Serendipity’s 2019 Most Innovative Chefs stand out from the pack in their dedication to creativity in the kitchen. Learn how they got to where they are today—and what their dreams are for their future.

Chef Matt Aita
Little Beet Table, Greenwich, CT, Chicago, IL, and NYC, thelittlebeettable.com

Image of Matt Aita

Can you describe your training?
I started my career in Philadelphia, where I’m from, and when I moved to New York, I worked in some really forward-thinking kitchens, like Jean-Georges, before I landed at Rouge Tomate (which is now closed). At Rouge Tomate I had an opportunity to experiment with veggie-forward dishes, spotlighting seasonal ingredients, proteins of the highest quality, and interesting techniques. While I was there, I worked with a nutritionist who really taught me a lot when it came to gluten-free cooking and cooking for dietary preferences in general. That was ultimately how I became connected with the Little Beet Table team, and my training and education to date has really informed how I’ve designed LBT’s menus, and how we’re working with purveyors and local producers—really everything.

How do you define innovation in the kitchen?
I define it as using unexpected parts of produce to create something special and delicious, and consistently finding new uses for ingredients. We try our best to be a no-waste kitchen by using all parts of produce (like the fennel stalk and bulb) in our nutrient-dense juices for our cocktail program. We like to dehydrate often-tossed elements of vegetables and fruits, and then turn them into a powder to dust cocktails and dishes. This is an ongoing challenge and there are so many chefs innovating these days, so we try to do so in the context of our LBT guests, and will continue to do so.

What are your three favorite ingredients, and why?
Our vegan butter that we make in-house is liquid gold. I’m also a fan of Maldon flaky sea salt. Finally, there’s Cup4Cup flour—[chef] Thomas Keller created a gluten-free flour blend, and it really makes incredible baked goods that have the most similar consistency to baked goods that contain gluten.

What food trend are you into currently?
The gluten-free movement has evolved a lot over the past couple of years. We are 100 percent gluten free, so we’re still very into this trend.

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be and what would you cook?
I don’t have a specific person who I want to cook for in mind. With that said, I absolutely love to cook for my wife and my three kids. We love coming together in the kitchen, and I particularly enjoy cooking anything that we pick together from our garden. The experience is very special for our family!

What’s next for you?
We’re opening another location in Chevy Chase, MD, this year, and have plans to open two locations every year in the future. It’s an exciting time for the brand!


Chef Aaron Bautista
F.I.S.H. Restaurant + Bar, Stamford, CT, fishstamford.com

Image of Aaron Bautista

When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
My passion for cooking began as a child in Mexico, watching my mother cook in the kitchen for family and friends. I quickly realized that it was less about the food and more about the time that was shared around the table, making memories with the people I loved. The food was the bridge that brought us together.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Well, obviously after receiving an award of this caliber, I am extremely grateful and more than humbled. But at the end of the night when a guest comes up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed my food and what a great experience they had with family and friends at F.I.S.H., that’s honestly the most satisfying feeling. That’s the reward, and why I do what I do—day in and day out.

What’s the best cooking advice you have ever received?
There are no rules in cooking. Make them up as you go along, but just be sure to be the first one to taste what you thought could be a good idea, because you could be wrong!

What food trend are you over?
Well, honestly I think the fancy, formal dining restaurants are going to struggle going forward. The corporations don’t have the expense accounts that they used to, and a restaurant can’t rely solely on being a special-occasion place. F.I.S.H. is upscale casual, which I think is a nice, happy medium. The menu has something for everyone, and I think that is a huge component to its success, among other things. 

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
Without question, I would cook for my mother and I would cook her whatever she wanted. That’s the least I could do. She sweated enough in the kitchen over the years. It’s time for somebody else to feel that heat.

What’s next for you?
A boat to go fishing, and maybe F.I.S.H. could have a little brother or sister.


Chef Evans Corrales
Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood, Rowayton, CT, rowaytonseafood.com 

Image of Evans Corrales

When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
I realized at a young age that I was interested in cooking. It was never actually an original plan. I started working in the kitchen and I took an interest.

Can you describe your training?
I worked my way up, which helps tremendously to manage the team. I have worked with many chefs with different ideas and expectations. From that, I created my own style.

How do you define innovation in the kitchen?
Innovation starts with fresh ingredients and creativity. It will not only be in the flavor and aroma but in the presentation. It will stimulate the five senses without exception.

What’s your favorite innovative dish locally?
Mexican food, any dish! Mexican food has been so innovative, with great flavors, spice and color.

What are your three favorite ingredients, and why?
My three favorite ingredients are honey, garlic and thyme. These ingredients have a pleasant aroma and flavor.

