All of the Charleston food-and-beverage pros named to Zagat’s newly-released 30 Under 30 list qualify for the age-restricted designation: They have to produce photo identification before the rating guide will bestow the honor, previously awarded in cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Austin and Washington D.C.
Still, Zagat Senior Editor Kelly Dobkin is well aware of how close many of the listees come to the line. Fourteen of them are already 29 years old.
“That actually freaks me out too, because we’ve had to push launch dates,” Dobkin says.
The first-ever Charleston list includes coffee specialists Brianna Berry (Harold’s Cabin) and Michael Mai (Mercantile & Mash); bartenders Jayce McConnell (Edmund’s Oast), Kyle Lankford (Pearlz Oyster Bar), Kyle DeGolyer (Bar Mash), Megan Deschaine (492); chefs Chelsey Conrad (Butcher & Bee), Joe DiMaio (The Darling Oyster Bar), Greg Garrison (Prohibition), Benjamin Harris (Poogan’s Porch), Katy Keefe (McCrady’s), Thai Phi (Pink Bellies) and Shuai Wang (Short Grain).
“It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard, because there are a lot of important things happening in Charleston,” Dobkin says of the selection process, which starts with a social media call for nominations. The final list was developed and written by Charleston Scene contributor Stephanie Burt.
Complicating matters in Charleston was the city’s growing reputation as a second stop for chefs who’ve cultivated their careers in New York City, Dobkin says. “A lot of people might move there at 30 or in their early 30s.”
Dobkin concedes that people who’ve reached their thirtieth birthday aren’t exactly old: The notion that culinary talent should blossom prior to that moment is a very 2010s way of approaching a food scene.
“It’s mostly to point out anomalies,” Dobkin says of the format. “Most people don’t accomplish anything until they’re 40. Talking to some of these people, I’m always like, ‘wow, I feel really unaccomplished.’ But we have other features where we highlight people regardless of age. This was to focus on all-stars who will be setting the tone, and to capture the young spirit of the industry.”
Because Zagat had never compiled a Charleston 30 Under 30 list, it had its pick of young spirits. The tough part, Dobkin says, is putting together another list a year later.
For the complete list of 30 Under 30 winners (who don’t receive anything in conjunction with the listing), visit zagat.com.