Valerie Phillips: Neighborhood chefs can be 'trailblazers'

Published: Tuesday, May 15 2012 3:56 p.m. MDT

Do you know a "trailblazing" chef in your favorite neighborhood restaurant?

Cooking Light magazine recently announced the addition of a People's Choice category for Best Neighborhood Chef to its second-annual Trailblazing Chef Awards.

The 2012 Awards, chosen by Cooking Light editors, recognizes chefs who are setting the pace for trends in American restaurants in such categories as authenticity, innovation, healthy cooking, environment, and cultural preservation.

In checking out last year's "trailblazers," I am only familiar with one: Marcus Samuelsson, who won the "Neighborhood Chef" category. His Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster, was lauded for its loose and local feel, and its appeal to the neighborhood as well as non-locals.

You might have watched Samuelsson competing on the Food Network's "The Next Iron Chef" a few months ago.

Marcus Samuelsson came to Utah in 2001 as a guest chef for a Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee "one-year-out" party at Park City Mountain Resort. At the time, he owned Aquavit restaurant in New York City, had won the James Beard Foundation's "Best Rising Star Chef" award in 1999, and was profiled by People magazine in 2000 as one of America's top five eligible bachelors.

When I interviewed him, he mentioned that he was orphaned as a child in Ethiopia, then adopted by a Swedish couple. His star has continued to rise over the years, as he oversaw President Barack Obama's first state dinner. Obama also headlined a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at Samuelsson's Red Rooster.

Cooking Light describes Red Rooster's menu as "a mix of Southern and soul selections such as fried chicken and blackened catfish, with hits of global fusion (curry leaves with basmati dirty rice), and a few winks to Samuelsson's Swedish and Ethiopian roots (Helga's Meatballs with lingonberries; a brunch snack of nuts with sour cherries and Ethiopian injera)."

I think there are many Utah restaurants that have a great presence in their respective neighborhoods, with food so good that they are a destination for non-locals too. To add to the local vibe, they use a lot of Utah-produced ingredients as well.

But unfortunately, most of those chefs are simply too busy in cooking in the kitchen to lobby for awards or compete on TV reality shows. That's where you come in.

This year's People's Choice category gives consumers a chance to nominate their favorite chefs who would likely be overlooked by a national nominating committee.

The Cooking Light editors will vet the nominations to create a list of finalists that will be posted on CookingLight.com for public voting. The winning chef will be featured in the November 2012 issue of Cooking Light and on CookingLight.com as the first-ever fan-nominated and voted Trailblazing Chef Award winner.

So what makes a good "neighborhood restaurant?"

"The definition is hard to pin down, but the true neighborhood restaurant is frequented and treasured by locals; it feels essential to the fabric and soul of the area; and it also feels, no matter how famous it gets, as if it were collectively owned by the customers," says Cooking Light Editor Scott Mowbray. "For this reason, we are looking to our readers to shape and decide the Best Neighborhood Restaurant category of our second-annual Trailblazing Chef Awards, so show some love to your local joint and nominate them to be the first-ever winner."

Nominations can be submitted on www.CookingLight.com/ChefAwards from May 2 through May 31.

The list of finalists will be posted on www.CookingLight.com in mid-June and voting will open at that time.

To see the list of last year's "trailblazers," check out www.cookinglight.com/food/chef-award-winners-2011-00412000072469 .

I'd like to hear from readers: which restaurant, or chef, would you nominate as a trailblazer in neighborhood restaurants?

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com. Email: vphillips@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS