2012 In Review: The Year In Chefs, Restaurants And Looking Ahead

Andy Ricker, of New York-via-Portland restaurant group Pok Pok, had a big 2012.

The Internet is in the midst of year-end list madness. There's even a great blog that makes lists of lists. Let us prolong the season a bit here, where Food Republic editors and contributors weigh-in on the year in chefs and restaurants.

Also see: The Year In Cocktails, Bar Trends, New Booze And Looking Ahead

Jess Kapadia | Food Republic Associate Editor

Best meal outside of your hometown: It was kind of a long chain of meals that went on long into the night. I went on a late-night hawker stall crawl with renowned Singaporean chef, TV personality, food writer and culinary historian KF Seetoh. We feasted on chili crab, char kway teow, chicken rice, all manners of shrimp, frogs, fried things, noodles, sweet and savory tofu preparations and a TON of beer. Having truly eaten with the man, I felt comfortable enough to interview him.

Best dining trend: I'm finally seeing smaller portions on menus across the board. It's not that I don't love leftovers. I really, really do. It's just nice to be able to finish a plate without wanting to crawl into a hole and sleep for a day afterwards.

Favorite hometown restaurant: I'm beyond excited that Cafe Katja in the Lower East Side expanded their modest 12-table operation! It's my favorite place to take visitors in the winter — giant steins of amazing German beer, giant wursts stuffed with Emmentaler on fluffy quark dumplings, gluwein spiced to perfection.

Favorite chef story of the year: Well no contest here. Today In Muppet News: Swedish Chef Actually Norwegian?

Big cuisine of 2012: BMX smoking. No, not like how I can blow a heart-shaped ring of smoke. Yes I'll show you sometime. I mean taking the haute smoking thing to heights never before seen (by me, at least): smoked chocolate, smoked cinnamon bitters, smoked sun-dried tomatoes, smoked pine needle garnishes.

What are you looking forward to in 2013: I'm looking forward to a slew of gluten-free products that explicitly — like it says on the packaging — don't suck. This is the year of bread made from something other than cheese.

Simon Ford | Drink Ford Tough columnist

Best meal outside of your hometown: Noma. It lived up to its reputation for sure (but the white truffle season meal at the French Laundry came a pretty close second). These two choices make me sound high-maintenance, don't they?

Best/worst dining trend: Worst: Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson's reality show. I love them both, so seeing them in this is heartbreaking (even if it pays their mortgages). But then again, I am not a fan of reality television. Best: Really good bakeries opening up. Bien Cuit, Dominique Ansel, Maison Kayser. And more really good vegetable dishes on menus.

Favorite new hometown restaurant: The NoMad. How could you go wrong. Cooking from James Beardwinning chef Daniel Humm. Cocktails by the talented Spirited Award–winning Leo Robitcheck. The best front of house man in NYC, Will Guidara. A few beautiful rooms, a relaxing library to chill out in and a roof terrace with a fantastic view. And if you haven't checked out the cocktail trolley yet, grab a group of friends and make a night of drinking Leo's fantastic cocktails. I was also happy to have Pok Pok open. Their food is so flavorful.

Favorite go-to established hometown restaurants: Pylos in the East Village, EN Japanese Brasserie, Barbuto, La Vara, Kajitsu, Spotted Pig and the Clover Club for brunch.

Favorite chef story of year: The guys from Frej opening Aska.

Big cuisine of 2012: Nordic (almost)

Chef of the year 2012. Grant Achatz. For four completely unique, and exceptional, dining experiences at Next and the most experimental cocktail bar in the USA with Aviary. Alinea remains one of the greatest dining experiences in the USA. And then he took over Eleven Madison Park for a week (credit also goes to Daniel Humm and his team here, as they did the same thing and headed to Chicago).

What are you looking forward to in 2013: 1) The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog Store is opening up in New York. Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon ran one of the world's finest bars in Belfast and they have put their heart and soul in to this new venue near Wall Street, which opens this December. 2) Trick Dog is a tequila bar that is being opened by The Bon Vivants in San Francisco. 3) The game and vegan menus at Next.

Jason Kessler | Writer

Best meal outside of your hometown: Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, AL. Chef Chris Hastings is doing Southern food right in a city that's not exactly known for its culinary prowess. The menu is local and seasonal, with an eye towards Southern game, and word on the street is that Hastings will put together a tasting menu for you if you ask nicely.

Best dining trend: Fried Chicken America And Beyond. One day, I'd like to write a book with that title. Until then, I'll just appreciate that the original white meat is getting the fancy burger treatment. It seems like every high-profile restaurant (of any cultural background) that opened this year offered fried chicken. The Parish, Superba Snack Bar, Plan Check. All of the hottest new LA restaurants have their own version and it doesn't stop there. I've seen versions that are Japanese, Korean, Italian and just about every ethnicity possible. Four more years, four more years, four more years of fried chicken, please.

