Virginia B. Wood introduces you to the most fascinating food people of 2002.

As 2002 draws rapidly to a close, I'm reminded of several food people who made indelible impressions on me during the past year. In this season of sharing, I think it's important to share those impressions with Chronicle readers. Jean-Luc & Denise Salles are responsible for organizing and/or contributing to everything from the tornado relief fundraiser for Boggy Creek Farm last December to the sellout Green Corn Project event in October and the Eat, Drink, Watch Movies benefit for the Capital Area Food Bank, demonstrating their overwhelming support to the causes of sustainable agriculture and good, fresh food for all the citizens of Austin. They are great friends to the community... Gonzalez pit master Steve Lopez labored in relative obscurity for many years, but now his great food and warm hospitality have been discovered. He stood in the doorway of the Gonzalez Food Market and personally welcomed every guest from the SFA Texas barbecue field trip into his place of business and then blew them away with unforgettable lamb ribs, beef ribs, brisket, and sausage... Talented, confident Shawn Cirkiel, young chef/owner of Jean-Luc's Bistro is my pick for the next Austinite to garner the national spotlight. Mark my words, he's going to be a star... I can't say enough good things about Marisela Godinez, the hardworking young mother who is chef/owner of El Mesón. Her renditions of the melting-pot cuisine of her native Mexico City are a regular revelation to me and her growing legion of fans... Texas history and Lone Star foodways are Steve Orsak's avocation. He's a competition champion pit master, a serious chili cook, an expert canner, and an all-around great guy... In a joint venture with his church and his restaurant, longtime local chef Hoover Alexander is sponsoring a Kid's Cafe in East Austin these days. He also made such a positive impression on the visiting members of the Southern Foodways Alliance last summer that he was elected to that organization's board of directors at the symposium this fall. He's a hometown guy who represents the best things about Austin... Feisty little sparkplug Katherine Tuason happens to be the premier pastry chef in the city of San Antonio, where she creates enticing desserts at Bruce Auden's Biga on the Banks. She was by far the most interesting person I met at the San Antonio New World Wine & Food affair this fall... Culinary student Thomas Hanawa was the go-to guy in the Alamo Drafthouse North kitchen who made the food service angle of the Eat, Drink, Watch Movies film series function properly. He's going to make an expert caterer... Jewish food writer Marcie Cohen Ferris is a native of Little Rock, Ark., whose presentation about the annual kosher barbecue competition in Memphis at the SFA Symposium was the highlight of that October event for me... Witty Vogue food columnist Jeffrey Steingarten was a guest at the barbecue field trip this summer, revealing himself to be somewhat petulant and bratty in person. I fell in love with his new book, It Must Have Been Something I Ate (Knopf, $27.50).

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