The best young chef in every state

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Knowing who’s who in the culinary scene can make a big difference when planning a trip or looking for a new favorite restaurant. Watching new chefs scale that scene with bold talent and bolder ideas is even more exciting — though such an endeavor is no small task in such a culinarily diverse country.

To save travelers and foodies some time, I decided to find the best up-and-coming cooking talent in each state. Admittedly, it can be difficult to agree on who’s the brightest rising star in a field as subjective as the culinary arts, but there’s no denying that all of these chefs are ones to watch.

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Alabama: David Bancroft

Self-taught cooking talent David Bancroft is the acclaimed chef-owner at Acre, a restaurant in Auburn, Alabama, that has also received glowing reviews. Bancroft combines his cooking ability with a fierce passion for sourcing food locally, resulting in culinary acumen that has earned him nods from the James Beard Foundation and a victory on Iron Chef.

Image Credit: Facebook / Acre.

Alaska: Beau Schooler

Beau Schooler is an Alaska-based chef who’s building his own restaurant empire in Juneau. He counts well-reviewed eateries like The Rookery among his restaurants and has also been recognized by the James Beard Foundation for his cooking prowess. Schooler’s impact on Juneau’s food scene is truly remarkable.

Image Credit: Instagram / BeauSchooler.

Arizona: Brian Konefal

Arizona-based chef Brian Konefal is quite the globetrotter, having spent years honing his skills in kitchens all over the world before opening the Coppa Cafe in his hometown of Flagstaff. Between his ever-growing profile


in the food scene and the acclaim that the Coppa Cafe has accrued, this young chef’s mission to wed European sensibilities to Arizonan ingredients is well worth the watch.


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Arkansas: Matthew McClure

Matthew McClure isn’t hurting for accolades. Between multiple James Beard nominations and a thriving tenure at The Hive, it’s not hyperbolic to claim that McClure is cooking-scene royalty in his native Arkansas. By all indications, he has succeeded in turning the Arkansas ingredients and cooking traditions he grew up with into an acclaimed dining experience.

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California: Jessica Largey

California’s foodie paradise is no easy place to stand out, but acclaimed chef Jessica Largey has done precisely that. Largey’s cooking journey began with a childhood fascination with butchery (which her mother found creepy). Later, she worked at high-end restaurants all over California and picked up a James Beard award in 2015. As of this writing, she’s preparing to headline her own concept, Simone, in Los Angeles.

Image Credit: Instagram / Simone Arts District.

Colorado: Caroline Glover

Caroline Glover doesn’t hail from Colorado, but her keen understanding of the state’s food scene makes it impossible to tell. Like many other up-and-coming chefs, Glover considers local sourcing essential to the cooking experience and used that passion to open Annette, a well-reviewed restaurant in Aurora. Combine that feat with a James Beard nomination she received for Best Chef: Southwest this year, and it’s easy to see why foodies should put her cooking on their to-eat lists.

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Connecticut: Adam Young

Pastry chef Adam Young isn’t shy about gunning for first place. Whether it’s a raspberry torte or a white chocolate cheesecake, Adam’s creations have won him critical acclaim and a “Best Baker in America” title from The Food Network. Anyone interested in checking out Adam’s pastries (that’s anyone with taste buds and an appetite) can find them at his bakery, the Sift Bake Shop, in both Mystic, Connecticut, and Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

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Delaware: Hari Cameron

Hari Cameron is more than just a rising star — he is considered by many to be a pillar of the greater mid-Atlantic culinary landscape. Known locally for his unorthodox cooking style, including using liquid nitrogen to blanch vegetables, his cuisine is by-and-large reflective of his mid-Atlantic roots. His Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, restaurant, a(MUSE), has garnered significant praise since its 2012 debut.

Image Credit: Facebook / a(muse.).

Florida: Niven Patel

Niven Patel creates eclectic cuisine at Ghee Indian Kitchen, the Miami restaurant that he also owns. Niven’s talent in the kitchen and his penchant for locally-sourced food have earned him attention from the James Beard Foundation, including a nomination for Best Chef: South in 2018.

Image Credit: Instagram / ChefNiven.

Georgia: Mashama Bailey

For New York City native Mashama Bailey, an important part of cooking is learning what traditions new surroundings have to offer. She’s proven herself a quick study — her Savannah, Georgia, restaurant, The Grey, is thriving on a hearty diet of quality Southern cooking. As for Mashama, her skill in the kitchen earned her a James Beard nomination for Best Chef: South just this year. She’s the first African-American woman to receive a best chef nomination from the organization. Astonishing, right?

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Hawaii: Chris Kajioka

Chris Kajioka has cooked in prestigious kitchens from San Francisco to New York City. He returned to his native Honolulu at the turn of the decade, eventually applying his novel blend of French and Japanese cuisine sensibilities to his own concept, Senia. Kajioka’s acumen netted him a James Beard nomination this year, as well as rave reviews for Senia.

Image Credit: Facebook / Chris Kakioka.

Idaho: Kris Komori

James Beard nominee Kris Komori has created a niche for his cooking in Boise, Idaho. Between providing menus that rotate every few weeks and cooking delicious cuisine never before seen in Boise, the 34-year-old chef has taken his lifelong passion for cooking to successful heights. State and Lemp, the restaurant for which Kris cooks, seems well worth the visit.

Image Credit: Twitter / @StateAndLemp.

Illinois: Sarah Grueneberg

Whether it’s holding a Michelin Star, winning a James Beard award or beating Bobby Flay at his own game, there are few cooking accolades that Sarah Grueneberg hasn’t attained. Just in her mid-30s, Grueneberg has been a mainstay of Chicago’s fine dining scene for years and is currently the chef/owner at Monteverde, a wildly popular Italian eatery. In the face of all of her success, it hardly seems hyperbolic to call Sarah a culinary wunderkind.

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Indiana: Alan Sternberg

Even for a chef, Indianapolis-based Alan Sternberg is a die-hard advocate of food as an experience. His dishes’ unconventional presentation pay heed to that notion and have gained him attention on state and national levels, including a James Beard Rising Star Chef nomination just this year. Common House, Sternberg’s new mobile dining concept, shows promise and is a must-see for visitors and Hoosiers alike.

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Iowa: Joe Tripp

Joe Tripp is all about the veggies. He cofounded Harbinger in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, just to spread his enthusiasm for southeast Asian vegetable traditions. That enthusiasm seems to be contagious — Joe’s racked up two James Beard nominations in the past few years and Harbinger is one of Des Moines’ hottest eateries.

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Kansas: Michael Corvino

Michael Corvino hasn’t been in Kansas City all that long, but he’s already making a splash with his eponymous Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room. Corvino conceived the idea for his restaurant in Seattle, but moved to the K.C. instead, having fallen in love with the city a few years ago. It would seem the love is mutual — the supper club is doing well and Michael was nominated for Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation this year.

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Kentucky: Paco Garcia

Paco Garcia is enticing Louisville, Kentucky, with a blend of Southern and Mexican cuisine. This talented executive chef produces such novelties as chipotle gravy-covered eggs at Louisville eatery Con Huevos and Kentucky has been quick to gobble them up. Paco’s creativity and pure cooking talent put Con Huevos on the map and his name into consideration for James Beard’s 2018 Best Chef: Southeast award. His next goal is to open his own restaurant — the wait is already unbearable.

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Louisiana: Zachary Engel

Zachary Engel is the most talented young chef in Louisiana and the 2017 recipient of the James Beard Rising Star Chef award. He taught himself how to cook as a child before diving headfirst into the world of professional kitchens as a young adult. Zachary is currently the culinary director at New Orleans-based Pomegranate Hospitality.

Image Credit: Instagram / Zach Engel.

Maine: Cara Stadler

Cara Stadler is the proud owner of two successful Maine-based eateries: the Tao Yuan Restaurant in Brunswick and Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland. Stadler put her passion for Asian cuisine to work in opening both restaurants, earning some attention from the James Beard Foundation in the process. Here’s hoping that her forthcoming third concept, Lio, is just as popular.

Image Credit: Twitter / @Tao_Maine.

Maryland: Thomas Zippelli

Everything from Thomas Zippelli’s cooking style to his restaurant’s location is inspired by a single notion: eating local. A Maryland native, Zippelli discovered a passion for sourcing and cooking local ingredients that has made his restaurant, The Turn House, in Columbia, a great success. Thomas’s cooking ability and his passion for eating local make him a chef to watch.

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Massachusetts: Juan Pedrosa

Repeat James Beard nominee and consummate food enthusiast Juan Pedrosa has made a strong showing in Boston’s food scene. It seems hard to believe that the executive chef of critically acclaimed eatery Yvonne’s started off as a pizza deliverer, but that career trajectory is also a credit to his impeccable work ethic. He’s the best up-and-coming chef in Massachusetts, bar none.

Image Credit: Instagram / juan_pedrosa.