What food trend are you into currently?
I love organic products and produce. They pair perfectly with the fresh fish we prepare. Simple, fresh and delicious!

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
I would cook for Aarón Sánchez, a Mexican celebrity chef. I would prepare tacos de chorizo and Mexican shrimp cocktail.

What’s the best cooking advice you have ever received?
It was to work with passion and love. It comes through as guests enjoy our preparation.

What has been the highlight of your career?
I have worked with a team that is 100 percent unconditionally dedicated to me and to their work. I would never have ascended to this level without my team.

What’s next for you?
I would like to continue to enrich my knowledge in the kitchen, and fine-tune my skills in developing flavors and beautiful presentations. But only God knows what his plans are for me. 


Chef David Guimaraes
Milestone Restaurant, Redding, CT, milestonect.com

Image of David Guimares

When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
I don’t think I ever came to a realization in terms of wanting to be a chef. I just started cooking and kind of stuck with it. Now I’m just trying to have fun.

What are your three favorite ingredients, and why?
My first favorite ingredient has to be sea salt. You can put it on anything! My second favorite ingredient is really good olive oil. For the same reason sea salt is great, olive oil is too. My third and last favorite ingredient is fresh lemon juice. I love the acidity from a fresh lemon.

What food trend are you over?
I don’t understand the flowers that some people put on dishes. I get that people want to create a beautiful-looking dish, but I think you can do it without the flowers. So I’m over the flowers.

What’s the best cooking advice you have ever received?
I think it was to put your head down and work. If you just work and lose yourself in that moment, you won’t get into trouble. Also, worry about yourself, not the person next to you.

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
If I could cook for anyone it would be Willie Nelson. He looks like he’s got stories. I would probably just do steak and mashed potatoes and fried Oreos.

What’s next for you?
I really don’t know. I don’t like thinking that far ahead unless it’s something I’m currently working on. So I guess as of right now, nothing.


Chef Emily Mingrone
Tavern On State, New Haven, CT, tavernonstate.com 

Image of Emily Mingrone

Can you describe your training?
I grew up working in my father’s deli/catering business since I was 15. When I was 26, I decided to enroll in a local culinary school, Lincoln Culinary Institute, to pursue my career more seriously. I learned most of what I know on the job. I’ve sought out the most successful chefs in the state to train under: Denise Appel, Matt Storch and Bill Taibe. 

How do you define innovation in the kitchen?
Innovation in the kitchen is all about being adaptable. If I get a text from a farmer saying that they are heavy on a given item that week, innovation is being able to take that item and make it into something interesting and delicious. It’s always being able to roll with the punches and trust your instincts.

What’s your favorite innovative dish locally?
That’s hard. I don’t know if I can name a specific dish, but I’m really obsessed with what Bill [Taibe] is doing at Jesup Hall. His food is always creative and always delicious in a way that’s in line with my own creative process.

What are your three favorite ingredients, and why?
Salt, lemon and anchovy. Salt seems fairly obvious, and lemon because acid is an underestimated contributor to a full and balanced dish. Anchovy makes its way into a lot more dishes than one would expect because of the umami component—the sixth flavor—it offers. If something is missing, it is usually that. 

What food trend are you into currently?
I’m into reinventing old-school dishes. I really love what Chef [Dave] DiBari is doing at Eugene’s in Port Chester, NY. I think a lot of people just overcomplicate things. Food is simple when you know what to do with it. 

If you could cook for anyone, who would that be and what would you make?
I really love entertaining, and in this business we don’t get to spend much quality time with our friends and family, especially those that live far from us. With that said, I think I would gather my friends from all over the country and cook a really simple, delicious, family style spread that we could share over conversation and wine.


Chef Brian Sernatinger
Único, Hartsdale, NY, unicony.com

Image of Brian Sernatinger

When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
After graduating with a degree in psychology, I worked in the corporate world for a little while and I knew it wasn’t for me. I have always enjoyed cooking—I have a picture of me when I was 2 years old stirring a big pot of spaghetti. I decided to go to culinary school to become a cook and never looked back.

Can you describe your training?
I studied at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. Then I worked with Tom Colicchio for about three years at Gramercy Tavern and Craft. Over the next 15 years I traveled and lived in many different countries including Mexico, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy and Greece.

How do you define innovation in the kitchen?
It’s creating delicious food that’s presented in new and unfamiliar ways, but still evokes emotion or nostalgia. Único means “unique,” so we strive to offer food that you can’t find anywhere else. We present familiar flavors in unfamiliar ways.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
Opening my first restaurant [Único Tulum, in Tulum, Mexico] with my wife in 2013 and making it a success in just a few short months. This industry is so difficult and stressful but it is also very rewarding. Making complete strangers happy every day with food is a true gift.

