The People's Best New Chef: Southeast Contenders
At F&W, we name America’s 10 most brilliant up-and-coming chefs every year. Now we want to know who you think is the most talented new chef in America.
Photo © Jerry Harris
Restaurant: The Grey
Location: Savannah, GA
Why She's Amazing: Because she gave up her job at New York City’s much-lauded Prune to return to her childhood hometown of Savannah, where she’s melding the flavors of Italy with those of the Deep South in a space that once housed the city’s Art Moderne Greyhound bus terminal.
Background: Prune, The Oak Room at The Plaza, David Burke & Donatella (New York City)
Quintessential Dish: Braised pork shank with greens and cornbread
Mentor: “My grandmother was an excellent cook, and she said, ‘You never have to ask what people think about food, all you have to do is look at the plate.’ That’s something I’m always thinking about. You do the best you can, and you leave it on the plate and walk away. You don’t have to make excuses.”
Photo © Ron Manville
Jessica Benefield & Trey Burnette
Restaurant: Two Ten Jack
Why They're Amazing: Because they’ve given Nashville its first izakaya, or Japanese pub (with Southern touches, of course), and locals are obsessed with their charred shishito peppers with sticky peanuts, honey-soy sauce and shaved katsuobushi (tuna that’s been dried and fermented, then smoked).
Background: Both: Virago, Lime (Nashville); Burnette: Coco’s Italian Market (Nashville)
Quintessential Dish: Takoyaki: octopus “hush puppy” with miso butter and honey
Most Popular Menu Item: Yakitori (grilled meat skewers). “You grow up thinking food on sticks is fun—you eat Popsicles and corn dogs and meats on sticks at fairs,” says Benefield. “It makes me immediately happy when a table orders a bunch of different kinds of skewers. It allows you to try so many different things.”
Photo © Ron Manville
Restaurant: The 404 Kitchen
Why He's Amazing: Because at a tiny restaurant in a former shipping container, he’s turning out immensely flavorful food whose apparent simplicity belies incredible technical precision.
Background: Fig (Charleston, SC); Watermark Restaurant, Flyte World Dining and Wine (Nashville)
Quintessential Dish: Whole slow-cooked rabbit with chestnut, sweet potato and sage
Early Flavor Lessons: “I remember learning that fat meant flavor at Boy Scout camp when I was a kid. I was making spaghetti sauce: I cooked the meat and rendered it in the pan, and then added the fat to the sauce. It was delicious.”
Photo © Sarah E Dodge Photography
Why He's Amazing: Because, while traveling around Asia, the most important thing he learned about cooking was the value of simplicity and restraint, and he’s putting that knowledge into practice at Lusca, with deeply satisfying ocean-centric dishes like crispy-skinned whole branzino with garlicky, chile-spiked spinach.
Background: Miller Union (Atlanta)
Quintessential Dish: Endive salad with double cream blue cheese, cilantro, mint and anchovies
Location: Asheville, NC
Why She's Amazing: Because she's channeling the skills she gained through her envy-inducing background to make authentic Spanish tapas.
Background: Internship at El Bulli (Roses, Spain); Jean-Georges (New York City), The Bazaar by José Andrés (Los Angeles)
Quintessential Dish: Fried eggplant with honey and rosemary
Photo © Richie Aprino
Restaurant: The Optimist
Why He's Amazing: Because his upscale fish-shack dishes addictively combine simple yet bold flavors, often with a Southern accent.
Background: JCT. Kitchen & Bar, Craftbar (Atlanta); Craft (New York City); La Petite Grocery, Ralph's on the Park New Orleans)
Quintessential Dish: Frothy she-crab soup with shrimp toast
On Choosing to Work at a Fish-Focused Restaurant: "I wanted to take a break from that whole pork thing," he says, referring to America's obsession with all things pig. (However, he's not averse to using smoky bits of the meat to flavor gumbo, butter beans and other regionally inspired dishes.)
Photo © Kim Floresca
Kim Floresca & Daniel Ryan
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Why They're Amazing: Because after working together in some of the world's most acclaimed kitchens, they're cooking up sublimely inventive food—like wild onion madeleines and savory pumpernickel macarons—at their very own spot.
Background: Both: The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena, CA); Floresca: Per Se (New York City); Tru (Chicago); Ryan: Adour, Eleven Madison Park (New York City); Alinea (Chicago)
Quintesesntial Dish: Beef tartare with cured egg yolk, puffed tendon and capers
Photo © Andrea Behrends
Restaurant: Rolf and Daughters
Why He's Amazing: Because his European upbringing and hours logged at some of America's top restaurants are reflected in his rustic Mediterranean food—especially his terrific house-made pastas.
Background: Fish Out of Water (Santa Rosa Beach, FL), Joël (Atlanta)
Quintessential Dish: Garganelli verde with heritage pork ragout
Across the Pond: Krajeck grew up in Brussels. "My father worked overseas for NATO. That's when my interest in food was first piqued. My mother would send me to buy croissants, to the boulangerie. There were charcutiers, with every pâté and terrine you could imagine, and farmers' markets every day. It made a strong impression on me."
Photo © Andrea Behrends
Restaurant: The Catbird Seat
Why He's Amazing: Because straight from cooking for four years at one of the world’s best restaurants (Copenhagen’s Noma), the Dublin-born chef is beguiling Nashville diners with his wonderfully uncommon offerings—for example, aged grilled country ham marrow over brined and dried tomatoes with tomato water and lemon verbena oil.
Background: Noma (Copenhagen)
Quintessential Dish: Dessert as a Salad: bundled French sorrel leaves stuffed with orange sherbet and candied pecans
Playful Plating: “We love to eat with our hands, so we’ll serve things to the guests specifically so that they use their hands, too. If we taste something in the kitchen using an offset spatula, then there might be a serving where the guests have to eat with an offset spatula that same night. It’s not meant to be theatrical, it’s just meant to be a bit of fun.”
Photo © Josh Meredith, Original Makers Club
Location: Louisville, KY
Why She's Amazing: Because without ever even visiting Louisville, she left San Francisco to cook at Decca, where she's adding global flavors (like saffron and marcona almonds) to local ingredients (like sweet potatoes and Marksbury Farm Market beef).
Background: The Moss Room (San Francisco); The Admiral (Asheville, NC); Quality Meats (New York City)
Quintessential Dish: Seared walleye with butternut squash and ras el hanout
What Drew Her to the Kitchen: "I grew up cooking with my parents, so it was ingrained from an early age. They had a trout pond and grew shiitake mushrooms. They were kind of hippie, but we did all sorts of stuff."