Michigan: Lena Sareini

Detroit is typically known more for its automobiles than its pastries, but local talent Lena Sareini is changing all of that. Lena credits a lifelong passion for art with her decision to get into cooking, and the pastries she makes as chef of popular Detroit dessert mainstay Selden Standard are nothing if not that: art. Lena’s talent is obvious to more than just her fellow Detroiters — she received James Beard and Eater nods just this year.

Image Credit: Instagram / lenapatissier.

Minnesota: Jamie Malone

Jamie Malone could’ve sat back on the acclaim that she received for saving Minneapolis’s historic Grand Cafe — but what’s the challenge in that? Malone is easily the most lauded young chef in Minnesota, using years of worldwide cooking experience to take the Grand Cafe to the greatest heights it’s ever reached. Anyone visiting Minneapolis would be remiss to skip the Grand Cafe and the high-end dining experience this talented chef has restored it to.

Image Credit: Instagram / grandcafe_mpls.

Mississippi: Jesse Houston

Jesse Houston is a Southern cuisine guru who works wonders as executive chef at Fine and Dandy in Jackson, Mississippi. Houston’s unparalleled knowledge of Southern cooking has turned Fine and Dandy into one of Jackson’s culinary hot spots. The young chef isn’t without a few accolades of his own, including James Beard recognition in 2016.

Image Credit: Instagram / chefjessehouston.

Missouri: Mike Randolph

St. Louis’ food scene wasn’t quite as busy before Mike Randolph showed up. The Ohio native owns and operates three concepts in the St. Louis area alone, including the highly praised restaurant Privado. Mike made this list because of his talent in the kitchen, but the chef is also unusual in his high-volume advocacy for a healthy work-life balance. Of course, a James Beard nomination or two doesn’t hurt his standing either.

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Montana: Jeremy Engebretson

Lilac chef-owner Jeremy Engebretson is kicking the restaurant scene in Billings, Montana, up a notch. He has found success by driving his cooking with “a fistful of responsibility,” according to Lilac’s website, relying on local ingredients and from-scratch meal preparation. Engebretson’s philosophy has paid off — Lilac is thriving and he received a James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Northwest in 2018. He also racked up a “40 Under Forty” nod from the Billings Gazette.

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Nebraska: Tim Nicholson

Omaha is known for having a thriving food scene, so chef Tim Nicholson’s culinary conquest of the city is all the more impressive. Named a Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation earlier this year, Nicholson puts his cooking acumen to use delivering a signature dining experience at Omaha’s famous Boiler Room. If the reviews are any indication, this executive chef is far and away the best young chef in Nebraska.

Image Credit: Facebook / The Boiler Room Restaurant.

Nevada: Yuri Szarzewski

Yuri Szarzewski is a Las Vegas culinary wunderkind. He began his career working in Michelin-starred restaurants when he was only 17. He went on to win cooking competitions all over Europe before settling at EATT Gourmet Bistro in Las Vegas. EATT’s well-reviewed eats aren’t Yuri’s only endeavor — he and his cohorts recently helped open a French restaurant, Partage, in Vegas’ Chinatown. Between his aforementioned European accolades and his appearances on ‘Chopped’ and ‘Master Chef’, Szarzewski’s reputation as one of Nevada’s best chefs is well deserved.

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New Hampshire: Matt Louis

With two successful restaurants under his belt, chef-owner Matt Louis is a culinary tour de force in his home state of New Hampshire. Matt’s budding culinary fiefdom comprises Moxy and The Franklin Restaurant, warmly reviewed eateries, both located in Portsmouth. His French Laundry training and mastery of coastal New England cuisine have earned him accolades from Food & Wine, the James Beard Foundation and a wide swath of news publications.

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New Jersey: David Viana

David Viana is an acclaimed up-and-comer whose cooking was once described as “magical” by The New York Times. He’s racked up additional accolades by offering a high-end, farm-to-table approach at Heirloom, a restaurant he co-owns in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Viana finds creative ways to boost his image in the food scene, including organizing cooking classes at Heirloom and even uploading videos of himself singing while preparing food. No wonder the James Beard Foundation singled him out this year.

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New Mexico: Colin Shane

Colin Shane is the rising culinary star of New Mexico, and the restaurant at which he cooks, Arroyo Vino, is the toast of Santa Fe. Shane’s strict dedication to finding local ingredients meshes well with Arroyo Vino’s emphasis on wine pairing, producing a dining experience that landed him a James Beard nomination for Rising Star Chef this year.