Worst dining trend: Legislation of epicurean specialties. The banning of foie gras in California is a dangerous sign of things to come, as lobbyists start to decide what goes on our plate. GMO salmon, raw milk crusaders and international beef are all big topics for discussion in the coming year, but I'd prefer if my lawmakers stay away from my dining room.

Favorite new hometown restaurant: Tough call. Gusto probably takes the title, but The Parish and Tar & Roses are close behind.

Favorite go-to hometown restaurant: Like an abused puppy, I keep going back to Roy Choi's Chego because it keeps feeding me so well despite treating me so poorly. Seriously, has a restaurant ever been more customer-unfriendly? I don't care, though, because the chubby pork belly bowl is so damn good. I'm still going to Mastro's and Taylors for steaks, K-Zo for sushi, Langer's for deli, and Chili's for my birthday.

Favorite chef story of year: Chris Cosentino serving raw pork ("Iberico crudo") at PIGG at Umamicatessan in Downtown LA. The mix of Cosentino's "fuck them" attitude with a product that terrifies people made for a really interesting story that circulated all over the Internet. Just goes to show you that people like their food news raw.

Big cuisine of 2012: Korean. Gangnam Style may have taken over the world in terms of pop culture, but it was just the icing on the cake that is Korea's ascendance to global prominence. Pretty soon we're all going to be eating bibimbap for lunch, so we may as well get jjigae with it.

Chef of the year 2012: Jet Tila. Jet's a friend of mine, but I don't know anyone who's worked harder in one year than him. Not only did he lead me on an awesome crawl of Thai Town, but he became a judge on Chopped, a host of his own radio show (the SoCal Restaurant Show), the star of a Youtube cooking series and a father. Oh yeah, he also cooked a bunch. Fast casual, gastropub, bistronomic — this guy has all of his bases covered. He's also one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. The Charleston may not be the perfect spot for his culinary talents, but his future's so bright, we all have to wear shades.

What are you looking forward to in 2013: I happen to live four blocks from the second location of LYFE Kitchen, which is scheduled to open in February. Art Smith designed the menu and the whole concept comes from the McDonald's exec, who introduced healthy offerings at the fast food giant. The restaurant itself is fast-casual and everything on the menu is under 600 calories. Sounds like the perfect take-out spot to me and I plan on going Chicago style: early and often.

Chantal Martineau | Writer

Best meal outside of your hometown: Maurepas Foods in NOLA is up there, but probably Primo in the Pigneto neighborhood of Rome.

Best/worst dining trend you saw: Best: More exciting vegetable dishes, specialized and expertly curated booze lists. Worst and ongoing: The lengthy explanation. As in, "Have you dined with us before? Because things work a little differently here..." If it involves you bringing me food and me giving you money, I think I can skip the 101.

Favorite new hometown restaurant: M. Wells Dinette at PS1.

Favorite go-to established hometown restaurants: Roman's in Fort Greene

Favorite chef story of year: Discovering the recipe for Sean Brock's homemade vinegar.

Big cuisine of 2012: Filipino

Chef of the year 2012: OK, so maybe I'm biased toward my fellow French-Canadian, but I'm going with Hugue Dufour. He hasn't gotten as much attention with M. Wells Dinette as he did with the original, but the food is even more exciting (especially considering they're cooking with electric) and the wine list is ridiculous for what is essentially a museum cafeteria. I also like that he listened when people protested against his plan to serve horse. Some chefs let their progressive visions get in the way of what people actually want to eat.

What are you looking forward to in 2013: More Filipino, more Korean, more and better Mexican in NYC.

Emily Saladino | Writer

Best meal outside of your hometown: One of my most memorable meals of the year was soft bread with farmers' cheese and tiny cups of fresh ceviche washed down with pisco sours mixed in an empty Poland Spring bottle at the Santiago home of Chilean chef Maria Eugenia Terragno. She played the White Album while snipping fresh basil and chervil for crostini from her kitchen countertop herb garden. Swoon.

Best dining trends: I love seeing more and more Americans embracing often-maligned beverages like rum and rose, and eating things the rest of the world knows are delicious like liver, cabrito and oxtail.

Favorite new hometown restaurant: How gluttonous is it to suggest Dough, the spectacular doughnut shop in Bed-Stuy? I also think that Talde in Park Slope gives good fusion, and I'm pretty excited to have Mission Chinese here in New York.

