A Philadelphia dish helped win the Democratic National Convention — it wasn’t the cheesesteak. Yes, Philly-as-restaurant-Mecca is finally starting to edge its way into the national consciousness. And here’s why that won’t stop anytime soon.
In Billy Penn’s fourth edition of “Who’s Next,” we shine the spotlight on 16 culinarians from all sides of the biz — chefs, managers, proprietors, bartenders, bakers and growers — whose contributions are instrumental in pushing the Philly food and restaurant scene forward.
(If you’re new to this feature, in the past we’ve listed young startup leaders, young people who are changing politics and community leaders making their neighborhoods better.)
1 & 2. Justin & Jonathan Petruce
Age: 34 and 33
Title: Co-owners and chefs, Petruce et al
Who’s Next because: Chef genes appear to have been distributed evenly between these two Luzerne County native brothers, who cooked side-by-side behind the line at several Philadelphia restaurants (including Mémé and Little Fish) before branching out on their own last year. Along with their longtime friend and partner, wine director Tim Kweeder, the Petruces have proven that their unique culinary style — which features rustic, wood-fired preparations plated as abstract expressionist art — is enough of a draw to make their Walnut Street dining room a success. Find them on Twitter at @petrucephilly.
3. Karina Ambartsoumian
Title: Co-founder and manager, N3RD MRKT
Who’s Next because: It was as a server on the opening staff at JG Domestic that Ambartsoumian first got excited about sustainable food, and she followed that interest to become office manager at Otolith Sustainable Seafood. She joined Indy Hall as an intern to become more involved with the local community, and while there, realized Old City was lacking in sustainable food options. To help address the gap, she founded a new weekly farmers market that has continued to grow over two successful seasons. Ambartsoumian is also currently marketing and communications coordinator at NKCDC (New Kensington Community Development Corporation). Find her on Twitter at @Gariginovna / @N3RDMRKT.
4. Nicole Marquis
Who’s Next because: A former communications major with a masters in theater, Marquis was inspired when a vegetable-rich diet helped turn around the health of her ailing father. After getting hooked on the additional ethical and environmental benefits of veganism, she decided to make a mission out of popularizing plant-based food. Four years in the planning, her vegan fast food joint in Rittenhouse was so successful that she expanded to University City and also opened a vegan cocktail lounge in Midtown Village. A taqueria where she can explore the flavors of her Latina heritage is rumored to be on the way (a Montco native who grew up in Elkins Park, Marquis comes from a Puerto Rican family). Find her on Twitter at @HipCityVeg / @charlie_was.
5. Ben Wenk
Title: Junior partner, Three Springs Fruit Farm
Who’s Next because: In 2007, Wenk returned from college with an agroecology degree to become a seventh-generation partner in the Adams County farm his family has run for more than a century. Starting with a stand at the Headhouse Farmers Market, he began to develop the farm’s retail operations, and convinced his partners (aka his uncle and father) to increase crop diversity. These efforts led to relationships with area chefs, to whose restaurants he personally delivers fresh produce, in addition to canned fruit butters and bottled juices and ciders (stay tuned for news on his new cider venture with a kick, coming soon). Find him on Twitter at @3springsfruit.
6. Felicia D’Ambrosio
Who’s Next because: A native Philadelphian, D’Ambrosio relied on the smarts picked up during her varied industry experience — as a server, bartender, writer and PR pro — to develop a beguiling online presence for Federal Donuts, one that her partners credit with the mini-chain’s cult-favorite popularity just as much as its donuts or fried chicken. She spearheaded and managed the successful Kickstarter for CookNSolo’s forthcoming philanthropic eatery Rooster Soup Co., and continues to infuse that growing restaurant group with dashes of leading-edge cool. Find her on Twitter at @Feliciafied / @FederalDonuts.
7 & 8. Ben Puchowitz & Shawn Darragh
Age: Both 31
Who’s Next because: The buzz surrounding the restaurants run by these longtime pals makes it seem like they’ve been around longer than they have, but it wasn’t quite two years ago that they launched their first endeavor — an energy-filled, idiosyncratic noodle house in Wash West. As the chef, Puchowitz building on classic skills honed at his family’s Matyson to create Asian-inspired dishes with unconventional flavor combos that are often better than the originals, and Darragh corrals the intensity of the food and atmosphere into a smooth dining experience. Their sophomore venture just opened on East Passyunk, but they’ve already dropped hints about a third. Find them on Twitter at @BenPuchowitZ / @cheunoodlebar / @bingbingdimsum.
