The Atlanta Rising Stars Winners: Why They Shine

by Katherine Sacks with Antoinette Bruno
Antoinette Bruno
April 2012

Atlanta is the big city down South, a metropolis that combines some of the go get em' mentality of New York City, a mix of urban and rural cityscape, the gentile charm of Charleston, and the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for a successful restaurant scene. No longer content to sit behind the bigger culinary players, the city has been swept up by creative, eclectic talent willing to go the extra mile to build a burgeoning food landscape.

Much of this landscape is shaped by the South's deep roots in sustainable farming and historical cuisine; it was here that farm-to-table was truly born and its precepts are demanded, from the city's few white table-cloth restaurants to its influx of burger locales. Chefs are also looking to the future, interjecting modernist technique witih their traditional recipes and flavors to create the ultimate New South. And at the heart of the Atlanta cocktail community is a true community, a group of young mixologists excited to learn, grow, experiment, and collaborate together to create a truly unique drinks scene.

This year we tasted savory dishes, desserts, cocktails, beer, coffee, and wine pairings from more than 80 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, brewers, baristas, and coffee roasters in Atlanta and Athens. Only 19 earned the title of Rising Star. So what makes them shine?

Rising Stars have attributes that make us believe they will be the future leaders of the country's culinary scene. Put simply, they're not just surviving the Atlanta restaurant industry, they're defining it, with exciting cuisine, pours, and culinary concepts. So without further ado, our 2012 Atlanta Rising Stars: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of not just Atlantean food, but American regional cuisine.

Shane Devereux

Chef: Shane Devereux, The Lawrence, Sound Table, Top Flr

Shane Devereux may be a Philly boy, but he's made Atlanta his home, and taken the city by storm. As chef of the underground supper club Dinner Party Atlanta, Devereux showed he was willing to take risks in order to offer guests a good time, throwing pop-ups everywhere from plane hangers to cemeteries. And behind the kitchen of late-night favorites Sound Table and Top Flr, Devereux combines his Asian heritage with pitch-perfect technique (thanks to years spent working at Lacroix). But it's at his newly opened The Lawrence that this chef really shines, with an adventurous menu roomy enough for both down-home comfort food and more elegant, serious fare. And as entrepreneurial and talented as the eager chef is, we can't wait to see what's next.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Duck Tongue Carnitas, Cotija Cheese, Tomatillo, and Cilantro
  • Potato Gnocchi, Pearl Onion, Chicharrónes, and Fennel Frond Pistou
Ryan Smith

Chef: Ryan Smith, Empire State South

Atlanta may be lacking in fine-dining restaurants (the only two true white-table cloth spots left in the city are Restaurant Eugene and Bacchanalia), but it has the market on upscale casual covered. Reigning current king is Empire State South, 2007 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Hugh Acheson's charming den of checkered prints, reclaimed wood, and all things shabby chic. Behind its helm is Ryan Smith, one of the jolliest and most talented chefs we've met. Along with his smile, Smith combines Southern ingredients and historical technique (nods to his Eugene training) with artful Michael Bras-esque plating. His clever dishes are packed with the bright and rich flavors you expect from the South, but it's the elevated grace Smith brings to the plate that will keep him in our spotlight.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Duck and Chestnut Terrine, Burnt Bourbon Mustard, and Pickles
  • Riverview Farms Pork, Yates Apples, ESS Bacon, Brussels Sprouts, and Parsley Root
Adam Evans

Chef: Adam Evans, JCT. Kitchen & Bar

Adam Evans may have come to Atlanta from New York to help open Tom Colicchio's Craft, but he's a Southern boy through and through (just listen to that Alabama accent). And he eventually found his way into a thriving relationship with 2007 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Ford Fry. After leading Fry's flagship JCT. Kitchen for the last nine months, highlighting oft underutilized ingredients and his talents with fish cookery, Evans is gearing up for Fry's latest project, The Optimist, where he will focus on wood-grilled fish preparations. With the hand of a true artist and the cooking skills necessary for fish perfection, we can't wait to taste whatever Evans dreams up.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Wood-fired Virginia Clams, Crispy Glazed Pork Belly Chunks, and Torn Croutons
  • Crispy Gulf Speckled Trout, Fava Bean Purée, Toasted Ricotta Cavatelli, Spring Onion Soubise, Braised Favas, and Pickled and Candied Horseradish
David Carson

