Born in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and raised in Oakland, California, Chef Eddie Lam graduated from San Jose State and the California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. Lam is well versed in the cuisines and cultures of the Far East and the Pacific Northwest, and many points in between.
Lam began his career with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in Honolulu, Hawaii,then spent time traveling, working and learning about seafood and produce in Japan and the U.S. In 2006, he returned to the San Francisco Bay area, where he worked at ROE Restaurant as a lead line cook and sushi chef.
Lam has stayed in the Bay Area, going on to work at many of the region’s notable Asian concepts, including Umi Tochi, the Ozumo group and the Straits Restaurant Group, where he became executive chef for this group of modern Southeast Asian concepts and for their sister concept, SINO/XINO, which specialized in modern Chinese cuisine and dim sum. In 2015, Lam led kitchen design, construction and conceptualization of Straits’s new concepts, including Roots and Rye, a New American restaurant. While developing several concepts simultaneously might have been plenty for most people, in early 2017 Eddie opened a poke bowl concept, Pokii Eatery, INC. in Houston, Texas.
Now his classic training and global experiences are on full display at Crystal Jade Culinary Concept, where he is Corporate Executive Chef, USA. Working for an international brand with more than 100 outlets in 27 cities across Asia and the United States, Lam is tasked with upholding the quality and integrity of the Crystal Jade brand while incorporating local San Francisco culinary ideology into his oft-changing menu. His top priorities are sourcing locally, utilizing organic and free-range ingredients and bridging the gastronomy of traditional Chinese cuisine with a fresh modern outlook on elevated cuisine.
Part of his approach is to streamline the menu and focus on quality over quantity, “which means everything on the menu is made from scratch,” says Lam. “Where in Singapore, some of the distinctive flavors are aged fish sauce and fermenting; here, people want fresher flavors, like a whole local fish steamed with sizzled ginger and soy sauce. That freshness really reflects California cuisine.”
Within the classic standard of Chinese food, Lam likes to flex his creativity and use culinary techniques to blur the line between solid and liquid, hot and cold, and sweet and savory. In his skilled hands, traditional ingredients, like soy sauce, become caviar-like beads that burst in the mouth. Or he tops a hot soup with a firm soy gélée that melts into the surface. Crisp soy flakes add crunch in unexpected ways.
Beyond creating delicious food and exceptional dining experiences, he wants his work to educate U.S. diners, and his vast experiences traveling around Asia and the American West makes him the perfect teacher.
The Pubbelly Group’s Founding Partner and Chef, Jose Mendin, was born into a heavy food culture, the child of “food enthusiast” parents and a great-grandmother who was a cooking instructor. Though it wasn’t until Mendin went off to college and needed to prepare his own meals that he realized his adoration for cooking.
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Miami in 2001, Mendin’s passion for food and learning has carried him gracefully into a successful career. He was part of the opening team at Nobu, Miami and later Nobu, London. With this foundation he then found himself at SUSHISAMBA Miami. After two years, he was appointed to Assistant Corporate Chef, overseeing all U.S. locations, which included the 2008 opening of the award-winning SUSHISAMBA, Las Vegas at the Palazzo.
The Pubbelly Group’s collection of restaurants and bars continue to expand on both a national and international scale, and now includes: Pubbelly Noddle Bar, Pubbelly Sushi, Food Republic, Pubbelly Station, Pawn Broker, Pubbelly Sushi Market and their latest concept in Mendin’s hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico, named PB Ysla.
Chef Mendin has been a recognized semi-finalist of the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef South” for five consecutive years from 2011-2015 and has received national acknowledgements from Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Serious Eats, Departures and The Cooking Channel, among many others.
When Mendin is not in the kitchen, you’ll find him spending time with his fiancé Ali and his two sons, Ian and Noah.
As much as she is a chef and a restaurateur, Esther Choi also considers herself an ambassador for Korean cuisine and culture in the United States.
Born to Korean parents in the suburban town of Egg Harbor, N.J., Choi was always keenly aware of her heritage. Choi’s grandmother Jungok Yoo took care of the children while their parents worked, preparing kimchi and other traditional recipes in the age-old fashion, grinding her own chile for seasoning and fermenting vegetables in pots in the backyard. Choi’s grandmother grew her own vegetables in the garden; Choi followed her everywhere, asking questions and learning.