Favorite go-to hometown restaurants: I eat fried chicken and bacon-peanut brittle at The Redhead in the East Village more than I care to admit. I also love Mandoo Bar in Manhattan's Koreatown, Egg in Williamsburg and the homespun Balkan eats at Saro Bistro on Norfolk.

Favorite chef story of year: He's not a chef, but getting to review restaurateur Joe Bastianich's unstoppable Restaurant Man was one of my favorite assignments of the year. In this era where books are almost as overlooked as the inner workings of the restaurant business, it felt almost provocative to analyze this ode to the back of the house.

Big cuisine of 2012: Going to side with the venerable Adam Platt and say that 2012 ushered in the age of Asian Hipster Cuisine.

Chef of the year 2012: Daniel Humm. Opening a fine dining restaurant in mason-jar-and-Edison-lightbulb-happy 2012 New York had obvious challenges. And yet, The NoMad feels entirely relevant, from its vegetable-heavy mains to its decidedly glamorous roast chicken to the stellar cocktail list.

What are you looking forward to in 2013: It's exciting to see enthusiasm for chefs doing inventive things with cuisines that might not be their own in terms of heritage, but ultimately have their hearts. People like Daniel Rose at Spring in Paris or Andy Richter at Pok Pok Ny / Portland show just how creative an "outsider" can be.

Matt Rodbard | Food Republic Contributing Editor

Best meal outside of your hometown: In Australia, Vue de Monde and Huxtable were total opposites, and both totally compelling. In Sydney, Momofuku Seiōbo is doing remarkable things with local (exotic Southern Hemisphere) products. Sea mullet with blood orange vinaigrette and nori powder, day-boat marron tail come to mind. As Richard points out, the Young Turks pop-up in London was the real deal. In the States, I had lunch at Sapp Coffee House with Pichet Ong and Zach Brooks (Midtown Lunch), two dudes who know their way around a bowl of Thai noodles. The pomegranate lamb at Zahav in Philly was my favorite dish of the year. I want to go back to Nightwood in Chicago over and over and over. But the best meal was one of the simplest: vegetable pasta, salad, chocolate-covered frozen bananas. It was staff meal in the Noma test kitchen in Copenhagen, hardly the rarified cooking being presented downstairs, but still one of the coolest things I've ever done, ever.

Favorite new hometown restaurants: Mission Chinese, Aamanns-Copenhagen, Extra Fancy, Bugs, Talde.

Favorite go-to hometown restaurants: Seersucker, Tchoup Shop, Northern Spy Food Co., ABC Kitchen, Hanbat.

Best/worst dining trend: Best: The exploding interest in Asian cuisine — with places like Mission Chinese, Night + Market, Pok Pok Ny, Talde, Baohaus, Hanjan, and Pig and Khao changing the way people enjoy these flavors. As in, cool spaces, great drinks, clearly presented menus. It's a gateway drug of sorts to the world of real ethnic spots hiding in Chinatowns and points beyond. Worst: Chalkboard-only menus (literally) in restaurants serving dishes north of $20. Buy an ink jet printer, 'kay? It's hard to read those in candlelight. Also, candlelight. I like my wife's face a lot. I'd like to see it at dinner.

The big cuisine of 2012: Tie between Chinese and Nordic. See above.

Favorite chef story of year: A couple cool ones come to mind. Chris Costentino talked about the shittiness of food TV. Roman master chef Heinz Beck made me a bowl of pasta. Guy Fieri got sorta real. John Currence got sorta drunk and very honest. Rene Redzepi gave me 30 minutes.

Chef of the year 2012

This can be tough, but this year it's a no-brainer. Andy Ricker, of Pok Pok Ny and Phat Thai in New York and several P-Squared iterations in Portland, Oregon, did a remarkable thing — he brought his highly regarded (and buzzed about) concepts to New York City and convinced New York City diners that they were legit — pretty much from day one. This simply does not happen in this city. (Famed Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio attempted the same to near opposite results). Ricker's success goes beyond the quality of the cooking, which is mostly exceptional. He played the game like a pro. He never hired PR (early last year I was G-Chatting with him to setup interviews, which I am sure was the case with many other media outlets). He actually moved here (he split time between PDX and a small apartment in the heart of Chinatown). He showed up to things like industry events and our Test Kitchen, making the time while extremely busy opening two restaurants, traveling to Thailand to finish a cookbook and running his restaurants on the West Coast. Dude does not sleep. Dude makes it all look easy. This leads to the next question...

What are you looking forward to in 2013: Andy Ricker's Whiskey Soda Lounge opening around the corner from Pok Pok Ny. We've also heard rumors of a beloved Korean restaurateur scouting out locations nearby (and not Hooni Kim). Rob Newton (of Seersucker) is opening a Vietnamese restaurant nearby too. Asian cuisine, big in 2013 too.