Chef: David Carson, Bacchanalia

In a town where casual is king, David Carson helped usher in farm-to-table (before it was de rigueur for responsible chefs), bringing in whole animals to Bacchanalia seven years ago and finding creative ways to put every part on 2007 Atlanta Rising Star Mentor Chef Anne Quatrano's upscale menu. One part chef and one part enthusiastic student-teacher, Carson isn't stuck on simple farm fresh cuisine. Instead he is constantly researching new techniques, attending conferences and lectures, and brushing up on the latest in culinary goings on—then bringing ideas back to his kitchen to adapt onto the menu (like his recent phytoplankton foam, inspired by a lecture he attended at last year's International Chef's Conference). The combination—a whole lamb, presented in six different preparations using modernist technique—is Carson at his best.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Jamison Farm Lamb, Summerland Farm Onion, and Natural Jus
  • Glazed Hawaii Blue Prawn, Spring Vegetables, House-cured Trout Roe, and Georgia Olive Oil Foam
Tyler Williams

Chef: Tyler Williams, Abattoir

To say that Tyler Williams is a fun chef is putting it lightly; his menu at Abattoir, Anne Quatrano's meat-centric spot, includes a special menu item meant for late-night chef feasts and is playfully Asian inspired. At first glance Williams may seem a bit shy (don't worry, it doesn't take too much to get the Michigan-born chef to open up), but he makes sure to show off his personality in his cuisine. Dehydrated hominy "corn" nuts top off a "corned" beef belly, proving Williams isn't afraid to let his fare be a bit whimsical, a trick he learned from 2005 Chicago Rising Star Chefs Homaro Cantu and Graham Elliot during time spent in the windy city. And that whimsy is part of what makes him a star, applying flavors in a place and a space you don't quite expect them.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Octo Dog, Teriyaki, and Pickled Ginger
  • Wagyu Beef Belly, Sarsaprilla, and Kohlrabi
Robert Phalen

Chef: Robert Phalen, One Eared Stag, Holy Taco

Robert Phalen worked his way through Atlanta's former great kitchens, training in Guetner Seeger's Mumbo Jumbo, Alon Balshon's Alon's, and Shaun Doty's MidCity Cuisine. He's taken that training and become a self-made chef-restaurateur, covering two corners of the Atlanta food spectrum (with more projects in the works). If you're looking for late-night grub, his east side Holy Taco hangout is the place to be, complete with thoroughly addictive crispy buffalo-style pig tail tacos and Day of the Dead graffiti décor. On the opposite end, his newer One Eared Stag, opened in spring 2011, is the quiet, lovely backdrop to his more refined cuisine—unusual applications of ingredients like tuna collar, house-cured local produce, and fresh, crisp flavors shine through in dishes we still can't get out of our heads.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Moonbeam Farm Radishes, Whipped Lardo, and Radish Top Gremolata
  • Oyster Crudo, Watermelon, Basil, Smoked Trout Roe, and Preserved Lemon
Guy Wong

Chef: Guy Wong, Miso Izakaya

Guy Wong describes Miso Izakaya as his interpretation of Japanese street food, and since Wong spent several months apprenticing at a local izakaya while in Japan studying finance, you'd think his space was just that. But what Miso really is to the Atlanta community is a chef hangout (on one recent visit, we spotted at least a handful of toques we knew) with the kind of real comfort cooking you'll find in any Japanese home. And while Wong could have gone the way of trite décor and bastardized recipes, he's opened a graceful space complete with modern plates. The son of two chefs, Wong's dream is to cook on the line until he physically can't do it anymore, and it's that unbridled determination and passion that really makes Miso Izakaya such a success.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Pork Kimchi Rice
  • Crispy Garlic Shrimp with Congee