What’s the best cooking advice you ever received?
Put s**t in the pot, get s**t out of the pot. Basically, use high-quality ingredients or your food will not be high quality.

What’s next for you?
I would like Único to continue to grow and open another location. I also want to travel more and see more of the world. There are so many cuisines and flavors to experience!


Chef Jeff Taibe
Taproot, Bethel, CT , taprootct.com

Image of Jeff Taibe

When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
I always used to cook for my family since I was 9 or 10 years old. I used to get up on the weekend and make breakfast before anyone woke up. In high school, I used to come home and watch the Food Network and try to duplicate and/or make my own version of what was featured on the shows I was watching. However, even though I was always cooking, I went to school to be a P.E. teacher. I played baseball my freshman year of college. I think at that point, I wanted to start moving forward towards my career. I thought about teaching but still gravitated towards cooking. So when I was 19, I decided to leave college and go to the French Culinary Institute.

How do you define innovation in the kitchen?
Today, I would say, it’s going back to the basics: How to cook a great piece of fish, how to season properly, and keeping food as simple as possible. Since I have traveled a bit, I was exposed to a lot of ingredients from around the world. I try to incorporate them where it makes sense. Rather than trying to be cutting edge or creative, I still try to create a simple, well-balanced dish but may find another ingredient that’s not familiar, yet may work better or might lend a different texture or taste.

What’s your favorite innovative dish locally?
Execution is what I look for—I like simple food. Recently, I had an amazing meal at South End Uncorked in New Canaan, CT. Not just one dish, but the whole experience is what I enjoyed. Or getting an oyster roll from Knot Norm’s in Norwalk, CT. Again, just simple familiar food, well executed.

What are your three favorite ingredients, and why?
Lemon for starters—every dish needs a touch of acidity to awaken the palate. It just brightens everything up. It’s fresh and simple. Then I’d say smoke—it just imparts a deep rich flavor. I smoke a lot of items in my kitchen. Many of my dishes have some form of a smoky element, and some desserts do as well. My third favorite ingredient is dried mushroom. I add it to all my stocks and sauces. It’s a simple ingredient that gives depth. You don’t taste mushrooms necessarily, but they give richness and depth to your broth, stocks, braises and sauces.  


Chef Pasquale Abbatiello
Southern Table, Pleasantville, NY, southern-table.com

When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
Being a chef was in my blood my whole life. I grew up on Long Island and started working for my uncle at his pizzeria at the age of 11. I instantly fell in love with being a young kid working and seeing the product come to life. I fell in love with the industry at a young age, and learned very quickly that whatever you put into the restaurant is what you will get out.

Can you describe your training?
I really have had the best of all worlds. Growing up I acquired a work ethic quickly— while my friends were out playing, I was always working. When I was 21, I decided to attend the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, the best decision I could ever make. I got to work under some of the biggest chefs in the world, including Daniel Boulud, Wylie Dufresne and Missy Robbins. After culinary school, I had the opportunity to work in Tuscany as a chef instructor and learned traditional real Italian cooking. From there, I worked as the chef at Barrique in Babylon, [NY], a forward-thinking wine bar. Finally I ended up as the head chef of the Wood and Fire [restaurant] Group, which opened Southern Table in 2017.

How do you define innovation in the kitchen?
For me, innovation is to not be afraid to be yourself. As a chef, I only cook dishes that I want to eat. If that day I want to eat grilled cheese, then that is what will be on my menu for the day. I mean, it’s going to be a bad-ass grilled cheese, but the next day I might have scallops and caviar on the menu.

What are your three favorite ingredients, and how do you use them?
The first is acid! I feel like it’s the most underutilized ingredient. I season almost every dish with some sort of citrus, vinegar or brine. Slow-roasted tomatoes are another secret ingredient of mine—I use them in a lot of purées and sauces, and they give a deep, umami flavor. My third favorite ingredient is anchovy: It’s the bacon of the sea, giving dishes a deep, salty, rich flavor.

What’s the best learning experience you have ever had?
It was actually getting fired from my first sous chef job. I thought I was a hot shot out of culinary school but I still had a LOT to learn, and still do. It was a very humbling experience.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
It’s been opening Southern Table, and all the success it has brought me. Southern Table was not easy for me—I’d never cooked southern food. Mike, the owner of the restaurant group, came to me with the idea for a southern restaurant. I was into it, but didn’t really understand the cuisine, since my culinary background is French and Italian. But I fell in love with the cuisine; it’s very similar to Italian in a lot of ways. Real southern food is very simple: A few good ingredients, good technique and a lot of love.

Text by Deborah Skolnik
Photographs by Lindsay Madden