Latino Chefs Heating up the Kitchen

The kitchen has never been hotter, thanks to these chefs catapulting Latin cuisine from simple rice and beans to fine dining status. 

1. Chefs: Gaston Acurio

Gaston Acurio

A superstar across Latin America, Corden Bleu–trained Gaston Acurio is quickly introducing the rest of the world to Peruvian cuisine. He has 33 restaurants in cities as diverse as Bogotá, Madrid and San Francisco, with his latest one, La Mar Cebicheria, having opened in New York City just weeks ago. A blend of Amerindian, European, African, Chinese and Japanese influence, Acurio’s Andean fare is part of the reason Peruvian food is so hot right now. 

2. Chefs: Michelle Bernstein

Michelle Bernstein

Raised in a Jewish-Argentinean home, Michelle Bernstein was exposed early to a variety of cooking, including her mom’s chicken milanesas and empanadas. Her love of Latin food has made her one of Miami’s most recognizable faces, with multiple restaurants (Michy’s, Sra. Martinez), a cookbook (Cuisine a Latina), kitchenwear (Michelle B. By Fagor) and a television series (PBS’s Check, Please! South Florida) to her name. 

3. Chefs: Josef Centeno

Josef Centeno

Skateboarding toque Josef Centeno’s signature dish, the bäco, is legendary in Los Angeles. A pizza-gyro-taco hybrid, the creation is made with deep-fried pork belly and topped with arugula. And although, it isn’t on the menu at Lazy Ox Canteen, where he serves as executive chef, it often makes a surprise appearance. Still the rest of the offerings at the laidback restaurant are just as good, as evidenced by Centeno’s 2011 James Beard nomination for “Best Chef of the Pacific.” Credit his blend of French, Mexican, Japanese and Catalan cuisines for all the praise. 

4. Chefs: Susie Jimenez

Susie Jimenez

This California native went from relative anonymity to reality TV fame after taking second place on this year’s Next Food Network Star for her innovative Mexican-inspired dishes and lively personality. She grew up helping her Mexican parents pick fruit for a living before attending culinary school and starting her own catering company, Spice It Up. Next up she’s working on her first cookbook. 

5. Chefs: Dionicio Jimenez

Dionicio Jimenez

“If I weren’t in the restaurant business, I would have become a fisherman,” says self-taught toque Dionicio Jimenez, who worked his way up from a dishwasher in Mexico City to executive chef at Philadelphia’s El Rey, a casual taqueria serving elevated street food that has reviewers exclaiming “holy mole.” Esquire magazine praised the Puebla native, saying they “wouldn’t change a thing about Chef Dionicio Jimenez’ mama’s home cooking.”


6. Chefs: Dahlia Narvaez

Dahlia Narvaez

Brought up in Highland Park by Guadalajaran parents, pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez is the mastermind behind the sweets of the Mozza Restaurant Group, particularly L.A.’s Osteria Mozza, where her signature dessert is a butterscotch pudding topped with salted caramel, crème fraîche. A 2011 James Beard Award nominee for Best Pastry Chef, she just finished collaborating on The Mozza Cookbook


7. Chefs: Cesar Ramirez

Cesar Ramirez

Cesar Ramirez may be Mexican but he’s built a reputation as a French chef. Mentored by the renowned David Bouley, Ramirez is known for simple, high-quality food that combines French and Japanese influences. Last year, his 18-seat chef’s table at upscale grocer Brooklyn Fare won two Michelin Stars—one of the highest honors in the restaurant world—making it a sought-after reservation in New York.


8. Chefs: John Rivera Sedlar

John Rivera Sedlar

Hailed as both the “father of modern Southwest cuisine” and the “king of modern Latin cooking,” New Mexico–born John Rivera Sedlar is a veteran with more than 30 years experience running his own restaurants. His two latest Los Angeles eateries range from casual (Playa) to elegant (Rivera) and draw on his Mexican roots and his travels throughout Latin America and Spain. But Rivera Sedlar doesn’t just hide out in the kitchen: He’s competed on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters and served as spokesman for Patrón tequila for years. His love of the Mexican liquor is so strong, that he’s currently working on his own brand.  

9. Chefs: Martin Rios

Martin Rios

Known for his creativity in the kitchen, Santa Fe–based Martín Rios draws on his Mexican heritage and French, Italian, Asian and Mediterranean influences to create progressive American cuisine at his namesake restaurant. The ingredients are super-fresh and hyper-local, with some even grown in his own herb gardens. No wonder he was a semifinalist for the 2011 James Beard “Best Chef of the Southwest” Award. 

10. Chefs: Ricardo Zarate

Ricardo Zarate

Selected as one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs this year, the Lima native starting cooking as a kid for his 12 brothers and sisters. “I used to go to my friends’ houses so I could learn new recipes from their moms,” says the toque. His first restaurant Mo-Chica, a casual eatery inside L.A.’s La Paloma Mercado, was hailed the city’s best Peruvian when it opened two years ago. Now he’s inaugurated a second spot, Picca, in posh Beverly Hills, and the reviews are glowing.  

11. Chefs: Related Links