Ubuntu Chef Aaron London Was Once Under House-Arrest, and Other Revelations From the 2011 Chron Rising Stars

Clockwise from left: di Fede, London, Bowien, and Parker.
Clockwise from left: di Fede, London, Bowien, and Parker. Photo: Mike Kepka/Chron

The Sunday Chron brought us the Class of 2011 Rising Star Chefs, and lo and behold it’s another sausage fest. (You’ll recall there was a bit of hemming and hawing last year from Mr. Bauer about not being able to find a suitable woman candidate for the mix.) Below, the full roster, now six instead of five because of Oenotri co-chefs Curtis di Fede and Tyler Rodde (co-chefs Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty at Sons & Daughters will have to wait until next year, we suppose). But first we must call your attention to the story of young Aaron London, who took over executive chef duties at Ubuntu after Jeremy Fox went on his merry way last Feburary. London, whose inclusion was pretty much guaranteed after being long-listed for the James Beard Award for Rising Star this year, and who admits now that he got started cooking when he ended up on house-arrest for an unnamed crime at age fourteen. And we quote, “His food was so good that his probation officers, whose visits were supposed to be a surprise, would call ahead to give London a heads-up so he could fix them a snack.”

This year’s Rising Star winners are…

Danny Bowien
, age 28, chef at Mission Chinese Food — We should have seen this one coming after Bauer’s rave last week, and we learn that Danny’s eaten at just about every Chinese restaurant in town doing research. Also, we knew he was Korean-American, but didn’t know he was adopted and raised in Oklahoma, and that he got much of his culinary training, after quitting culinary school, at the now closed Franco-Japanese fusion place Sumile, whose other alums are now at Coi and Momofuko Ko.

Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde
, co-executive chefs of Oenotri in Napa — Bauer’s pizza fanaticism brought him to adore Oenotri, and from this co-profile we learn that neither went to culinary school, that di Fede learned his prep skills working at Benihana — but later worked at Fat Duck in London — and Rodde was once a loyal employee of the Cheesecake Factory. The two met while working at Oliveto a few years back.

Aaron London, age 26, executive chef at Ubuntu in Napa — In addition to the house-arrest story we learn that he’s very serious about his knife skills, eats a hamburger a week, bicycles 60 miles a day, and “dropped his phone in the toilet the day before the Michelin ratings came out and missed the call from Michelin Guide Director Jean-Luc Naret awarding him a star.”

Thomas McNaughton, age 27, executive chef at Flour + Water — McNaughton probably should have made the cut last year, but better late than never. Here we find out that he learned pasta-making secrets from eight old ladies at Bruno e Franco, a salumeria in Bologna, and of his return from the East Coast to work in the kitchen at Roland Passot’s La Folie, he says, “I came across the country to get smacked around by a Frenchman.”

Charlie Parker
, age 27, chef de cuisine at Plum in Oakland — who took the reins at Plum late last year after getting some critical attention for his work down in Santa Cruz at Bonny Doon’s Cellar Door Café. He worked his way up to sous chef at Manresa, and he’s now the fifth Manresa vet to be named a Rising Star. So far his work at Plum has won raves, and he says, “We’re trying to find and craft a cuisine that is truly Northern California.” After all, Parker’s a NorCal native, and went to Woodside High School.

2011 Rising Star Chefs [Chron]
Rising Star Chefs of 2010: Where Are They Now? [Chron]
Earlier: Chron Announces All-Male Rising Star Chef Lineup [Grub Street]

Ubuntu Chef Aaron London Was Once Under House-Arrest, and Other Revelations From