’s helmed by 24-year-old chef Pierre Touitou whose culinary experience includes stints at Aux Deux Amis and the Plaza Athénée. Touitou serves dishes that fuse Japanese, Tunisian and Scandinavian culinary touches from a rotating menu he prepares himself while working his magic with a skeletal set-up of an oven and two induction burners. The food, loosely conceptualised around France’s seasonal produce, changes frequently but is consistently on point. His cuttlefish cigar rolls with shiso leaves, 10-hour simmered tamarind-galangal sauce chicken wings and perfectly braised steak served with a herbaceous Mioukhya sauce prove that good food doesn’t require a kitchen full of fancy equipment.
4. Alexander Hong, Sorrel, San Francisco
From pop-ups in Union Square to a permanent spot in one of San Francisco’s wealthiest suburbs, Colorado transplant Alexander Hong’s trademark Cali-Italian cuisine has found favour with the Bay Area’s culinary aficionados. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, who trained under Jean-Georges Vongerichten and worked at Michelin-starred Quince, his refined seasonal approach – think dry-aged duck studded with Sicilian pistachios or citrus-tinged lamb tartare served with cured egg yolk – recently clinched him the 2019 James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, which clearly hasn’t gone to his head. Pop in most evenings and you’ll find him circulating among guests, making sure everything is just right.
5. Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn, Saawaan, Bangkok
Hailing from a family of chefs, Bangkok native Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn has parlayed her experiences – from her childhood and professional stints at the likes of Issaya Siamese Club and The House On Sathorn – into an imitable culinary style that’s earned the 30-seater Saawaan (where she’s a co-owner) a coveted Michelin star. The tasting menu, curated around each dish’s preparation method, focuses on native ingredients and modernised heirloom recipes. Unconventional highlights include the signature Dip (salty rice paddy crab fat in curry paste served with coconut sticky rice) and Charcoaled, which has featured everything from a grilled iberico pork neck with fermented bilimbi to quail from the Nakhon Pathom province, which “Aom” visits regularly to source for lesser known produce that eventually features on Saawaan’s menu.
6. Daniela Soto-Innes, Cosme and Atla, New York
Launching a restaurant in New York City would intimidate even the most experienced chef, what more a relative newcomer at the ripe young age of 23. Handpicked by Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol (known for pioneering Mexican haute cuisine) to launch modern Mexican restaurant Cosme in 2014, Soto-Innes has long since proven her chops. Recently named World’s Best Female Chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – she’s also the youngest awardee – her elevated approach sees conventional Mexican dishes given a sophisticated touch. At Cosme, her duck carnitas tacos are served with a cornhusk meringue, green mole gets an Asian nuance with bok choy (Chinese cabbage) and cucumber, and razor clam tostada, the crowd favourite, comes with peanuts and a smoky salsa macha. Not one to lose momentum, she and Olvera opened Atla, a cool canteen-style Mexican eatery in Noho in 2017. Coming soon: two restaurants – Damian and Ditroit – in Los Angeles.
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