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Best New Chefs 2009: Linton Hopkins

Linton Hopkins

Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch Public House, Atlanta


Born: Rochester, NY; 1966.

Education: Culinary Institute of America; Hyde Park, NY.

Experience: Mr. B’s Bistro and Windsor Court, New Orleans.

We loved: Chicken livers, soft grits, pickled peaches (at Eugene); the H&F burger, served only after 10 p.m. (at Holeman and Finch).

How he became a chef:
“I always cooked at home. My aha moment came when I was working in a bookstore and saw a guide to culinary schools. I can still see the bright red cover. So I picked it up and thought, Wow, I’ve been cooking my entire life and never considered this career path. Within three weeks I was at CIA.”

Culinary heros:
Modern French-cooking pioneer Fernand Point. “He defined French cuisine, but he wasn’t in Paris, the center of the culinary world. He was in a small town, and he and his wife were just cooking what they cooked every day. He’d tweak a dish for 15 years. I have that same philosophy. I’m not like Mozart, who could instantly create masterpieces.”

Humbling moment:
“On my honeymoon, I made the worst jambalaya of my life. We were staying in a house on the Savannah River. Some of the rice was half-cooked, some was overcooked. Oh, it was terrible. I used every pan trying to fix it. I was used to cooking in large quantities; it’s a hard adjustment to cook at home again.”

Ingredient obsession:
Southern ingredients like sorghum and good country ham. “Ingredients that I’m scared we’re going to lose intrigue me the most.”

Favorite childhood recipe:
Hollandaise. “It’s the first sauce I fell in love with. One day, I wanted hollandaise with my eggs, and my mom was not about to make it. I got the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. I still have that book—it’s so stained with eggs now.”

Memorable meal:
His first dinner at New York City’s Le Bernardin. “I brought my friends from culinary school. We were all poor. They’re still mad at me because I said, ‘Let’s have the tasting menu with wine pairings.’ The bill was so expensive.”

Favorite cheap eat:
Carvers Country Kitchen, a small Southern soul food cafeteria in Atlanta. “It’s only open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and there’s already a line at 11. They load up your plate. My ideal ‘meat and three’ there is fried chicken, creamed corn, lima beans and braised peas.”

Guilty pleasure:
Cheeseburgers. “I love the ones at Varsity in Atlanta, with onion rings and a Coca-Cola; it’s one of my ideal meals. You can’t get it with pimento cheese, you have to get American cheese. That’s how we make burgers at Holeman and Finch; I love how American cheese melts around the burger.”

Favorite wine:
“I’ve just gotten into Yellow + Blue Malbec, sold in Tetra Paks [cartons]. It’s $12 a liter. One of my faults is being a snob about bottles and corks, so this is a great departure for me.”

What his next restaurant would be:
“My fantasy restaurant is a place called Preservation, which wouldn’t have any refrigeration. Most of our greatest foods were created pre-refrigeration. Country ham would just sit out; it would drive the health inspector crazy. The more realistic idea is a classic fish camp with crawfish boils and Cajun blackened fish and roasted oysters. And great hush puppies and beer on ice, so cold that the labels fall off.”

Food trend he dislikes:
The tendency to celebrate commercial food. “Some of it is fun and engaging. But the idea of racing to create an upscale Cheeto—a foie gras Cheeto, a black truffle Cheeto—I don’t get that.”

Favorite cooking show:
Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. “I love that he goes to places that people don’t go. I love that he shows that all cultures eat everything. We sell 20 orders of testicles a night at H&F. People are craving honesty in their ingredients.”

Favorite cookbooks:
The food encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique and Marco Pierre White’s White Heat. “I only wish Larousse had more American regional food in it. White Heat changed how I thought about food—that intensity, and the vision of a chef full force.”

What he collects:
Cookbooks. “Junior League books, community cookbooks—from an anthropology standpoint, they’re amazing. Why was Fernand Point so great? Because he was cooking from his food experiences, from his family. If you’re cooking as a restaurant brat, you don’t have an emotional experience to tie back into.”

Best New Chef Recipes & More:

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