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Craig LaBan's chef of 2016

Greg Vernick of Vernick Food & Drink is Craig LaBan's chef of the year.
Greg Vernick of Vernick Food & Drink is Craig LaBan's chef of the year.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

In a year full of fantastic flavors, debuts, and culinary acrobatics, some performances were particularly memorable. Over the next few days, I'll be sharing the Philly dining stars of 2016 I won't soon forget.

Chef of the Year

Greg Vernick. New names usually get most of the end-of-year buzz. But our recent Ultimate Dining guide reminded me that one of our quietest veteran chefs, Greg Vernick, has never stopped refining his craft, a masterful study in refined simplicity where every plate, be it crudo, chicken, or wood-roasted lobster, delivers maximum impact. In taking Vernick Food & Drink to four bells (and earning my nod for Philly's "Best Overall Restaurant,") Vernick has helped redefine our concept of what American dining can be.

In Ultimate Dining, LaBan wrote:

Vernick Food & Drink is so many things -- and does them all to perfection. ... The magic comes from the polished staff and from Greg Vernick, the Cherry Hill-born owner and chef, who, after years of working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, crafts dishes that appear simple but that rise on flawless technique to create focused flavors with powerful impact. That chicken isn't just chicken. It's brined, steamed, reinjected with its juices, then wood-roasted into a crackly skinned super bird. A sea-flavored gloss of dashi butter umami-boosts perfect roasted lobster alongside blistered shishitos, corn, and green-chili sausage.

...Really, with every dish on this big menu honed to such precise beauty, what more could I desire? Just another reservation, ASAP.

Read more about Greg Vernick and Vernick Food & Drink in Craig LaBan's Ultimate Dining. Buy your copy at

Also, look for LaBan's Year in Bells in the Sunday Inquirer.

Coming Thursday: Craig LaBan's dish of the year.