Growing up in Winter Haven, Florida, Chad Clevenger developed an early and permanent taste for Mexican cuisine. So after graduating from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas, Clevenger headed west, to the Coyote Café in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was responsible for menu development and purchasing at the Southwestern restaurant, spending three years working with acclaimed Chef Mark Miller. During this time, he also had the opportunity to work alongside such famed chefs as 2012 Austin Rising Star Rene Ortiz, Jesse Perez, Rick Bayless, and Tim Love.
Taking his westerly education up north a bit, Clevenger headed to Denver, Colorado, where he became the chef-owner of Mel’s Bar & Grill. Clevenger might have been new to the area, but he was warmly embraced. It wasn’t long before his restaurant was being lauded by diners and local press alike, receiving such awards as “Best American Restaurant in Denver,” “Top Tamale,” and “Top 10 Fine Dining Restaurants in Denver.” While in Denver, Clevenger also started The Porker Street Food Cart, a gourmet street food cart featuring global pork dishes. At the helm of Porker, Clevenger became known as “the swine sultan,” and was recognized for “Street Food Chef of the Year” and “Best Street Food” by Denver Magazine.
With this porcine commendation and his strong background in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, Clevenger was a natural fit for the Latin flavors and spirited atmosphere of Atlanta’s Alma Cocina. Now at the helm of Alma, Clevenger combines years of culinary experience in both fine dining and high-volume casual dining with a proven track record for developing new menu ideas. The result is seasonality and modern methods infused into the roots of Latin cuisine.
Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Host Chef Chad Clevenger
Katherine Sacks: How do you describe your style as a chef?
Chad Clevenger: I’d say it’s modern, seasonal, and bold. I’d like to think it’s well balanced, and I try and do local whenever I have access to it.
KS: Why do you focus on Mexican and Latin cuisine? What drew you to those flavors?
CC: I love the culture, I really love the flavors. I guess you could call me a chili head. From ceviche to tamales to the complicated sauces, everything about the cuisine I love. I’ve pretty much cooked Latin food for my entire career. It’s pretty much what I love.
KS: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
CC: Probably running my food cart. I ran it from June 2010 until April 2011 in Denver. Running a food cart is hard. It felt like a special event every day of the week.
KS: What advice do you have for young cooks?
CC: Study, read lots of books, go out to eat, read menus, and stage if their finances will allow it. A lot of people get caught up in the name of school, but you get the same education at community school. It’s what you put into it outside of school and curriculum.
KS: Where will we find you in five years?
CC: In five years, I’d probably like to take a stab at my own restaurant again. Now that I’m more seasoned, I’d like to try again. I’m knowledgeable enough now, experienced enough.