Meet the Innovators: Sameh Wadi vs. Joshua Hopkins

Man, we have a lot of neck-and-neck races over on the Innovators bracket. (Hey, have you voted today? Vote now!) And it's a hell of a lot longer of a competition than the Kentucky Derby. (Animal Kingdom had it so easy; these chefs are in it for the long haul!) This week we're looking closer at the eight chefs still standing. Herewith, Minnesota's Sameh Wadi and Georgia's Joshua Hopkins.

Sameh Wadi: He apparently had very advanced tastes from an early age (according to his brother, Saed). While in culinary school, he sought out the only person in Minneapolis cooking anything near Middle Eastern food (it was Tim McKee, at Solera—and it was North African), and got a job with him. Wadi and his brother opened Saffron in 2007, and found themselves selling out of lamb brains every night. Wadi quickly realized that he couldn't find prepared spice blends with the flavor he wanted ("It was all diluted crap," he told CHOW contributor James Norton, writing for Heavy Table). So he and his brother started a side business, making their own blends of things like ras el hanout. As a fresh-faced 25-year-old, he was the youngest challenger to appear on Iron Chef America in 2010, and also the first from Minnesota—he was bested by Iron Chef Morimoto in a mackerel battle. And he was a semifinalist for this year's James Beard Rising Star award. He's also (in his spare time?) working on a Palestinian cookbook, based on the recipes of his parents and his own modern versions. And then there's the almost-requisite food truck: His is World Street Kitchen, which serves a panoply of international street food, like banh mi sandwiches, tortas, and pho.

Joshua Hopkins: At Abattoir—which is the pretty French word for "slaughterhouse"—he cooks seriously meat-centric cuisine. Atlanta super-restaurateurs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison hired him as a line cook at high-end Bacchanalia in 2005 (he worked his way up to chef de cuisine), and then brought him on as chef and business partner when they opened Abattoir in 2009. Food critics went giddy over things like lamb liver fritters ("irresistible"), lamb sweetbreads in plum sauce and rosemary ("celestial"), and potted chicken liver and foie gras ("remarkable"), cautiously advising their readers that nose-to-tail eating was not as terrifying as it seemed, simultaneously reinforcing the idea that nose-to-tail eating is TERRIFYING (or, as one critic admitted, repulsive).

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