Rayen Studios Photography
Location: Highlands, NC
Why He's Amazing: Because he's serving technique-driven modern cuisine inspired by traditional Southern cooking in a tiny North Carolina town.
Culinary School: Self-taught
Background: Five & Ten (Athens, GA), Miller Union (Atlanta), Market Place (Asheville, NC)
Quintessential Dish: Pork belly with rice, grits, spicy okra and sorghum
How He Learned to Cook: "When I was really little, I learned from my grandmothers. At 14, I started working in barbecue restaurants, mom-and-pop places. It was the only thing I was interested in and really good at. In 2005 I decided to make the leap to Five & Ten and do the higher-end stuff."
Knife Brand of Choice: Fujiwara, a Japanese company that made swords before it made kitchen knives.
TV Moment: In 2008, he appeared on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, making a "nose-to-tail rabbit dish with mushrooms native to Appalachia." And in 2011, he appeared on the Food Network's cooking competition Chopped—and won.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.