Menya Rui chef-owner Steven Pursley named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine
Steven Pursley, chef and owner of Lindenwood Park ramen shop Menya Rui, has been honored as one of the best new chefs in the country by Food & Wine. Pursley was one of 11 chefs the magazine celebrated for “cultivating kindness in the kitchen and vibrant flavors on the plate.”
The Food & Wine Best New Chef award is perhaps the biggest accolade Pursley and Menya Rui have earned to date, but it’s far from the first. In December 2022, Sauce named Menya Rui our Best New Restaurant of 2022, describing the restaurant as “clear in its identity, passionate and proud in its craft, and rigorously on point in its execution.”
Introducing the Best New Chef class of 2023, Food & Wine restaurant editor Khushbu Shah highlighted Pursley among a crop of chefs who she said are focusing on the “why” rather than the “how” of running a restaurant. “Each of these chefs has clearly found their ‘why,’” Shah wrote. “More impressively, each of them manages to pursue their missions while at the same time running restaurants with healthy work environments. There is no compromise on integrity. There is no compromise on leadership. And that commitment — to vision, values and ambition — carries over into the dining room.”
“It's pretty huge,” Pursley said. “It was good to be recognized. I think it's a win for the crew, the staff, the business, and also ramen in America in general. Hopefully it's the start of many more good things to come.” Pursley spent a few days last week in New York City meeting his fellow Food & Wine honorees. “I think I was probably the most casual as far as the style of food – everyone else seemed a bit more fine dining,” he said. “Compared to some of the other chefs, it’s just a different lane, but I’m proud to be able to provide something that’s approachable, you show up with 20 bucks and you can eat pretty good. It’s for the people, so I take pride in that.”
In the aftermath of the announcement, Menya Rui enjoyed a record weekend, with many of the customers in line for a seat or a table at the restaurant visiting for the first time. “A busy, busy weekend, and a lot of first timers,” Pursley said. “We always ask, ‘Have you been in before?’ and every time the answer is no, it’s a chance to create a new regular.”
Shah said one of Pursley’s achievements at Menya Rui lies in serving up “the most tender, bouncy, delectably slurpable ramen noodles.” Meanwhile, Pursley told Shah his mission is not over. He said he wants to play a role in making ramen “an everyday choice” for Americans, and said he’d like to open a second restaurant that would showcase a different ramen style.
In addition to Pursley, Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs for 2023 are:
- Amanda Shulman: Her Place Supper Club, Philadelphia
- Edgar Rico: Nixta Taqueria, Austin
- Aisha Ibrahim: Canlis, Seattle
- Isabel Coss: Lutece, Washington, DC
- Nando Chang and Valerie Chang: Itamae, Miami
- Hannah Ziskin: Quarter Sheets, Los Angeles
- Ed Szymanski: Dame & Lord's, New York City
- Eunji Lee: Lysée, New York City
- Emmanuel Chavez: Tatemó, Houston
To be eligible for the Best New Chef award, chefs must have been in charge of a kitchen or pastry program for five years or less. Food & Wine solicits nominations from food writers, cookbook authors, previous Best New Chef winners and other industry experts. Shah traveled the country to visit nominated restaurants, narrowing the selection down to the final 11 chefs. Food & Wine vets candidates by conducting background checks, and gauges workplace culture by requiring chefs to share an anonymous multilingual survey with restaurant staff.
Pursley’s childhood was spent both in St. Louis and Okinawa, Japan, where his mother grew up. Pursley went on to spend several years working in Japan, learning his craft in a series of ramen shops. Returning to St. Louis, he launched a series of Ramen x Rui pop-ups that served as a forerunner to his eventual brick-and-mortar restaurant. After several years of pop-ups, Menya Rui opened in Lindenwood Park in April 2022 to instant acclaim, with customers frequently waiting in line outside the restaurant to grab one of its 24 seats. In his August 2022 review of the restaurant, Sauce contributor Michael Renner not only praised Menya Rui’s shoyu ramen, tsukemen and mazemen, but noted that the restaurant’s karaage (fried chicken) and cucumber side are “two appetizers that you’ll want to order on each visit.”
While we always want more recognition for St. Louis’ food scene from national media, it’s worth noting that Pursley is the fifth St. Louis chef Food & Wine has recognized as a rising star of the restaurant world. Nick Bognar received a Best New Chef nod in 2020 for his work in the kitchen at Indo, which Shah said “will jolt your bones to the marrow and have you coming back for more.” Indeed, Pursley worked with Bognar at Indo, also hosting Ramen x Rui popups at the Botanical Heights restaurant. St. Louis’ other Food & Wine Best New Chef alumni include Michael Gallina of Take Root Hospitality (Vicia, Winslow’s Table, Taqueria Morita and Bistro La Floraison), who was a winner in 2018; Kevin Willmann of Farmhaus in 2011; and Gerard Craft of Niche Food Group in 2008.
“I think it’s good for the city, and just another thing that reaffirms that I’m providing an appreciated service,” Pursley said. “It’s my pleasure to do it, of course, but just to be recognized, to get to provide something to the city that wasn’t there before and that’s appreciated to that level, it’s definitely an honor.”
Next up, Pursley and the other Best New Chef winners are eligible to join Food & Wine’s Best New Chef Mentorship Program, which the magazine says is designed “to help empower new Best New Chefs to grow personally and professionally as they face new challenges and opportunities in their careers.”
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