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Get to Know These Up-and-Coming Philly Chefs

These top chefs are making a splash in the City of Brotherly Love.

Samantha Kincaid, Jon Nodler and Michael Fry

Married native Wisconsinites Kincaid and Nodler have been a force in the Philly restaurant scene since moving here in 2012 to work at Fork in Old City, where they met fellow cook Fry. Earlier this year, the trio struck out on their own with Cadence, a restaurant on the line of Northern Liberties and East Kensington. “After several years of constant momentum, we realized we were eager to take a chance and attempt to define our own identity,” Kincaid says. At Cadence that means borderless dishes that synthesize Nodler’s and Fry’s savory talents (stuffed chicken wings with tamarind and mango, seared scallop with roast pork and spicy provola) and Kincaid’s not-too-sweet desserts featuring ingredients like tahini, mandarinquats and beet jam. The place is BYOB, but the menu thoughtfully lists recommended pairings diners can pick up at Bottle Bar East a couple blocks away. Not imbibing? The Cadence crew has put together a roster of fun non-alcoholic options, including hopped kombucha, vinegar soda and sparkling tea.

Kincaid, Nodler and Fry
(From left) Kincaid, Nodler and Fry (©Neal Santos)

Chad Gelso

For the last two years, Gelso had been working in Washington, D.C., in his first chef de cuisine role at Fiola, where he helped the restaurant earn a Michelin star. But, says the 28-year-old chef, “Philly has always been a home for me.” The Northeastern PA native put in time at Amada, now-shuttered 10 Arts and Buddakan before heading to Aldine in Rittenhouse Square, where he took over for departing partner George Sabatino. Large shoes to fill, but Gelso was doing well, steering the second-story kitchen toward a sophisticated Italian aesthetic with dishes like potato gnocchi with Burgundy snails and emerald nettle cream, savory ricotta-rye cannoli jeweled with caviar, mille-feuille crepe with blood orange marmalade and mascarpone gelato. Unfortunately, the city forced the restaurant to close in April 2018 due to tax issues. But, we're keeping our eyes and ears open on what this talented up-and-comer has up his sleeve.

Chad Gelso
Chad Gelso (Courtesy Chad Gelso)

Nick Kennedy

Kennedy had been doing competent work at Root, the buzzing Fishtown brasserie he owns with Stephen Starr veteran Greg Root. But the chef’s profile is really rising thanks to his sophomore effort with Root, a Middle Eastern café and market called Suraya. Partnering with Fishtown developer Roland Kassis and his sister, restaurateur Nathalie Richan (Northern Liberties’ Café La Maude), Kennedy has ably pivoted to Middle Eastern cooking, something he’s never done professionally. “Jumping into a new cuisine is very challenging and exciting at the same time,” he says. “Its’ a lot of research, practice and trial and error, but in the end, when you put yourself in an unfamiliar setting, [that’s] when you learn and grow the most.” It doesn’t hurt that Suraya is a gorgeous confection of arabesque tiles, Lebanese pottery and glowing lanterns. You’ll find Kennedy in the spacious open kitchen, sliding fresh pillows of pita and ma’noushe flatbreads in and out of the oven and decorating hummus with shaved spiced lamb and fresh mint, while getting ready for Suraya’s next two phases: dinner service and the outdoor garden.

Nick Kennedy
Nick Kennedy (Courtesy Suraya)

Jesse Ito
Royal Izakaya

At the serene nine-seat sushi counter tucked in the back of Royal Izakaya in Queen Village, Ito manipulates fish and rice with the quiet confidence of someone who’s been practicing for 20 years. Which, in a way, he has, despite being a year shy of his 30th birthday. Ito grew up in the business in his parents’ restaurant in Haddonfield, New Jersey, learning the ropes from his father, who’s now his partner at Royal Izakaya, along with Stephen Simons and Dave Frank. Jesse Ito is the unequivocal star, orchestrating the city’s best omakase with 10 or 18 courses passing from his nimble hands to 18 lucky diners each night. (Seats book way in advance via Resy.) He flies in lesser-known fish, like cherry blossom trout, firefly squid, thornyhead and sailfish poacher, plus the familiar species whittled into crosshatched polygons with the most precise knife cuts.