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Fulfilling Their Promise

Michalene Busico and Amanda Millin

Nominated as the best up-and-coming chefs in 2012, these Culinary Masters competitors went on to a year filled with more accolades, new restaurants, and a book deal.

Katie Button of Cúrate, Asheville, North Carolina
Nominated by José Andrés

Winning the first annual Culinary Masters Competition was a career landmark for Katie Button. At that point, she had been a chef for only 18 months, all of them in a remote corner of North Carolina, and had never had the opportunity to test her skills outside of her own kitchen. “It gave me confidence and the ability to be proud that on a national level, I’m performing,” she says. “When you’re in your own restaurant, it’s hard to see how you match up in grander scheme of things. Can you stand up to people in San Francisco? You don’t know until you go out and do it.”

After her victory was announced in January 2013, her career quickly ascended to a new level. Her exciting, American interpretation of Spanish tapas earned her nominations as Rising Star Chef of the Year from the James Beard Foundation as well as a a finalist spot in the People’s Best New Chef competition in Food & Wine magazine. In March, Cúrate was named one of the 12 best places to dine in the United States by GQ magazine. This month, Button and her husband, Felix Meana, who manages the front of the house at Cúrate, won the StarChefs Rising Star Sustainability Chef award.

Button was also the subject of the June cover feature in Food Arts magazine, as well as a November article in the New York Times. And she has become a presence at culinary festivals such as South Beach Wine & Food, Atlanta Food & Wine, and Charleston Wine & Food.

This year, her plans include writing a cookbook based on the tapas she serves at Cúrate and, in February, opening a new bar and restaurant in Asheville. Called Nightbell, it will be hidden behind what looks like an antique store and will serve specialty cocktails with modern U.S. bar food. The lobster roll will be made with butter-poached lobster, house-made brioche, and browned butter with lemon zest; Button’s version of a grilled cheese sandwich will be fondue enclosed inside a crunchy packet made with brik pastry. The bar will be stocked with artisanal liquors and will serve cocktails made with liquid nitrogen, much like the Moonshine Margarita that Button served before her competition dinner. “The Robb Report dinner was the first sit-down dinner that I’ve done outside of my own kitchen,” she says. “And it was a fantastic way to begin.”  —M.B.

Matt Abergel of Yardbird, Hong Kong
Nominated by Masa Takayama

Over the course of the year, Matt Abergel’s modest bar and grill, which specializes in creative chicken dishes, became a sensation in Hong Kong. Yardbird is now one of the city’s hottest dining destinations, and its no-reservations policy has ensured long lines of eager diners (as well as maneuvers such as the chauffeurs of the city’s elite discreetly holding tables for their employers in efforts to sidestep it). The Yardbird craze was covered by publications including the New York Times and Food & Wine magazine; now the hip yakitori grill, owned by the chef and his business partner, Lindsay Jang, occupies a spot on San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

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