The willing young chef’s awareness deepened when the family moved to Korea for three years, in order to fulfill her parents’ desire that their children embrace the culture. For Choi, this was a true awakening to the role that food plays in people’s lives.
“Food is the ambassador of a culture,” she says. “It expresses all the elements that define a country—its history, social customs, language, geography, and art traditions.”
It’s also passed from generation to generation, as it was from Choi’s grandmother. “She taught me everything I know about food, how to love every ingredient, how to respect the process and thoughtful preparation of every dish.”
She began working in restaurants at age 14. “I probably worked every job there is in a restaurant, front-of-the-house to back,” explains Choi. Along the way, she realized that restaurant work wasn’t just a job—food had become a love and a passion. She set her sights on one day having her own restaurant so that she could share her passion for the flavors and ingredients of her culture with others.
After graduating from Rutgers University, she attended the Institute of Culinary Education, in New York City, in order to perfect her craft. She also worked in the Manhattan kitchens of ilili and La Esquina, gaining an appreciation of Mediterranean and authentic Mexican cuisine in the process. A position in culinary purchasing at the Food Network helped hone her natural entrepreneurial inclination.
In 2014, Choi opened Mokbar in Manhattan’s bustling Chelsea market, when she was just 28—beating her long-held goal of having her own restaurant at 30. Mokbar in Brooklyn opened in late 2016. The name Mokbar references mokbang, the infamous Korean hobby of watching other people eat (mok means “eat”). But it was always about paying tribute to her beloved grandmother and the food she loved.
One way she pays tribute is with kimchi. She ferments nine different kinds in crocks and jars in the labyrinthine prep area behind the restaurant, and experiments with different seasonal vegetables, in a process she calls “kimchifying.”
“Kimchi is in my soul and in every single one of my recipes,” explains Choi. One of her favorites is Kimchi Jjgae, a spicy stew that can be made with meat or seafood and tofu, redolent with garlic, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, and scallions—and of course kimchi.
“To me, Korean food is not just about cooking and being a chef,” she says. “It’s about the love of family, culture, and respect of my heritage. That is who I am, both personally and professionally. I want everyone to fall in love with Korean food and culture. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Many of today’s young chefs were first exposed to cooking through their parents, especially their mothers. Harold Jurado literally slept on 50-pound bags of flour in his mother’s Filipino bakery and restaurant in suburban Chicago. At the age of five, he was baking traditional Filipino bread rolls, and he was also using a cooling rack and five-gallon bucket to play back-alley basketball.
“Food was a huge part of our family life, at an emotional level,” says Jurado, who now works for Bon Appétit Management Company in a Silicon Valley tech account. “And Filipino food is still my comfort food.”
Although he initially had no intention of going into the restaurant industry, it was perhaps inevitable that he ended up at Kendall College in Chicago, earning his degree in Culinary Arts in 2005. From there, he had stints in restaurants as diverse as Japonais in New York and Las Vegas and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.
But the bold, multicultural flavors of the Philippines were always a siren song and an inspiration. “Filipino food is so salty and spicy and fatty. It’s unrefined, in a good way,” he explains. “It’s the food I’m used to, but it also appeals to people who are looking for really flavorful food. And it was very well accepted in meat-and-potatoes Chicago.”
This background gave Jurado the palate and the confidence to open his own restaurant (the trendsetting Chizakaya, which he operated for three years) in the style of an izakaya. Izakaya are the casual rustic pubs that are so much a part of the Japanese lifestyle, with their wide-ranging menus of noodles and grilled and fried foods, meant to be enjoyed with after-work drinks.
As David Bazirgan was working his way up in culinary circles, he was also working his way west, to San Francisco.
A native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, he started out washing dishes in a restaurant in his hometown, but his interest was piqued enough to attend the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Boston, where he immersed himself in French technique.
Over the next eight years, he worked with some of Boston’s top chefs, including Stan Frankenthaler (Salamander) and Todd English (Olives). But it was his mentor, the ground-breaking Boston chef Barbara Lynch, who gave him his first job out of culinary school, at Galleria Italiana. Eventually, she asked him to be the chef de cuisine at her new No. 9 Park in Boston, where he served on the opening team and garnered attention for his meticulous seven- to nine-course tasting menus. He stayed there for five years.
