These 9 rising star chefs are making waves in Fort Worth’s food scene

Celestina Blok | Culture Map

Forth Worth’s ever-growing food scene has launched the careers of countless big name chefs who draw die-hard fans. But it’s the next generation of Cowtown’s culinary up-and-comers who are featured in this list of nominees for CultureMap Tastemaker Awards’ Rising Star Chef of the Year.

These chefs are getting attention for their work in the kitchen, but it in a food trailer or a globally-inspired fine dining establishment.

One will take home the trophy at the 2024 CultureMap Fort Worth Tastemaker Awards, taking place May 2 at The 4 Eleven (411 S. Main St.). The signature tasting event will feature bites and sips from nominees, and the awards ceremony, hosted by chef Jon Bonnell, will shine a light on top local restaurant and bar talent.

See all of the Tastemaker Award nominees here and learn more about them in our special editorial series leading up to the big event.

A limited number of Early Bird tickets are on sale now at discounted rates of $60 for general admission and $99 for VIP (includes early access to the event, valet, and a dedicated bar). Prices will increase March 31.

Here are the nominees for Rising Star Chef of the Year:

Justin Brewer, Fifty Fifty Food Trailer
Half vegan, half not. That’s the premise behind Justin Brewer’s Fifty Fifty Food Trailer concept, which offers both plant-based and meat-centric sandwiches. (The menu is labeled by categories of “vegan” and “non-vegan.”) But the Aledo High School alum and Culinary School of Fort Worth graduate takes his attention to detail further by focusing on minimally processed, local, organic ingredients. He uses raw and organic cashews for the vegan queso that tops the vegan “Philly” sandwich, and organic flour for his fried mushroom “Hot Honey Shroom” sandwich. All sandwiches come with a side of fries cooked in coconut oil. Brewer also offers catering services through his business, Brewer Hospitality. Fifty Fifty’s schedule can be found on Facebook.

Alex Drury, Kiyomi Street Food
Kiyomi is a new Asian pop-up that’s generating buzz over its fresh-made dumplings, egg fried rice, curry dishes, and pork belly steamed buns. What a pleasant surprise to find that the brains behind it is Alex Drury, former chef de cuisine at Tre Mogli, who branched out into this different creative direction after departing the Italian restaurant (which closed in fall 2023). Prior to Tre Mogli, where he’s credited for crafting the menu, Drury had stints Piattello Italian Kitchen, Tokyo Café, and Wild Acre, to name a few. Now he can be found at Kiyomi’s weekly visits to The Down ‘n Out (Wednesdays), Lottie’s (Fridays), and Jackie O’s Cocktail Club (Saturdays).

Luu Lac, It’s Food
Vietnamese chef Luu Lac is co-founder of It’s Food, a food truck at 1001 W. Magnolia Ave. where it serves vegan foodstuffs with creative Asian touches. There’s a classic burger with onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, and mayo, if that’s what you want – but toppings also include caramelized pineapple and house-made kimchi. For the burger, he offers choice of Beyond Meat patty or Crispy Fried Tofu. Lac is not your run-of-the-mill chef: He’s a staunch environmentalist who rode a recumbent tricycle to Texas all the way from Massachusetts, where he grew up. He’s a vital part of Fort Worth’s robust vegan scene, currently the most active in the state of Texas.

Gabriel Maldonado, Shady Oaks Country Club
Stepping into a members-only establishment that’s been serving its clientele since 1958 is no small feat. That’s what Gabriel Maldonado did one year ago when he left his Florida home to accept the executive chef position at Shady Oaks Country Club. The Mexico City native has revamped all menus, including member dining and banquet event menus. New items like his tropical Bibb salad with coconut ginger dressing are stirring up the Shady Oaks scene.

Gonzalo Martinez, Quince
Some might argue, based on his background, chef Gonzalo Martinez has long surpassed “rising star” status. The San Miguel de Allende native was the part of the executive chef team at The Rainbow Room in New York City before partnering with Fort Worth investor and TCU alum Brian Sneed to open the flagship Quince in Mexico – recognized worldwide for its extravagant rooftop dining views. Before that, Martinez gained experience in fine dining and large-scale culinary events at hotels in Dallas. Now there are three locations of Quince, including Fort Worth and Austin. Martinez has developed menus for all three, specializing in a worldly variety of sushi rolls, seafood dishes, burgers and sandwiches, and steak entrees.

Jake Morgan, Plank Seafood Provisions
Opened in October in the Shops at Clearfork, Plank Seafood Provisions comes from the Omaha-based Flagship Restaurant Group. (Blue Sushi Sake Grill is a sister restaurant.) The coastal-inspired oyster bar and wood-fried seafood grill has locations in Omaha and Austin. The latter is where Jake Morgan served as chef de cuisine before transferring to Fort Worth, which draws customers for dishes like smoked salmon tartine, smoked mussels, and sea scallops over bucatini with Calabrian chili and coconut milk. Morgan will make his Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival debut this year during the Main Event, to be held Friday, April 5 at the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork.

Arturo Nunez, Toro Toro
The Chicago native cooked in fine dining establishments in his hometown before deciding to relocate to North Texas mid-pandemic to be closer to his father. Nunez hopped around restaurants, including Moxie’s in Uptown and Perry’s Steakhouse in Grapevine, before landing at Toro Toro in downtown Fort Worth four months ago. He says founding chef Richard Sandoval “really outdid himself” at the Pan-Latin restaurant, and he couldn’t pass on the opportunity to move his family to Fort Worth. His favorite menu item is the sweet corn empanadas with chimichurri and avocado puree. Look for Nunez at the Tacos + Tequila event on Thursday, April 4.

Armando Perez, Pizza Verde
Perez is a vegan chef and well-known figure in the DFW vegan community who has worked at nearly every major vegan restaurant around Dallas-Fort Worth. In 2022, he left Texas to live and cook in New York, acquiring traditional chef skills as well as avant-garde vegan tricks, which he thoughtfully shares on social media. His resume includes Spiral Diner, Zonk Burger, Tiki Loco, V Eats, Nature’s Plate, Nuno’s Tacos & Vegmex Grill, and It’s Food. He most recently joined the team at Pizza Verde, the acclaimed vegan pizzeria, where he’s getting to work with the best pizza dough in DFW.

Michael Rios, Pantry on Magnolia
Fort Worth born-and-bred, Michael Rios has cooked in kitchens all over town since graduating from Trimble Tech High School in 2017 and attending culinary school at Dallas College. He gained experience from former hot spots like Shinjuku Station, Cannon Chinese Kitchen, and Four Sisters Vietnamese restaurant, which lent well to his current gig – getting creative with Asian fusion at Pantry on Magnolia. Rios is the brainchild behind dishes like Vietnamese pizza made with shrimp and seafood sauce on a rice paper “crust;” unique dumpling flavors like chicken cordon bleu and etouffee; and out-of-box items like burnt end pho. Note that Pantry on Magnolia is only open on the weekend, but hours run late until midnight on Friday and Saturday and 10 pm on Sunday.