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Gambit's Emerging Chefs Challenge 2014:
Meet the Chefs 

Meet the 2014 Emerging Chefs Challenge Finalists
Join us for the competition on Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chef Austin Kirzner

Chef Austin Kirzner

Executive Chef, Red Fish Grill

After earning his culinary wings in Brennan family kitchens (Commander's Palace, Cafe Adelaide, and Commander's Palace in Destin), New Orleans native Austin Kirzner became the Executive Chef of Ralph Brennan's Red Fish Grill in 2012.

Austin's innovative dishes reflect the flavors of traditional New Orleans cooking, befitting Red Fish Grill's status as a culinary anchor of the French Quarter - a place for diners looking for favorites served with a twist. With Austin at the helm, Red Fish Grill has been named one of the '32 Best Seafood Restaurants in the US' by Travel + Leisure and a 'Top 100 Best Place to Eat in the South' by The Southern Foodie Cookbook [Southern Living]. Red Fish Grill's signature BBQ Oyster, of which it sold its 3 millionth in 2013, has been named a 'Most Memorable Meal' by

Brent Tranchina

Chef Brent Tranchina
Dinner Lab

Brent Tranchina is Dinner Lab's Chef de Cuisine in New Orleans. Born to French Cajun-Sicilian and Trinidadian parents, his family heritage plays a large role in his culinary style. Brent earned his bachelor's and master's degree in Anthropology from the University of New Orleans.

Upon completion of his graduate education, Brent started at Commander's Palace as a pastry cook and moved his way up the line. After Commander's Palace, Brent went to San Francisco to stage at Corey Lee's Benu and a shortlist of reputable restaurants around town. Soon after returning to New Orleans, Brent joined Dinner Lab's merry band of misfits and has had the privilege to cook dinner's in Nashville, San Francisco, and Austin.

James Cullen

Chef James Cullen


Before becoming a chef, James Cullen, a New Jersey native, majored in English Literature at Boston College, worked as a paralegal, and as a union electrician. In 2003, while watching the Japanese version of Iron Chef, James became inspired to study at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan.

Cullen has worked under many great chefs, including Rebecca Charles of the Pearl Oyster Bar. In 2008, he met a girl from New Orleans that would change his life. They moved to New Orleans in 2012, where he began working as the Executive Sous Chef at Cafe Reconcile, then as the sous and executive chef at St. Lawrence. James is now the executive chef of Treo. James considers himself to be a practitioner of cuisine bon femme, or "grandma cooking". The menu at Treo is a tribute to New Orleans; it is Spanish influenced, but also draws extensively on French, Italian, Creole, Irish, and African cuisine.

Brandon Felder

Chef Brandon Felder

Le Foret Restaurant

Brandon Felder was named executive chef of Le Foret, the elegant 3 story French-Creole restaurant in New Orleans' Central Business district, at age 26. Brandon, a native of Jefferson Parish, has exhibited a passion for cooking from early on. That passion took center stage when he attended and graduated from Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Birmingham, AL.

Since taking the reins at Le Foret, Brandon has put his stamp on the menu. The seared snapper served with a fricassee of local lima beans, zucchini, squash and wild mushrooms, topped with a corn sauce studded with jumbo lump crab meat is just one example. Before becoming Executive Chef, Brandon spent 14 months at Le Foret as Sous Chef. He also interned and worked at Commander's Palace under Chef Tory McPhail, and worked at Stella! before moving to Le Foret.

Mark A. Majorie Jr.

Chef Mark A. Majorie Jr.
The Fountain Lounge

A native of New Orleans, Chef Mark A. Majorie Jr. began cooking in professional kitchens at the age of 14. A Brother Martin graduate, Majorie received his culinary arts degree from Delgado's culinary arts program. From there, Majorie furthered his culinary experience, earning accolades at home and around the world. Majorie followed his passion and contributed his skill in many notable kitchens in the New Orleans area.