Pastry Chef: Aaron Russell, Restaurant Eugene

Aaron Russell is one of those pastry chefs who doesn't like sweet sweets, something we just don't get. But what we do get is Russell's adventurous approach to patisserie, because that lack of a sweet tooth means he isn't afraid to interject a healthy does of savory into his modern compositions. After training with Pastry Chef Manabu Inoue and Chef Guetner Seeger, Russell developed the strong technique necessary to execute perfection on the pastry plate. But what makes Russell stand out in the Atlanta sugar scene isn't just his excellent hand with chocolate or his skill with cakes and ice cream. 2007 Rising Star Linton Hopkins put Restaurant Eugene on the map, but Russell is making a name for the restaurant's dessert menu with his innovative flavors (vegetables often mix in with chocolate, whole-grains, teas, herbs, and liquors in unfamiliar combinations) and method (salt-roasting is no longer reserved for the savory side of things). It's a bold approach in a market that more often begs for familiar comfort food. Sweet tooth or no, we think he hits the mark every time.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Coffee-roasted Beets, Caramelized White Chocolate, Georgia Olive Oil, and Buttermilk
  • English Pea Sorbet, Mint, Green Tea, Lemon, and Champagne

Pastry Chef: Chrysta Poulos, Woodfire Grill

Woodfire Grill may be known for its impeccable sustainability standards—and Top Cheftestant Kevin Gillespie—but the real hidden jewel of the kitchen is sweet talent Chrysta Poulus. With the quiet intensity and artistic intuition of a painter, she creates playful, whimsical preparations to complement Gillespie's fresh fare. Poulus looks to nostalgia for immediate inspiration, but pushes boundaries into the modern arena through texture, technique, and artistry. She's worked her way through Atlanta, holding court in the kitchens at 4th & Swift, Restaurant Eugene, and Holeman & Finch, so it's likely Poulos will eventually have her sights set on bigger pastures. World beware.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Valrhona Ivoire-Vanilla Noodles, Oranges, Hazelnut Croquant, Big Bison Ale Ice Cream, and Candied Micro Cilantro
  • Valrhona Manjari Budino, Marshmallow Fluff, Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Bananas, and Dehydrated Chocolate Mousse
Terry Koval

Sustainable: Terry Koval, Farm Burger

Walk into Farm Burger and you may think you're in a truck stop. The bare-bones plywood décor and red plastic serving baskets don't do much for the restaurant's image. But one look of Terry Koval's menu—Pickled Tongue, Sautéed Kale—and it's obvious this is no highway pull-over. Working with 100 percent grass-fed beef from partner Moonshine Meats, Farm Burger is a place (with two Atlanta locations and plans for national expansion) that packs farm produce and local meat into the menu. But while the concept may be thanks to Owner George Frangos, it's Koval's uber-creative presentations and cuisine that keeps us coming back. Drawing from his impressive Atlanta culinary training (Buckhead Diner, Canoe, Room at The Twelve Hotel), Koval scales down the fancy and ups the irresistible, creating a menu that will put farm burgers on the map for a long time to come

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Pickled Beef Tongue with Cauliflower Purée and Pickled Mustard Seeds
  • Grass-fed Burger with Arugula, Pickled Beets, and Decimal Place Goat Cheese
Todd Immel

Artisan Chef: Todd Immel; Star Provisions' Meat Department

Sausage, sausage and, more sausage. Since we met Todd Immel in 2005, and really since his first inspirational trips to Italy in 2004 and then Spain in 2006, this man has been all about sausages, cured meats, and all things charcuterie. Now head of Anne Quatrano's Star Provisions' Meat Department, Immel has three temperature and air-flow controlled rooms (once used for book storage) at his disposal to craft the most subtle nuance possible in meat preparation. Whether he's researching flavor combinations, experimenting with new salumis and whole muscle curing, or turning on the charm behind the meat counter, Immel has dedicated himself to the craft of charcuterie. And it's through that dedication and his true craftsmanship that Immel has helped turn Star Provisions' into the go-to source for artisanal meat in Atlanta.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Sopressata
  • Andalusian Chorizo
Anthony Gray

