The People's Best New Chef: Southeast

Southeast Chefs: Billy Allin | Bryan Emperor | Kevin Gillespie

Joshua Hopkins | Joseph Lenn | Steven Satterfield | Ryan Smith

Ryan Trimm | Aaron Vandemark | Tandy Wilson

Southeast Region Winner:

Bryan Emperor

Bryan Emperor. Photo Courtesy of Kalu.


Bryan Emperor

  • Restaurant: Kalu Asian Kitchen
  • Location: Charlotte, NC
  • Why he's amazing: Because he used his time abroad to learn the fundamentals of making impeccable, non-Westernized Asian food.
  • Background: Departure (Portland, OR), Ten (Charlottesville, VA)
  • Culinary school: Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY.
  • Must-try dish: Wagyu hanger steak with yuzu and coriander pesto.
  • Favorite imported ingredients: Mongolian mountain salt, charcoal from Kyoto, spices from China.
  • Former career: Banker with Lehman Brothers.
  • Training: Emperor became proficient in Japanese to train in restaurants all over Tokyo.
  • Read a Review

Billy Allin. Photo Courtesy of Green Olive Media LLC.

Billy Allin

  • Restaurant: Cakes & Ale
  • City, State: Decatur, GA
  • Why he's amazing: Because his unpretentious food reveals a mastery of flavors and execution even in the most humble offerings, like deviled eggs.
  • Background: Chez Panisse (Berkeley)
  • Culinary School: California Culinary Academy.
  • Must-try dish: Warm spring vegetables with pancetta, creamy lemon vinaigrette and a crispy poached egg
  • Favorite author: George Orwell
  • Read a Review

Kevin Gillespie. Photo © Fredrik Brauer.

Kevin Gillespie

  • Restaurant: Woodfire Grill
  • City, State: Atlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazing: Because he knows what to leave out as much as what to put in for his plates of micro-regional, sustainable food with a Southern accent.
  • Background: Atlanta Grill in the Ritz-Carlton (Atlanta), Fife Restaurant (Portland, OR)
  • Culinary school: Art Institute of Atlanta.
  • Must-try dish: Crispy fried hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.
  • Best known for: Being a finalist and fan favorite on Top Chef Season 6.
  • Cooking philosophy: "We tell the suppliers to bring us whatever is best, and then we write the menu from there. It's like a jigsaw puzzle."
  • Comfort food: Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup.
  • Most recent food discoveries: The smoked steelhead roe in his steelhead tartare, and crudo with grapefruit and dill topped with fine crispy bread crumbs.
  • Biggest influences: Edna Lewis, Thomas Keller, Michel Bras
  • Favorite junk food: Hot wings.
  • Read a Review

Joshua Hopkins. Photo © The Reynolds Group.

Joshua Hopkins

  • Restaurant: Abattoir
  • City, State: Atlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazing: Because his meat-centric cuisine elevates every part of the animal, like in his beef tripe with beef bacon and hominy in cilantro-lime broth.
  • Background: Bacchanalia (Atlanta); Slightly North of Broad, High Cotton (Charleston, SC)
  • Culinary school: Self-taught.
  • Must-try dish: Lamb sweetbreads with sour plum and rosemary.
  • Restaurant-style accessory: Meat hooks—abattoir means "slaughterhouse" in French.
  • Food philosophy: "The food won't necessarily be Southern, but the ingredients will definitely be from around the South."
  • Read a Review

Joseph Lenn. Photo Beall and Thomas Photography.

Joseph Lenn

  • Restaurant: The Barn at Blackberry Farm
  • City, State: Walland, TN
  • Why he's amazing: Because he serves beautiful Foothills dishes inspired by the farms and gardens surrounding his kitchen.
  • Background: Main House at Blackberry Farm (Walland, TN), The Hermitage Hotel (Nashville), Peninsula Grill (Charleston, SC)
  • Culinary school: Johnson & Wales, Charleston, SC.
  • Must-try dish: Lamb loin wrapped in lamb bacon with bulgur risotto and harissa.
  • Best known for: Teaching students to cook Southern ingredients at Blackberry Farm's cooking school.
  • Kitchen must-have: A mandoline. "Every single cook that works with me has one at his station."
  • Pork endorsement: "Benton's country ham and bacon, made in nearby Madisonville, is the best in the country."
  • Read a Review

Steven Satterfield. Photo © Kelly Blackmon.