His professional experience includes executive sous chef at ROOT, lead cook at Commander's Palace, and lead cook at Restaurant August and La Provence. Taking his skills abroad, Majorie worked as chef and consultant for Club Zen in Port of Spain, Trinidad; and chef de cuisine at Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. With Sicilian and Creole French roots, Majorie showcases his new world and tradition-inspired small plates at the Fountain Lounge with a wide range of dining options.

Russell Pevey

Chef Russell Pevey

Seithers Restaurant

Russell Pevey, a 25-year-old self trained chef, has been cooking for a living since high school. However, his love for cooking started when he was much younger. Starting out on the line at Mr. B's Bistro, he learned and worked his way up through almost all of the cooking positions. Afterwards, he moved on to be the sous chef at Chiba, where he learned how to truly run a kitchen.

After 2 years of working at Chiba, and eager to work with a chef who shares the same enthusiasm and willingness to create as he had, Pevey met Jason Seither and joined him as the head chef at Seither's Seafood. Pevey strives to create new and innovative menu items that will set him apart from the average seafood joint by putting his own twist on traditional Cajun/Seafood cuisine. Since Russell has been there, Seither's Seafood has been on national television, won two categories in last years Po-boy Fest, and made the front cover of The Advocate.

Travis Cheatum

Chef Travis Cheatum

Marigny Brasserie

Travis Cheatum is the Executive Chef of the Marigny Brasserie. A local graduate of McDonough 35, Travis worked his way from a dishwasher to chef, rising under the ranks of Chef de Cuisine Josh Laskey at Emeril's NOLA, Chef Susan Spicer at Mondo and most recently with Chef Daniel Esses at the much lauded Three Muses. In April 2014, Travis took on the challenge of transforming the Marigny Brasserie from a three-frier kitchen to create a gourmet neighborhood dining experience on Frenchmen.

Travis' deep-rooted love of his hometown inspired him to work under the New Orleans culinary guard and hone his own culinary take, "seasonal, simplicity and fun." Armed with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and a modern twist on old NOLA, he is now positioned to bring his farm to table philosophy to the new New Orleans culinary scene.

Cristina Quackenbush

Chef Cristina Quackenbush


Cristina Quackenbush, the Chef/Owner of Milkfish Restaurant grew up in Indiana and from an early age learned how to grow produce, appreciate food, and cook from farm to table. She originally attended college for Computer Programming and Graphic Design, and was then swayed to the restaurant industry. She attributes her success to her many years of experience working in every position in a restaurant.

After tasting her cooking in casual settings, Chef Adolfo Garcia encouraged Cristina to open a pop-up at one of his restaurants. The success of this first pop-up led to other similar events at other locations and finally, to opening the only Filipino restaurant in town on April 15, 2014 in Mid-City. Milkfish is now open 6 days a week with full service, take-out, and delivery. The restaurant has received positive media feedback and a tremendous following.

Richard Bickford

Chef Richard Bickford


Chef Richard is a Louisiana native who credits his culinary inspiration to his Cajun and Sicilian Grandmothers. After completing training at the Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge, Chef Richard worked as the traveling chef for Morton's of Chicago, opening new restaurants across the country.

Settling at home in Louisiana in 2005, Chef Richard accepted a position working with James Beard Award winning Executive Chef Tory McPhail at Commander's Palace. He then helped open Commander's sister restaurant in the French Quarter, SoBou, alongside Executive Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez. In 2013, Chef Richard was tapped by Tujague's new owner, Mark Latter, to lead the storied kitchen at its world famous Decatur Street address. Chef Richard is passionate about embracing Tujague's 100 year-old food traditions, while carving out a new era with some dishes of today.

Michael Gulotta

Chef Michael Gulotta


Chef Michael Gulotta began cooking in famed Creole restaurants at an early age. While pursuing his Culinary Arts degree at Nicholls State University, Michael made his way through the ranks of Chef Folse's highly touted Lafitte's Landing Restaurant, where he mastered the fundamentals of Creole and Cajun cuisines. Upon graduation, he progressed through the brigade of Restaurant August under the tutelage of Chef John Besh, ultimately taking charge of the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine in 2007.

