Best is a matter of degrees, whether you're talking about the top chefs over the course of months or years.
Certainly this city's kitchens are staffed with more than competent sorts: Brian Luscher, Jean-Marie Cadot, Marc Cassel, Joel Harloff, Graham Dodds...we could go on and on. So in defining our picks, we looked for a combination of big splash and dull, plodding consistency.
Over the long run, consistency matters more. It's as the great Dizzy Dean reportedly said: "it ain't braggin' if you can back it up."
So here are some chefs who, bragging or no, really backed it up...
Best chefs of 2009:
1. Nick Badovinus, Neighborhood Services
There are few places like this, places where you are forced to wait in a crowded bar for an hour--sometimes more--for downscaled dishes and you don't mind a bit. Badovinus returned from the brash, bullying things he created for Hibiscus to almost flawless basics. Now he's planning two more Neighborhood Services. Seems he's on to something.
2. Sarah Johannes, Five-Sixty
Before its gala opening, all the attention was hurled at owner Wolfgang Puck. It was left to the young protoge to basically save Reunion Tower from becoming a mere skyline relic. Turns out she's one of the city's best.
3. Stephan Pyles, Samar/Stephan Pyles
The Dallas celebrity returned to the fray in 2006 with Stephan Pyles. Not only did he keep that going, he also used what he gleaned from travels around the Mediterranean and India to create Samar. Guess it's his way of staying on top.
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Best chefs of the 00s:
1. Sharon Hage, York Street
She opened in a former garage back in the late spring of 2001. So for close to a decade now she's kept a 40-seat restaurant with almost no visible presence running strong. More importantly, she helped kick-start interest in local and seasonal ingredients here. At the end of the decade, almost every new place claims some stake with nearby farms.
2. Gilbert Garza, Suze
There is a more famous Garza, but she just flirts with the limelight. Chef Gilbert tends to hide in the kitchen, preparing some of the best foie gras, some of the best trout, some of the best everything you've ever tried in a neighborhood restaurant. And he was neighborhood long before Badovinus came around.
3. Kent Rathbun, Abacus
In the early 2000s there was Rathbun and his Knox-Henderson place. Since then, he's won television contests, opened Jasper's and other restaurants and started a number of careers. But all along, there's been Abacus--then, as now, a destination.