LJ Wiley, Taco Nuts
Wiley, born in Houston and raised in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Tennessee, has his bachelor's degree in philosophy. Spicing up his culinary creations with equal parts meditation and contemplation, he often describes his passion for cooking with words like enlightenment and intimacy. "Where the food is coming from, how it's prepared, what's put into it," he explains, "it all has an effect on us."
The thought-provoking chef made a strong start in Houston's restaurant scene, cutting his culinary teeth on well-known Houston locales like Smith & Wollensky, Brennan's of Houston and Jean Georges Vongerichten's Bank. He took a huge leap forward in 2005, landing in New York City, working under Vongerichten at Spice Market. While there, Wiley attended the French Culinary Institute but eventually sacrificed his classroom training to learn hands-on with NY's elite, schooled by influential industry giants like Morimoto, Perry Street, Alto and Gordon Ramsay.
In 2007, Wiley ventured to Macau, China, alongside one of his New York mentors, Stanley Wong. There they successfully opened three restaurants in the Venetian Hotel & Casino--and with Wiley's assistance, launched a fine-dining steakhouse in the Hotel Grand Lisboa, along with Don Alfonso Restaurant and L'Atelier De Joël Robuchon.
Now executive chef and partner at Yelapa Playa Mexicana, Wiley's menu would make Marcus Aurelius proud. "I wanted to give diners an unendingly moving and inspiring experience through the foods I prepared for them," says Wiley. With micro-seasonal menu changes, locally-sourced product and a borderless style, the assertive entrepreneur leads the Yelapa concept, teaching young cooks variations on global themes, while dazzling patrons with an unusual Pacific Coast-style Mexican cuisine.