Food & Drink

Top Chefs Heating Up The Culinary Scene In Philadelphia

August 15, 2012 4:00 AM

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(Credit: Jason Varney)

(Credit: Jason Varney)

In the past several years, chefs have become super stars–thanks mostly to TV. They have their own shows and product lines, and appear on countless magazine covers. But what do you have to do to become a chef celebrity? Watch these up-and-comers, and they’ll show you how it’s done.

Best Chef/Owner Couples:

Lynn Rinaldi and Corey Baver
Izumi
1601 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-1222
izumiphilly.com

Lynn opened Paradiso Restaurant and Wine Bar in 2004 with a respect for her neighborhood (South Philly) and her Italian roots. And although it remains popular, these two (who met in Paradiso’s kitchen) like to shake things up. First, they built a rooftop garden where fresh pickings like heirloom tomatoes, zucchini blossoms and herbs find their delicious way into the dining room. Next came a beehive from local beekeeper Trey Fleming’s Urban Apiaries. You can find the Paradiso bees’ artesian honey sweetening its desserts. In 2008, Rinaldi and Baver opened Izumi, a BYOB sushi and Asian-fusion restaurant. These Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College alumni share a mutual love of South Philly which helped spur the emergence of Passyunk Avenue as that area’s “Restaurant Row.”

Lee Styer and Jessie Prawlucki
Fond
1617 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 551-5000
fondphilly.com

Lee Styer and Jessie Prawlucki have a lot in common. He’s the chef at Fond, and she’s the pastry chef. They both went to CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and worked at Le Bec Fin. He was a semi-finalist for the 2012 James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef award, and she was up for Outstanding Pastry Chef. And as if that wasn’t enough, they got married (yes, to each other) in May. Fond is an intimate gem in South Philly serving inventive new-American cuisine, where Chef Styer helped to put pork belly on the map (at least in Philly). Chef Prawlucki wows diners with her decadent, artful desserts like housemade chocolate malted ice cream with crumbled peanut brittle. Come in to see this pair in action.

Related: Top Spicy Food in Philadelphia

(Former) Badboy Chef:

John Taus
The Corner
102 S 13th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 735-7500
thephillycorner.com

Chef John Taus has been honing his skills at many of Philly’s big-name restaurants: Buddakan, Morimoto, Pod and Zahav. When Chef John “Chainsaw” Taus became executive chef at Snackbar and received three bells from revered Philadelphia critic Craig LaBan, the city’s foodies gasped. Never had one so newly at the helm been given so many bells. Presently, only three restaurants in the city have four bells. Now leading the kitchen at The Corner in Midtown Village, Taus has dropped the nickname but is continuing to surprise diners with eclectic tastes and unexpected pairings. For brunch, how does creamed chipped duck sound?

Hottest Chef:

Jason Cichonski
Ela
627 S 3rd St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 687-8512
elaphilly.com

Eater.com
, a favorite website among food fans and professionals, held an NCAA-bracket-style contest to determine the country’s sexiest chefs. Ela’s Jason Cichonski beat out “Top Chef” contender Jen Carroll for the title. Cichonski’s co-owner, Chip Roman, was knocked out of the competition in one of the earlier rounds (which must have made for some tense moments in the kitchen). He was also named a “sexy single” by Philadelphia Daily News in 2010. Not just another pretty face, Chef Cichonski has spearheaded a foie gras initiative. To show support of California chefs where the use of foie gras is banned, he has recruited other top chefs in the area to prepare amazing dishes using foie gras on Friday nights, and only charges $10 for them. This young chef with a conscience was once called one of “Philly’s most exciting young cooks” by critic Craig LaBan. Just don’t mention the sexy thing; he’s over it.

Best Athlete turned Chef: 

Joe Cicala
Le Virtu
1927 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-5626
levirtu.com

As a youngster, Joe Cicala saw “The Mighty Ducks” and was hooked. From age eight, he honed his skills on the ice, eventually playing at the club level and on track to go pro. After waiting for a growth spurt that didn’t come and facing an unfortunate scholarship issue, Cicala needed to earn some cash and ended up in a restaurant. He worked for his mother, a caterer, then lived in Italy for awhile, inhaling the culture and cuisine and learning from great chefs. His plans were to stay abroad and make a name for himself when yet another fork appeared in his road. Cicala’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, so Joe headed home to DC. He started gaining notice in DC, eventually catching the eye of Francis and Cathy Lee Cretarola, owners of Le Virtu. Chef Cicala moved to Philly and is currently the executive chef at Le Virtu, continuing to win over critics and regulars with his Abruzzese (Italy’s Abruzzo region) traditions, flavors and specialties like housemade pasta and tripe.

Related: Top Tapas in Philadelphia

Trish Deitemyer is a freelance writer living in Philly. She covers Food & Drink and has been writing since 1986. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.

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