Paola Velez was in Orlando when, one day in February, her phone started blowing up with a string of OMGs. Washingtonian had just dropped its annual top-restaurants issue. The D.C. magazine named Kith/Kin, Kwame Onwuachi’s standard-setting Afro-Caribbean restaurant where Velez was the executive pastry chef at the time, to the No. 15 spot—which was great, but not the source of the barrage of messages from friends and family. Unbeknownst to Velez, Washingtonian put her on the cover. “I was shell-shocked,” she says. “They usually reserve the cover for someone like José Andrés. My parents were blown away that in their lifetime someone like me could be on that cover.”
The following month the James Beard Foundation named Velez a semifinalist in the Rising Star category for chefs under 30 years old, the award Onwuachi had won the previous year….