Steven Satterfield

  • Restaurant: Miller Union
  • City, State: Atlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazing: Because he creates homey, satisfying food that is subtle but not too spare.
  • Background: Watershed (Decatur, GA)
  • Must-try dish: Farm egg baked in celery cream.
  • Oddball ingredient: Sea Island Red Peas.
  • Secret ingredient: Nutmeg. "I use it in a lot of things where most people use black pepper."
  • Read a Review

Ryan Smith. Photo © Sara Dorio.

Ryan Smith

  • Restaurant: Empire State South
  • City, State: Atlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazing: Because he helped take the restaurant in a more casual direction without sacrificing any of its ambition.
  • Background: Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch Public House, Bacchanalia (Atlanta)
  • Culinary school: Culinary Institute of America.
  • Must-try dish: Berkshire pork chop with mushroom jus.
  • Quirky games: The restaurant has an outdoor bocce court.
  • Changing menu: The original concept was meat-and-three, where diners chose their sides; Smith changed the menu to reflect the sides and pairings he thought were best for the mains. (But diners are welcome to make substitutions.)
  • Read a Review

Ryan Trimm. Photo Courtesy of Sweet Grass.

Ryan Trimm

  • Restaurant: Sweet Grass
  • Location: Memphis, TN
  • Why he's amazing: Because he brings elevated and refined low-country food to western Tennessee.
  • Background: The Grove Grill (Memphis), Slightly North of Broad (Charleston, SC), 208 South Lamar (Oxford, MS)
  • Must-try dish: Pork osso bucco, glazed with bourbon instead of wine.
  • Alternative career: Trimm was on his way to law school before deciding being a lawyer wasn't for him.
  • Inspiration: His grandmother, a first generation Italian-American who cooked everything from scratch.
  • Read a Review

Aaron Vandemark. Photo Courtesy of Panciuto.

Aaron Vandemark

  • Restaurant: Panciuto
  • City, State: Hillsborough, NC
  • Why he's amazing: Because he makes Northern Italian cuisine his own by adding unorthodox Southern touches.
  • Background: Magnolia Grill (Durham, NC), Il Palio (Chapel Hill, NC), The Fearrington House Restaurant (Pittsboro, NC)
  • Culinary school: Johnson & Wales.
  • Must-try dish: Pan-seared quail with polenta and a whiskey-balsamic reduction.
  • His closest employees: Vandemark's sister runs the front of the house.
  • On challenging diners' tastes: "We do a duck-and-chestnut ravioli in a liver sauce. Sometimes that's a really hard sell, so I'll be stubborn and leave it on the menu, because I know it's good. At a certain point, either my spirit's broken or it clicks."
  • Read a Review

Tandy Wilson. Photo Courtesy of City House.

Tandy Wilson

  • Restaurant: City House
  • City, State: Nashville, TN
  • Why he's amazing: Because he combines Italian rusticity with Southern charm to create food that is robust and soul-satisfying.
  • Background: Margot Café & Bar (Nashville); Tra Vigne, Terra (St. Helena, CA)
  • Must-try dish: A cornmeal-crusted catfish filet with a relish of garlic, mint, chili and orange.
  • Volunteer work: Wilson coordinated the feeding of victims of Nashville's flood last year and worked with local chefs to raise funds with charity dinners.
  • Read a Review

Chef finalists in other regions

Voting starts on 2/15/11 and ends 3/1/11 at One vote per computer per region. Votes from any automated means or intended to disrupt the voting process (in American Express Publishing Corporation's sole discretion) will be void. Chefs with the highest eligible votes per region will become finalists (10 total). The People's Best New Chef title will be determined based on highest number of eligible votes received during the voting period. All votes subject to verification. The People's Best New Chef is a trademark of American Express Publishing Corporation.

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