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Best Chefs Heating Up The Culinary Scene In Pittsburgh

From old-fashioned barbecue to upscale Pan-Asian cuisine, these five chefs offer different types of food for your enjoyment. However, they all have one thing in common, and that is personality. The success of a chef not only relies on a great culinary ability, but also the ability to interact with people and to gauge what foods will make them happy. Here, each chef gives a bit about his or her background and what is at the heart of their accomplishments.
Chef Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller
Big Burrito Restaurant Group
5740 Baum Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 361-3272

As the executive chef for Big Burrito Restaurant Group, Bill Fuller oversees five of Pittsburgh Magazine's 2011 best restaurants: Soba, Eleven, Kaya, Umi and Casbah. His sixth restaurant, Mad Mex, is no less popular or fantastic, just a bit more casual. The restaurants are spread throughout Pittsburgh and offer a wide variety of foods from casual Mexican, Island and Asian to Mediterranean and contemporary American. From the gobblerito at Mad Mex to the Elysian Fields Farm lamb chops at Eleven, Chef Fuller oversees all of the dishes for Big Burrito. What is the key to success for these restaurants? The answer: the use of local, fresh, in-season ingredients as often as possible.

"We have always used local, in-season ingredients, even before it was the 'in' thing to do," says Fuller, "It is important for us to support local organizations, such as Grow Pittsburgh." Between searching out new talent, taking care of paperwork and his many PR appearances, Fuller is one busy executive chef, but he still finds time to support the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. "I decided if I was going to cook food for people with money, I was also going to give to those who need food" said Fuller, who was key in helping the Food Bank become an official charity of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

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Chef Jim Brinkman
(credit: Jennifer Stockdale)

Jim Brinkman
Hyeholde Restaurant
1616 Coraopolis Heights Road
Moon, PA 15108
(412) 264-3116

Jim Brinkman started his career as a buyer for the US Shoe Corporation, but he had always had a passion for cooking. When some changes occurred at his previous job, he decided to take a chance by accepting a job at a local restaurant. He quickly worked his way up to executive chef and decided that he should get an official culinary degree. Sixteen years ago, he started working at Hyeholde as a pastry chef. His career at Hyeholde then progressed to dining room manager for several years, but when the opening for executive chef became available, Brinkman couldn't wait to get back in the kitchen.

Chef Brinkman has become quite an expert on Hyeholde. He oversees all of the events which include private weddings, parties and business meetings to annual pig roasts and wine tastings. During his Chef's Table dinners, he presides as a gracious host and capable chef directing the kitchen staff and entertaining the diners who enjoy a specially-prepared dinner right in the kitchen. On the restaurant's beautiful four-and-a-half-acre grounds, it grows as much produce as possible for dishes. "I like simple ingredients" says Jim, "you have to be able to taste the food." His current favorites include the elk burgers he is creating for a happy hour dish that Hyeholde will be hosting on its new patio, complete with a large stone fireplace. "I work on a lot of complicated dishes, but nothing beats a good burger" says Brinkman. Despite its elegant beauty, Brinkman wants everyone to know that Hyeholde is not a stuffy place to dine; "We are relaxed here, the food is simple and you can enjoy yourself for the evening."

Chef Kate Cunning
(credit: Jennifer Stockdale)

Kate Cunning
Independent Chef

After working on a theater arts degree at Duquesne University, Kate Cunning decided that there was something she loved more than acting: food. So she enrolled in Pittsburgh's Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts to hone her natural talent. After an externship at Hyeholde and some time as a pastry chef at The Priory, Kate searched for a way to combine her talents for cooking and acting. Working as an independent chef has given her the flexibility to do what she does best. Chef Kate currently does cooking demonstrations, consulting for private companies and is the resident culinarian on the East Coast Wine Geeks Podcast, a Pittsburgh podcast dedicated to life and the pursuit of unfussy wine.

Chef Kate can frequently be seen at IKEA where she leads cooking workshops, putting a decidedly Pittsburgh spin on the store's Swedish foods. One of her more recent dishes, grilled meatball sliders, feature the famous IKEA Swedish meatballs grilled with crimini mushrooms, bacon and fontina cheese on a toasted slider bun with a creamy sweet and sour sauce. "I guess what I love the most about being a chef is the versatility," says Cunning, "There is an art and a science to being a chef and if you apply yourself and use creativity, your possibilities are endless."

Hog Father's Old-Fashioned BBQ
(credit: Hog Father's Old-Fashioned BBQ/Facebook)

Frank Puskarich and Josef Karst
Hog Father's Old Fashioned BBQ
1301 Jefferson Ave
Washington, PA 15301
(724) 229-1227

Between gaining the love of the Texas-based Marcellus Shale workers and a recent pop-in visit from Vice President Joe Biden, Hog Father's has been seeing quite a bit of success in the last few years. Business partners Frank Puskarich and Josef Karst have gone from sampling barbecue in Frank's driveway and at biker rallies to expanding their operation to include three additional restaurants in a little over six years. So how did German-born Karst and area-native Puskarich get together? "We worked together at a former job and found we were both passionate about barbecue" said Puskarich.

With the opening of an additional restaurant in Washington as well as a location in Canonsburg and one in State College, the two hope to better service their fast-growing client base. This expansion comes with some challenges, however. The change from small-batch recipes to exact, large quantities that will be consistent across multiple locations is a growing pain that expanding restaurants must always undergo. Rest assured, the famous melt-in-your mouth ribs and rich smoky baked beans will taste the same at every restaurant. The team is also hoping to incorporate mail orders for its products. Soon Hog Father's may be enjoyed everywhere in the country.

Justin Severino

Justin Severino
5336 Butler St
Lawrenceville, PA 15201
(412) 252-2595

As many chefs do, after completing his training at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Chef Justin Severino left Pittsburgh to master his craft in California. After working with great chefs and owning his own small charcuterie, Severino moved back to Pittsburgh with his wife to be closer to family. He spent some time working as sous chef at Eleven and as the executive chef at Elements. When he felt that Pittsburgh was a great fit for his cooking style, he decided the time was right to open his own restaurant. He opened Cure last fall.

Severino's Cure menu highlights the cured meats he has become known for as well as dishes with Mediterranean flare that use locally-sourced ingredients reflective of the seasons. Chef Severino is dedicated to "supporting ethical farming practices, humane animal husbandry, sustainability and traditional cooking techniques."

Related: Best Bistros In Pittsburgh

Jennifer Stockdale is a native of the greater Pittsburgh, PA area. She is a restaurant marketer and wine enthusiast and one of the hosts of the East Coast Wine Geeks Podcast. Her work can be found at


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