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Pizzeria Mercato's Gabe Barker named one of the country's top 50 young restaurant pros

Gabe Barker’s Pizzeria Mercato

Video: Gabe Barker talks about his Carrboro restaurant during an interview on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. He is the son of James Beard Award-winning chefs Ben and Karen Barker.
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Video: Gabe Barker talks about his Carrboro restaurant during an interview on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. He is the son of James Beard Award-winning chefs Ben and Karen Barker.

Gabe Barker of Carrboro's Pizzeria Mercato is a semifinalist for Eater's Young Guns 2018, a roundup of the country's top restaurant talent.

It's another accolade for Barker, 29, who is a two-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef Award.

The Young Guns honor, like the Rising Star award, is given to a chef who is 30 years old or younger. Eater, a Vox Media-owned site, is one of the country's best known online food publications.

Barker is the son of James Beard Award winners Ben and Karen Barker. After growing up in the world of their now-closed Magnolia Grill, he spent five years on the West Coast developing his culinary voice, including three at venerable San Francisco pizzeria Delfina. He then moved back home to Carrboro, and with the backing of his parents opened Pizzeria Mercato in 2016.

Eater narrowed 623 industry-wide nominations down to 50, saying the list aims to honor "front- and back-of-house rising stars who are early in their careers but already exhibit the drive, ambition, thought and care necessary to take on the restaurant world." Nominees also have less than five years experience.

Chef Ashley Christensen, who owns several downtown Raleigh restaurants, is on the Eater Young Guns search committee. Of Barker, she said his great pizza is just a jumping off point.

“I love his project, and his approach to celebrating the nearby Carrboro Farmers Market," Christensen said in the Eater nomination. "He’s created a really neat community spot serving pizza and really badass shared plates in a comfortably vibrant space.”

After the announcement, Barker took to the Pizzeria Mercato Instagram account, thanking his staff, his family, farmers and suppliers and the local restaurant community.

"You are the reason I am successful," the post read. "You are the reason why working this hard doesn’t feel like a burden. You are the reason why I strive for more. I can only hope to become a better chef, a better leader, a more positive impact on my community, and leave this industry and the area that raised me in a better place than when I was lucky enough to be a part of it."

When News & Observer dining critic Greg Cox reviewed Pizzeria Mercato in July 2016, he gushed about Barker's command of simplicity and seasonality, awarding it four stars.

Eater has been recognizing the Triangle more frequently, or perhaps the local dining scene burns too brightly to be ignored.

Christensen was named Eater's National Chef of the Year in December. AC Restaurants Beverage Director Cappie Peete won Young Gun honors in 2015 when she was beverage director at Charleston's McCrady's, chef Sean Brock's fine dining restaurant.

Eater said it will announce this year's Young Guns in June.

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