On May 17, we'll salute the top culinary talent from San Antonio and Austin at the annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. Ten San Antonio chefs have been nominated for Chef of the Year, recognized as leaders in the local culinary arts who apply their skills in a variety of ways.
Ahead of the event, get a taste of our star chef nominees:
Jeff Balfour, Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery
A Citrus veteran, growing up in Galveston helped inspire Chef Jeff Balfour and his love for Southern comfort fare and Texas Gulf Coast cuisine. Balfour has blended the two styles to create savory dishes such as fried snapper throats, East Texas jerky, and Gulf crab-spiked mac and cheese. Southerleigh, located in the former Pearl Brewery, has become a potent presence in the local microbrew and pub scene since opening a year ago.
Mark Bliss, Bliss
Chef Mark Bliss is known as one of the best gourmet chefs in the Southwest. During his time with Bruce Auden at Biga on the Banks in the 1990s, Biga was the youngest restaurant to be inducted into the Fine Dining Hall of Fame. With his wife and business partner, Lisa, Bliss has made his restaurant a destination eatery in Southtown, reflective of the area's culinary diversity and adventurous style.
Stefan Bowers, Feast
Chef Stefan Bowers embarked upon cooking in a unique way — reading cookbooks in the back of a Navy helicopter while logging time as a rescue swimmer. Later, a chance meeting in Italy led to a year-long apprenticeship under Chef Caterina Di Luccia. After culinary school, Bowers was chef de cuisine under Chef Jason Dady at The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills and then became executive chef at 20nine Restaurant & Wine Bar. "The ideas behind Feast are service, strong drinks, and flavor-driven food that has value," Bowers says.
Luis Colon, Folc
Chef Luis Colon was sous chef at Bella on the River and Biga on the Banks before opening Folc in Olmos Park. Growing up in Puerto Rico, the region's cuisine — and his mother's cooking — remain largely inspirational to him. At Folc, Colon and his team strive to be creative with contemporary American cuisine and offer a comfortable fine-dining atmosphere for the patrons.
Jason Dady, Tre Trattoria and Shuck Shack
Dady has served as executive chef and owner of Tre Trattoria, Tre Enoteca, Two Bros BBQ Market, The DUK Truck, B&D Ice House, Shuck Shack, and Jason Dady Restaurant Group Catering. A passion for food and offering good hospitality has long been in Dady's family. His grandparents have owned a small tavern for more than 40 years, and his grandfather was a master butcher who passed along his personal set of knives to Dady. Over the years, Dady has racked up an array of awards and honors in the culinary industry, including a semifinalist nomination in the James Beard Awards.
Johnny Hernandez, The Frutería
Chef Johnny Hernandez was inspired by food at a very young age by his father's Westside restaurant. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York and working at exclusive resorts around the nation, Hernandez returned home and opened True Flavors Catering, highly regarded as one the city's best. Inspired by distinctive cuisines and styles from different regions around Mexico, Hernandez has worked hard to provide local diners with authentic Mexican cuisine with the opening of La Gloria, El Machito, and The Frutería. He was invited to cook up such fare at the White House this past Cinco de Mayo.
Steven McHugh, Cured
Chef Steven McHugh was raised in a large farming family in Wisconsin. McHugh blended his heritage with an amazing culinary exploration of New Orleans, where he worked in several famous kitchens. That led to his collaboration with Chef John Besh, as executive chef at Lüke restaurant in downtown San Antonio. McHugh then opened Cured, the Pearl restaurant that allows him to honor his family's agricultural roots by sourcing local ingredients. A bout with lymphoma has not slowed McHugh, whose star continues to rise in the local culinary scene. "I've got such a great crew. Whenever someone takes time to recognize them, it shows what we're doing works," he says.
Michael Sohocki, Restaurant Gwendolyn
Chef Michael Sohocki learned much from his farmer grandmother, for whom his downtown San Antonio restaurant is named. She proved resourceful and resilient and taught a respect for one's surroundings. Sohocki has taken those lessons to heart. He and his colleagues at Restaurant Gwendolyn source ingredients from within a 150-mile radius and craft gourmet meals by hand with no aid from mechanical equipment. Having worked at The Cove and at Chef Andrew Weissman's Le Reve and Osteria Il Sogno, Sohocki is working hard to make Restaurant Gwendolyn a stronghold for sustainability and old-school, seasonal cooking.
Pieter Sypesteyn, The Cookhouse
Chef Pieter Sypesteyn sings the praises of his native Louisiana through his food, which explores regional influences from France, Spain, Italy, Nova Scotia, and the Caribbean. Sypesteyn arrived in San Antonio in 2007 where he worked under chefs Weissman and Thierry Burkle. In 2012, he capitalized on the growing food truck scene by launching Where Y'at, dazzling local foodies with New Orleans-style street food. The Cookhouse has allowed Sypesteyn to diversify his menu — and include an oyster bar. In the short time it's been open near the North St. Mary's strip, The Cookhouse has received local and national accolades.
Andrew Weissman, Il Sogno Osteria
A native San Antonian, Weissman studied at the CIA, where he graduated top of his class, before working under famous chefs in renowned French kitchens. Following exclusive stints stateside, Weissman returned home, where he has helped create a rebirth in San Antonio's worldly cuisine scene. He opened Le Reve to much acclaim and followed that up with upscale oyster bar The Sandbar and Osteria Il Sogno, both at Pearl. The latter is Weissman's tribute to renowned trattorias and osterias of Italy. Weissman's local restaurant empire also includes The Luxury, the Pearl's outdoor restaurant that recently reopened following renovations, and Moshe's Golden Falafel, a fast-service vegan/vegetarian eatery with kosher ingredients.