Sean Baker at Gather, who is chef of the year

A Berkeley restaurant is in the limelight today as its chef has scooped one of the most coveted awards in the food business.

Sean Baker at Gather Restaurant has been named 2010 Chef of the Year by Esquire Magazine which also picks Gather as one of the 20 best new restaurants of the year. The news was broken by Eater SF this morning.

Esquire’s restaurant features writer John Mariani is regarded as one of the pre-eminent American restaurant writers — one of the few who covers the business at a national level — and therefore the award will be seen as a tremendous boost for the young restaurant, although it has already garnered many favorable reviews here in the Bay Area.

The choice is also significant because Gather’s menu puts vegetables center-stage and offers many vegan options — which makes the restaurant something of an anomaly in a restaurant scene which appears to be increasingly focused on butchery and the multitude varieties of offal. Baker worked for several years at Millennium, the innovative San Francisco vegan restaurant.

Like many Berkeley patrons of the restaurant, as well as Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer,  Mariani made special mention in his review of Gather’s vegan charcuterie dish. “.. best of all, I swear, was the vegan ‘charcuterie’…I devoured it as if it were baby back ribs”.

Baker, who was unavailable for comment, is in New York to collect his award tonight. Mariani has compiled the “Best” list for Esquire for the last 26 years. The full winners list will be published in the November issue of the magazine. The only other Bay Area name on the 20-strong roster of “new restaurant” winners is Frances in San Francisco.

Gather, which is located on the ground floor of the David Brower Center at 2200 Oxford Street, was opened in late 2009 by Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster, who share a passion for the environment, wilderness escapades, and delicious, sustainable food.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...