By Food & Wine
Updated March 28, 2016

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People's Best New Chef Southeast

Southeast Region Winner:

Bryan Emperor

Bryan Emperor. Photo Courtesy of Kalu.


Bryan Emperor

  • RestaurantKalu Asian Kitchen
  • LocationCharlotte, NC
  • Why he's amazingBecause he used his time abroad to learn the fundamentals of making impeccable, non-Westernized Asian food.
  • BackgroundDeparture (Portland, OR), Ten (Charlottesville, VA)
  • Culinary schoolCulinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY.
  • Must-try dishWagyu hanger steak with yuzu and coriander pesto.
  • Favorite imported ingredientsMongolian mountain salt, charcoal from Kyoto, spices from China.
  • Former careerBanker with Lehman Brothers.
  • TrainingEmperor 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

  • RestaurantCakes & Ale
  • City, StateDecatur, GA
  • Why he's amazingBecause his unpretentious food reveals a mastery of flavors and execution even in the most humble offerings, like deviled eggs.
  • BackgroundChez Panisse (Berkeley)
  • Culinary SchoolCalifornia Culinary Academy.
  • Must-try dishWarm spring vegetables with pancetta, creamy lemon vinaigrette and a crispy poached egg
  • Favorite authorGeorge Orwell
  • Read a Review

Kevin Gillespie. Photo © Fredrik Brauer.

Kevin Gillespie

  • RestaurantWoodfire Grill
  • City, StateAtlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazingBecause 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.
  • BackgroundAtlanta Grill in the Ritz-Carlton (Atlanta), Fife Restaurant (Portland, OR)
  • Culinary schoolArt Institute of Atlanta.
  • Must-try dishCrispy fried hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.
  • Best known forBeing 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 foodPho, a Vietnamese noodle soup.
  • Most recent food discoveriesThe smoked steelhead roe in his steelhead tartare, and crudo with grapefruit and dill topped with fine crispy bread crumbs.
  • Biggest influencesEdna Lewis, Thomas Keller, Michel Bras
  • Favorite junk foodHot wings.
  • Read a Review

Joshua Hopkins. Photo © The Reynolds Group.

Joshua Hopkins

  • RestaurantAbattoir
  • City, StateAtlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazingBecause his meat-centric cuisine elevates every part of the animal, like in his beef tripe with beef bacon and hominy in cilantro-lime broth.
  • BackgroundBacchanalia (Atlanta); Slightly North of Broad, High Cotton (Charleston, SC)
  • Culinary schoolSelf-taught.
  • Must-try dishLamb sweetbreads with sour plum and rosemary.
  • Restaurant style accessoryMeat 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

  • RestaurantThe Barn at Blackberry Farm
  • City, StateWalland, TN
  • Why he's amazingBecause he serves beautiful Foothills dishes inspired by the farms and gardens surrounding his kitchen.
  • BackgroundMain House at Blackberry Farm (Walland, TN), The Hermitage Hotel (Nashville), Peninsula Grill (Charleston, SC)
  • Culinary schoolJohnson & Wales, Charleston, SC.
  • Must-try dishLamb loin wrapped in lamb bacon with bulgur risotto and harissa.
  • Best known forTeaching students to cook Southern ingredients at Blackberry Farm's cooking school.
  • Kitchen must-haveA 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

  • RestaurantMiller Union
  • City, StateAtlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazingBecause he creates homey, satisfying food that is subtle but not too spare.
  • BackgroundWatershed (Decatur, GA)
  • Must-try dishFarm egg baked in celery cream.
  • Oddball ingredientSea Island Red Peas.
  • Secret ingredientNutmeg. "I use it in a lot of things where most people use black pepper."
  • Read a Review

Ryan Smith. Photo © Sara Dorio.

Ryan Smith

  • RestaurantEmpire State South
  • City, StateAtlanta, GA
  • Why he's amazingBecause he helped take the restaurant in a more casual direction without sacrificing any of its ambition.
  • BackgroundRestaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch Public House, Bacchanalia (Atlanta)
  • Culinary schoolCulinary Institute of America.
  • Must-try dishBerkshire pork chop with mushroom jus.
  • Quirky gamesThe restaurant has an outdoor bocce court.
  • Changing menuThe 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

  • RestaurantSweet Grass
  • LocationMemphis, TN
  • Why he's amazingBecause he brings elevated and refined low-country food to western Tennessee.
  • BackgroundThe Grove Grill (Memphis), Slightly North of Broad (Charleston, SC), 208 South Lamar (Oxford, MS)
  • Must-try dishPork osso bucco, glazed with bourbon instead of wine.
  • Alternative careerTrimm was on his way to law school before deciding being a lawyer wasn't for him.
  • InspirationHis grandmother, a first generation Italian-American who cooked everything from scratch.
  • Read a Review

Aaron Vandemark. Photo Courtesy of Panciuto.

Aaron Vandemark

  • RestaurantPanciuto
  • City, StateHillsborough, NC
  • Why he's amazingBecause he makes Northern Italian cuisine his own by adding unorthodox Southern touches.
  • BackgroundMagnolia Grill (Durham, NC), Il Palio (Chapel Hill, NC), The Fearrington House Restaurant (Pittsboro, NC)
  • Culinary schoolJohnson & Wales.
  • Must-try dishPan-seared quail with polenta and a whiskey-balsamic reduction.
  • His closest employeesVandemark'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

  • RestaurantCity House
  • City, StateNashville, TN
  • Why he's amazingBecause he combines Italian rusticity with Southern charm to create food that is robust and soul-satisfying.
  • BackgroundMargot Café & Bar (Nashville); Tra Vigne, Terra (St. Helena, CA)
  • Must-try dishA cornmeal-crusted catfish filet with a relish of garlic, mint, chili and orange.
  • Volunteer workWilson 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.