Ready for a new challenge, Bazirgan moved to San Francisco in 2003, and it was there that his profile really started rising. After a brief stint at the restaurant Elizabeth Daniel, he moved to Baraka restaurant where he was named a Rising Star Chef by both the San Francisco Chronicle and StarChefs. He also fell in love with the food of Japan and Southeast Asia, which is well represented in San Francisco. “The flavors are just so exciting, the balance of heat and sweetness, and the focus on fresh ingredients and seasonal cooking,” he says.
|Mihoko Obunai||Japanese native Mihoko Obunai developed her passion for cooking while living and working in Peru after graduating from New York University. Obunai attended the French Culinary Institute and trained at several acclaimed New York restaurants, including La Caravelle, under chef Cyril Renaud; L’Absinthe, Bayard’s; and Guastavino’s, under chef Daniel Orr. She cooked at the James Beard House twice during her tenure at Guastavino’s and once while at Repast Restaurant.|
Resides: Houston, TX
Culinary Education: San Jacinto College
As the executive chef of the award-winning contemporary-Korean restaurant Dosi, in Houston, Jordan Asher puts his professional biography on every single plate. He has spent his entire career on the learning curve, seeking experiences in different restaurants at the right hand of chefs who have taught him something new at every point. That experience has all come together at Dosi, where chef Asher has been able to put his own stamp on the menu.
|Richard Sandoval||Growing up in Mexico City, Richard Sandoval would join his grandmother in the kitchen and gather around her large table with family to enjoy lively Mexican feasts prepared from scratch. From his grandmother, he learned to respect fresh, authentic, ingredients and to create the vibrant flavors that turned family dinners into celebrated events. Meanwhile, his restaurateur father – owner of Madeiras in Acapulco and Villa Fiore also in Acapulco –imparted lessons in service and restaurant management.|
|Chris Jaeckle||Asian flavors are reshaping the American menu. And as diners become increasingly familiar with Asian cuisines and ingredients, they’re not just looking for authentic Chinese, Japanese and southeast Asian dishes. They’ve developed an insatiable appetite for “Asian Cool”—foods, fusions and flavors that combine the best of Asia with the other global cuisines they’re falling in love with.|
“We use tons of Kikkoman Soy Sauce at our restaurants. I like the flavor and the quality, wherever in the world I’m going with a dish.”
The world is her oyster, and the street is her beat. Susan Feniger’s Los Angeles restaurants—Border Grill and STREET—and the popular “Too Hot Tamales” TV Series (hosted with her longtime collaborator, Mary Sue Milliken) have made her one of the nation’s leading proponents of Latin cooking. But that’s just the beginning of a culinary road that leads all the way to the Far East.
|Andrew Hunter||Chef Andrew is the Foodservice and Industrial chef for Kikkoman where he develops custom and ready-to-use sauce solutions for manufacturer partners, as well as menu concepts for a broad base of restaurant, college and university, and healthcare customers. Through Andrew, Kikkoman is an able partner in developing profitable sauce solutions for its customers.|
|Jet Tila||From Hollywood and Normandie to the Las Vegas Strip, from backyard cooking classes to battling legends on Iron Chef America, Jet Tila has quickly carved his own unique niche as a culinary storyteller. Thanks to his diverse background and education, Jet is universally comfortable in multiple roles as a nationally celebrated chef and consultant, a teacher and a student in the art of food.|
|Robert Puerto||Chef Robert Puerto started working in restaurants at the age of 19, and earned a degree in culinary arts at the Ft. Lauderdale Art Institute. Chef Robert's culinary influences are much attributed to his Cuban roots, which have played a key role in the development of two Latin fusion concepts. He cooked for several years in Miami and Puerto Rico, and along the way learned the intricacies of French and Equatorial cuisine from master chefs.|
|Daniel Olivella||Daniel Olivella is the executive chef-partner and wine buyer of B44 Catalan Bistro in San Francisco, and Barlata, a tapas bar in Oakland, CA (and opening a new location in Austin, TX). He opened B44 in 1999 and was named a Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2001 by the San Francisco Chronicle.|
|Ann Cooper||Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children. In a nation where children are born with shorter estimated life expectancies than their parents because of diet-related illness, Ann is a relentless voice of reform by focusing on the links between food, family, farming and children's health and wellness.|