For the most part, we much prefer to bring attention to rising star, young gun, and underdog chefs. But there was no denying that hardened vets hogged the dining spotlight for the bulk of 2015, opening game-changing establishments that truly ran the gamut — from unreservedly high-end (Gabriel Kreuther’s foie gras-focused tasting menus) to unapologetically low (David Chang and Brooks Headley’s chicken sandwich vs. veggie burger face-off). So here are the six restaurateurs whose names (and food) were constantly in our mouths last year, including Danny Bowien and his Mission Chinese reboot, and the unstoppable Major Food Group crew.
Major Food Group: If you thought Major Food Group (Carbone, Parm, ZZ’s, & Dirty French) would slow down or fizzle out, this culinary force seemed determined to prove you wrong. In fact, a Carbone naysayer would have a hard time finding fault with either of their restaurant entries this year; the lighthearted, coastal Italian Santina, and the luxe, Jewish appetizing hotspot, Sadelles. And expect the undeviating force that is Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick to make even bigger waves in 2016, as they undertake a partnership with real estate magnate, Aby Rosen, to provide a slew of new dining options in the Seagram Building (which famously housed The Four Seasons).
David Chang: The Momofuku kingpin had his finger in so many pies last year, he made the Major Food Group look like slackers. Not only did he kick off 2015 with a critically-acclaimed revamp of Momofuku Ko (boasting a significantly larger space, a 2 ½-hour long tasting menu, and custom-blended coffee), but he helped launch the innovative food delivery service, Maple; a full-stack business, offering meals developed by a star-studded team of culinary advisors, such as Mark Ladner, Dan Kluger and Brooks Headley. And lest we forget, Chang also debuted a humble little sandwich shop called Fuku (followed in short order by an expanded, party-ready spot in the Chambers Hotel called Fuku+), which just happened to launch a city-wide fried chicken sandwich obsession, and command constant, wrap around the block lines.
Danny Bowien: After fleeing his original, Lower East Side location due to a rodent infestation and other, unsavory issues, Danny Bowien laid low in Brooklyn for a while, holding ticketed (only $30!) Mission Chinese Food pop-ups in Frankies Spuntino’s backyard. But 2015 was much kinder to the quirky, San Francisco transplant, when he reopened his restaurant to great fanfare on East Broadway. A dramatically expanded menu — as outsized as the space, which now easily accommodates round, Chinese banquet-style tables — is, for the most part, unilaterally awesome, improbably peddling everything from Claypot Catfish to a Tray of Uni to Lotus Leaf-Roasted Duck and bubbly, Hot Cheese Pizza.
Brooks Headley: Who would have predicted that Del Posto’s former pastry chef would emerge as rival to none other than Danny Meyer, with his celebrated, all-veggie answer to Shake Shack? What started out as an experiment during family meal led to Brooks Headley’s series of feverishly attended pop-ups, and in 2015, his first brick-and-mortar outpost of Superiority Burger, which garnered lines out the door and an unprecedented, two star review from the New York Times. And we’re only seeing Superiority in its infant stages; there’s already a signed deal for cookbook, so don’t be surprised to find outposts eventually proliferating throughout the globe, or perhaps, even patties popping up in your grocer’s freezer.
Gabriel Kreuther: Sure, The Modern nabbed two Michelin stars this year with a new chef at the helm, but don’t cry for former toque, Gabriel Kreuther. Not only did he emerge with a star himself, for his barely two-month-old eponymous restaurant, but he almost single handedly turned the tide back in favor of fine dining (think multi-course menus, saturated with luxuries like caviar, truffles, lobster and foie gras) when the combined efforts of Chang and Headley all but ushered in the reign of fast casual.
Will Horowitz: He may not be on a fast track to world domination, like Carbone, Torrisi and Chang (and we like him all the more for it), but 2015 was still a very good year for Will Horowitz. Also of Duck’s Eatery, the chef devised the menu for the hip, Upper East Side cocktail spot, Seamstress, before opening Harry & Ida’s, his East Village ode to the old-school Jewish deli. In addition to offering all manner of idiosyncratic sundries (eel butter, pickled cattails, cockle conservas), the charming shop rocked a seriously stellar assortment of sandwiches, like the house-smoked Pop’s Pastrami, considered by many (including us) to be one of the very best things they ate all year. A pretty notable achievement, considering the surrounding neighborhood was literally chock-a-block with media-baiting sandwiches.