Image Credit: Facebook / Colin Chane.

New York: Clare de Boer

It may seem hard to believe, but New York City’s best chef and co-proprietor works not at some fancy uptown establishment, but rather a quiet, elegantly simple eatery called King in Soho. Chef Clare de Boer has found success keeping things simple in a city full of complicated food, offering up European-inspired fare that is delicious but also straightforward. Getting a James Beard nomination in a city as top-heavy as New York is no small feat, but her clean-cut, no-nonsense approach to food gained her one this year.

Image Credit: Instagram / clare.deboer.

North Carolina: Gabe Barker

Pizza isn’t usually brought up in conversations about sophisticated food — not unless someone mentions Gabe Barker. Gabe is the chef/owner of Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro, North Carolina., and his pies are so yummy that James Beard and Eater both gave him rising star nods this year. As for Gabe, his enthusiasm for seasonal menus and locally sourced ingredients have helped put Pizzeria Mercato on the map.

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North Dakota: Ryan Nitschke

Between a James Beard nod in 2014 and being named ‘Best Chef’ by High Plains Reader just this year, Ryan Nitschke has a lot of culinary credit. The young chef made waves at Fargo, North Dakota’s historic Hotel Donaldson before opening his own joint, Luna Fargo, with co-proprietor Nikki Berglund in the same city. Nitschke’s talent has netted Luna plenty of good press, so anyone visiting or residing in Fargo should check out his cooking sooner rather than later.

Image Credit: Facebook / Luna Fargo

Correction: The original version of this article recognized Molly Yeh as the best young chef in North Dakota. We found Ms. Yeh’s story by reading articles about her in a North Dakota newspaper called the Grand Forks Herald, among other places. An attentive reader pointed out to us that Ms. Yeh’s family farm is actually just across the Red River from Grand Forks, N.D. in East Grand Forks… Minnesota. We apologize for the error, and think no less of Ms. Yeh. Here’s what we originally wrote about her:

“It’s not every day that a successful musician trades downtown Brooklyn for the prairies of [the North Dakota-Minnesota border], but that’s precisely what chef Molly Yeh did. Between writing two cookbooks and starring in her own Food Network television series, Yeh demonstrates both a keen technical understanding of cooking and a wild love for it. Hopefully, she’ll consider opening a restaurant — it would probably become a hit overnight.”

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Ohio: Cara Mangini

Cara Mangini is more than just a chef and restaurant owner in Columbus, Ohio — she’s a vegetable “evangelist,” one of a growing number of chefs who seek to educate the public about vegetable butchery. Her restaurant, Little Eater, is an epicenter of this movement, serving up veggie-centric dishes that have been generously praised by multiple publications. It will be interesting to see how Cara’s advocacy intersects with the growing interest in veganism among Americans. Either way, her restaurant is worth a visit.

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Oklahoma: Brittany Sanger

Brittany Sanger is a partner in and executive chef at The Jones Assembly, a respected restaurant and music venue in Oklahoma City. Sanger is all about imparting the spirit of the west to her guests, serving up a combination of delicious regional cuisine, local spirits and even a bit of music. Hopefully, the James Beard Foundation and other culinary organizations will give her the recognition she deserves soon.

Image Credit: Twitter / @BrittanySanger.

Oregon: Katy Millard

Katy Millard is a Zimbabwean-South African chef who cooks a wide range of food at Coquine, an acclaimed eatery in Portland, Oregon. She was a two-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Top Chef: Northwest award (in 2017 and 2018, respectively), due, in no small part, to her affinity for local ingredients and seasonal offerings.

Image Credit: Twitter / @CoquinePDX.

Pennsylvania: Camille Cogswell

Camille Cogswell’s cooking career began when she was a child and reached its highest watermark yet when she won the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef award this year. The 27-year-old pastry chef has spent years putting Israeli kitchen Zahav on the map, wowing her fellow Philadelphians with decadent desserts. Anyone with even half a sweet tooth shouldn’t skip out on visiting Zahav.

Image Credit: James Beard Foundation.

Rhode Island: Ben Sukle

Ben Sukle has turned childhood nostalgia into a respected culinary career. His restaurant, birch, is named for the Pennsylvania Dutch birch beer that he enjoyed as a child. The restaurant was built on that same enthusiasm for quality eats and drinks. Ben also owns and cooks for Oberlin — both restaurants are considered local hot spots. Ben also earned Best Chef: Northeast nominations from the James Beard Foundation in 2017 and 2018.

