Sameh Wadi of Saffron
The Twin Cities is fortunate to have a deep talent pool of mid-career chefs, but this year the spotlight shone brightest on one of the most impressive up-and-comers, Sameh Wadi, who has been running his own restaurant, Saffron, since he was 23. Wadi's strength is fusing Middle Eastern flavors with refined cooking techniques. That means he puts a contemporary spin on age-old tagines, marries duck breast with mejdool dates or scallops with preserved lemons, and cures his own lamb bacon for a two-bite BLT. Diners trust Wadi's talent enough that they'll try anything he serves—even lamb brains. This fall, Wadi's big win at City Pages' Iron Fork contest turned out to be a harbinger of his competition on the Food Network's famous Iron Chef. When the stage lights went up on Kitchen Stadium, the sight of Wadi's challenger, a smoke-shrouded Iron Chef Morimoto, nearly caused home viewers to wet themselves. But Wadi kept as cool as the secret ingredient, mackerel, and even though he lost—by a nose!—we think he would best in two out of three. Rematch!