9. Tia McDonald
Title: Culinary purchasing director, Vetri Family
Who’s Next because: Beyond her talent for cooking, McDonald’s expertise encompasses the business side of the back of the house. She used skills gleaned from her years directing various projects for Aramark — including dining at Penn and media meals at the Beijing Olympics — to manage culinary operations for the Vetri Foundation for Children, which brings healthy eating and nutritional education to underprivileged Philadelphia schools. Now back on the retail side of the Vetri organization, she works to coordinate ingredient sourcing for seven full-service restaurants. Find her on Twitter at @cheftiamcd.
10. Megan Storm
Title: French portfolio manager, The Artisan’s Cellar
Who’s Next because: In the entrenched world of wine, sales consultants are not often young, nor are they female, but Storm’s passion for oenology, experience in front-of-the-house hospitality (at Amada, Fish, a.kitchen and Sbraga) and marketing degree from West Chester University combine to make her perfect for the job. The wines she handles are as unorthodox as she is, and the certified sommelier thinks of herself as an ambassador who introduces wines that eschew anything artificial — wines “made with agricultural backbone and artistic vision,” in her words — to forward-thinking restaurants around the region. Find her on Twitter at @meganstorm.
11. Alex Bois
Title: Head baker, High Street Hospitality Group
Who’s Next because: It was unfortunate serendipity that turned Bois toward baking. After contracting Hepatitis E during travels through India, he could no longer stomach beer, so his plan to meld his culinary passion with his biochemistry degree via a career in brewing seemed untenable. Instead, bread offered a similar opportunity to combine fermentation science with flavor. He trained at NYC’s famed Sullivan Street Bakery but was drawn to Philadelphia in search of greater opportunity, which he found at High Street on Market. His innovative breads have become a keystone of Eli Kulp and Ellen Yin’s fast-growing restaurant collection, which also includes Fork and a.kitchen + bar. Find him on Twitter at @boisfiredbread.
12. Barbie Marshall
Title: Chef partner, SOOP Catering
Who’s Next because: Marshall takes a chef’s love of sustainable, local ingredients a step further than most, having spent several years working on a farm and learning the ins and outs of growing produce. After finishing as a finalist on Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” the Johnson & Wales culinary school graduate discovered she could bank on her recognizability, and instead of devoting herself to one restaurant, she now does catering and appears at events around the Mid-Atlantic region and on TV. The lifestyle not only allows her to spend time with her kids and family, it makes her a de facto emissary for the exquisite produce grown in Lancaster County. Find her on Twitter at @barbiemarshall.
13. Lauren Harris
Title: General manager and sommelier, Townsend
Who’s Next because: Harris is one of those lucky few who simply have a knack for pairing food and wine. She sharpened her prowess with experience as a sommelier in Sydney, Australia and as educational director of the Tria Wine School, and then found a kindred spirit in chef Townsend Wentz, with whom she first joined forces at Twenty21. She was also Wentz’ front-of-the-house and wine cohort at McCrossen’s Tavern, but it’s at his new eponymous venture that her talents really shine — the East Passyunk bistro’s beverage program and service are as acclaimed as the food, no easy feat. Find her on Twitter at @LHStorrie.
14. Emily Seaman
Title: Chef, Dizengoff
Who’s Next because: A New Hope native, Seaman followed up a liberal arts education at Smith with a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, TX. After returning to Philadelphia, she began cooking under Michael Solomonov at Zahav, where she impressed enough to be named opening chef at his new Israeli hummusiya in Center City. Her creativity within the limited menu helped the counter-service spot garner unprecedented accolades, including a three-bell rating from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Craig LaBan and a place on Travel + Leisure’s 2014 Best New Restaurants list.
15. Michelle Flisek
Title: Director of operations, COOK
Who’s Next because: Thanks to her job at Audrey Claire Taichman’s kitchen-classroom in Rittenhouse, Flisek knows just about every cook, food producer, dessert-maker and beverage handler in Philadelphia. A front-of-the-house veteran who once managed Snackbar in the exact same corner location, Flisek is also an ardent booster of all the talents she runs across, which she accomplishes by stocking their books and products on COOK’s boutique retail shelves and by promoting their efforts across the shop’s social media accounts. Find her on Twitter at @cookphilly.
16. Michael Haggerty
Title: Bartender, The Olde Bar
Who’s Next because: Haggerty fell hard for his college side job as a bartender for the swanky Four Seasons, and after graduation, he became the resident mixologist at the Logan Square hotel, staying there for nearly eight years. In search of more exciting drink-making opportunities, he moved to a.kitchen and helped launch a.bar, then recently joined the opening staff at The Olde Bar. He’s in his element at Jose Garces’ revamp of the Old Original Bookbinder’s, where the beverage program centers around more than 45 cocktails that range from ultra-classic to cutting edge. Find him on Twitter at @Mike_TendingBar.