In January of 2014, Michael opened his first restaurant in New Orleans' Mid City. MOPHO strives to be both a true neighborhood restaurant as well as a destination for Southeast Asian inspired cuisine using the Louisiana pantry. Through his usage of the best local ingredients, Michael focuses on creating a sustainable restaurant as well as making a positive impact on the local economy.

Brian Armour

Chef Brian Armour

Noodle and Pie

Brian began his cooking career and life in New Orleans in 1993. While he had no intentions of becoming a chef, he needed a job and found one that blossomed into what has become his passion, means of expression and offers him the strangely satisfying and maddening difficulties of daily kitchen life.

He learned in kitchens throughout New Orleans and has only cooked elsewhere because of Hurricane Katrina. Under the instruction of Chefs, through observation and many hours of practice and experimentation in his home kitchen, Chef Armour has an understanding of technique, method, flavor combination and the inherent nature of foods and how they react to different cooking applications. What Brian puts on a plate for someone to eat is a culmination of years of study, creativity and intuition presented for the diners enjoyment.

Michael Wilson

Chef Michael Wilson

PIZZA Domenica

Chef Michael Wilson graduated with honors from Montana State University with a degree in Biology. After graduation, he worked as a field biologist for a few years, until he quickly realized that his passion was cooking with his surroundings. Shortly after, Mike decided to go back to the kitchen. His culinary journey led him to New Orleans and ultimately to Alon Shaya's kitchen at Domenica.

Mike trained in a spectrum of restaurants between the time that he took his first job in a kitchen at the age of 15, and when he walked into Domenica to talk to Alon about a job at 30. He is now the Chef de Cuisine at PIZZA domenica and has inherited the nickname dough boy because of the delicious pizzas he creates.

Timothy Pearson

Chef Timothy Pearson

O'Briens Grille

A love for food, a passion for cooking and a pride in plate design is what Chef Timothy Pearson's cooking life is all about. Born in 1984, Chef Tim went through the day-to-day activities of high school and college before finally realizing that food held his educational passion. After enrolling, attending, and graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, Chef Tim returned to New Orleans and has been working at O'Briens Grille since it first opened in 2008.

From line cook to Sous Chef and now Executive Chef, Tim's passion for food and the creativity it allows, is constantly growing. At home, he is a husband and a father. At work, he is a kitchen enthusiast dedicated to the art he enjoys.

Matthew Bossie

Chef Matthew Bossie

Pizza Delicious

Raised in Connecticut, Matt's formal training came from a local culinary school there, followed by a stint at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, where Matt developed his passion and skill set for Italian cuisine. Cooking his way through the Ligurian coast, Matt was able to work with top ingredients and learned the proper way to craft simple, seasonal Italian dishes.

Matt was drawn to New Orleans by a job offer at the Grill Room at the Windsor Court. Working under Chefs Drew Dzejak & Michael Sichel, Matt was instrumental in crafting and implementing 6 course tasting menus working with high-end ingredients and modern cooking techniques. After two years at the Windsor, he came to Pizza Delicious where he blends his classic French and Italian training and love for Southern food in his menu. He's very passionate about wanting to bring elevated, thoughtfully prepared cuisine to the masses at affordable prices. As Pizza Delicious has grown in popularity, Matt now oversees a staff of 3 that he personally trains to execute his creative vision.
Erin Swanson

Chef Erin Swanson

Restaurant R’evolution

Erin Swanson, a Chicago native, graduated from the culinary school of Kendall College. From there, she moved around the country working in such places as Aspen, CO, Chicago, IL, and Jupiter, FL. While in Chicago, she worked for Chef Tramonto, the Executive Chef-Owner of Chicago's renowned Mobil Four-Star, AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Tru. Chef Tramonto eventually asked her to move to New Orleans to open Restaurant R'evolution.

Swanson's style is what she likes to call a modern spin on traditional desserts. She likes exploring the nuances of traditional Cajun and Creole flavors that have made New Orleans what it is and combining them to make interesting and fresh desserts. Her philosophy, however, remains refreshingly simple, "I love the instant gratification I receive when I watch someone try a dish I have made and see how happy it has made them," she says.

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