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South Carolina: Alex Lira

Alex Lira’s culinary journey took him from Virginia burger joints to New York City’s finest restaurants, but he decided to take the vast cooking knowledge he gained back home to South Carolina. Alex manages the kitchen at the wildly popular Bar Normandy in Charleston. You won’t find a website or social media accounts for the restaurant, but you can find the address through Google next time you’re planning a visit.

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South Dakota: Benjamin Klinkel

Tally’s Silver Spoon is one of the most famous restaurants in Rapid City, South Dakota., thanks in no small part to chef-owner Benjamin Klinkel’s cooking talent. Benjamin uses the restaurant as a template for his “Fine Diner” concept, combining the casual atmosphere of a diner with the high-end look of a more sophisticated eatery. If his restaurant’s accolades are any indication, Benjamin’s unorthodox approach to cooking has paid off handsomely.

Image Credit: Facebook / Tally’s Silver Spoon.

Tennessee: Julia Sullivan

Between scoring a Best New Restaurant nomination from the James Beard Foundation and being named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, Nashville, Tennessee-based chef Julia Sullivan has a lot to smile about. Her restaurant, Henrietta Red, has been well-received for its effective use of simple ingredients in delicious contemporary cooking. Her culinary endeavors are worth paying close attention to.

Image Credit: Twitter / @juliakeelin.

Texas: Tatsu Aikawa

Tatsu Aikawa is on a mission. The Austin, Texas-based chef is out to teach that ramen is the soul food of Japan. Each dish served up at his restaurant, Ramen Tatsu-Ya, is a delicious lesson in Japanese culinary tradition that also includes a few elements of Texas cuisine. Tatsu’s passion for ramen has turned Ramen Tatsu-Ya into an acclaimed restaurant and netted him a Best New Restaurant nomination from the James Beard Foundation.

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Utah: Lyn Wells

Lyn Wells is one to watch. She was declared Best Young Chef in America at a competition hosted by the the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs in 2016 and her cooking at the Cowboy Club in Wellington, Utah, is all the rage. Wells sources all of her ingredients from her own farm and puts them to effective use cooking an eclectic range of food. She hopes to eventually open her own restaurant.

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Vermont: Kevin Lasko

Pittsfield, Vermont-based Kevin Lasko has had quite a career so far. From stints in top New York City restaurants to a position at Vermont Farms Catering, this young chef has succeeded in turning his passion for cooking into an illustrious career. Lasko believes that Vermont’s agricultural heritage makes it a culinary powerhouse and, to that end, serves up delicious meals at acclaimed eatery The Backroom in Pittsfield.

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Virginia: Brittanny Anderson

Whether it’s beer or butchery, Brittanny Anderson has Richmond, Virginia, covered. This James Beard-nominated chef got her start cooking in prestigious New York City kitchens before opening Metzger Bar & Butchery in downtown Richmond. Today, she and her restaurant enjoy glowing success as pillars of Richmond’s culinary scene — and that glow isn’t going to fade anytime soon.

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Washington: Edouardo Jordan

2018 has been kind to Edouardo Jordan. The young chef swept the James Beard Awards this year, taking both the Best New Restaurant and Best Chef: Northwest awards home. Edouardo has received rave reviews for bringing high-end Southern cooking to Seattle via his restaurants, JuneBaby and Salare, and his clout only seems to be growing. Washington’s best young chef has a bright future ahead of him.

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West Virginia: Noah Miller

Noah Miller is a Charleston, West Virginia,. native who couldn’t stay away from home. He returned to West Virginia after cooking in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, working at a wide swath of the state’s finest restaurants. He debuted his eponymous restaurant and lounge in March and his vision of creative fine dining has garnered significant praise.

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Wisconsin: Luke Zahm

It’s no coincidence that Luke Zahm opened his celebrated cafe, Driftless, in the middle of the country’s largest concentration of organic farms. An ardent believer in farm-to-table cooking, Zahm sources ingredients from more than 200 farms that surround Viroqua, Wisconsin, making Driftless a powerhouse in fresh, delicious cooking. Zahm’s talent has not gone unnoticed — he received a James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Midwest in 2017.

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Wyoming: Mathew Branson

Wyoming native Mathew Branson is an enthusiastic cooking student. The young chef has already made waves preparing meals at the University of Wyoming’s Washakie Dining Center and has performed well at regional cooking competitions. His constant excitement for cooking and the positive attitude attributed to him by friends and coworkers will no doubt carry his culinary profile higher.

Image Credit: University of Wyoming.