Hotel: Anthony Gray, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar at the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead

If you're looking for those down-home Southern flavors, look no further than Anthony Gray. A true (Macon) Georgia boy, Gray worked in some of South Carolina's most prestigious kitchens, including Frank Lee's Slightly North of Broad, before heading home to head up Art Smith's latest endeavor, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar at the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead, where Gray rocks the kitchen's breakfast, lunch and dinner service, and offers hotel guests his Southern treats for room-side service. Gray takes the impeccable charcuterie skills he learned from Lee and puts them to work at his Ham Bar, showing off some of the best technique we've seen to date. But don't fill up on the duck prosciutto, cured Wagyu, or country pâté (believe us, you'll want to). Gray's Southern comfort favorites are just as addictive—chicken fried sweetbreads, roast pork shank, and pork and beans all make appearances. In short, this chef is all about what Southern food really is, rich and delicious, in a hotel restaurant to boot.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Ham Bar: Duck Prosciutto, Country Pâté, Stuffed Duck Neck, Tasso Ham, and Suckling Pig Galantine
  • Chicken Fried Veal Sweetbreads, Country Ham, Sage Waffles, Apple Green Tomato Chutney, Georgia Pecans, and Bourbon Maple Cream
Richard Blais

Concept: Richard Blais, HD1, Flip Burger

One might say that Richard Blais is a concept man. He may have gained fame on Top Chef, but before ATL's burger mania hit full steam, Blais was crafting up concepts for the city like no other, and making waves with his modern meat-centric chain. Teaming up with Partner Barry Mills, Blais, along with his molecular collection of induction burners and liquid nitrogen, turned heads with Flip Burger—coming to a city near you. And in late 2011, Blais looked to the other bun, creating his haute dog outlet, HD1. Whether it's a "Flipped" burger (fluffy chickpea or juicy pork carnitas) or a finger lickin' take on dogs (a rich lobster roll topped with the South's darling, mirliton), Blais knows how to make addictive flavors and ultra-cool concepts really work.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Beef Pastrami Dog, Ox Tongue, Tripe, and Rusky Dressing (HD1)
  • Fauxlafel: Chickpea Patty, Tzatziki, Pickled Spring Vegetables, and Arugula (Flip Burger)
Taria Camerino

Community Pastry Chef: Taria Camerino, Sugar-Coated Radical

Taria Camerino wants to change the world, and she wants to do it with fair-trade chocolate. She may be starting out small—with a tiny bare bones shop tucked on a side street in the Old Fourth Ward—but the classically French-trained pastry chef has big plans, including food-art show collaborations, expansion of her local, fair-trade concept, and, one day, her own cocoa plantation. For the time being, Atlanta seems set on being addicted to what Camerino's creating: the highest quality chocolates (used equally by local baristas for mochas and in top pastry chef's desserts), which she carefully turns into delicate hand-dipped treats. And don't miss her Sunday morning pop-up featuring ethnic riffs on treats from Camerino's past—flaky creamed kale tarts, soft boiled eggs encased in luscious brioche, and chorizo and potato hand pies. Camerino has enough sparkle to light up the entire city, and if she has it her way, the world.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • 72 Percent Ghana Ganache Tart with Pink Peppercorn and Wild Blueberry Meringue
  • Creamed Kale Tart
Brian Lewis

Restaurateur: Brian Lewis, STG Trattoria, Bocado

Restaurants are in Brian Lewis' blood—his grandfather and father owned several Alabama- and Virginia-area restaurants and his brother is a successful Birmingham-based chef. So it makes sense he couldn't shake the calling. After working his way through the family businesses, he's earned success with both Bocado, named one of Atlanta's best restaurants in 2011 by Atlanta magazine, and his new venture STG Trattoria. Lewis focuses on design, service, and affordable, excellent cuisine, creating the kind of stylish yet subdued spaces and menus that leaves guests feeling comfortable yet still incredibly taken care of. And while casual-comfort isn't novel in Atlanta, it's Lewis' fine-dining regard toward service, and his inventive touches (STG has an amaro bar we can't wait to get back to) that keep his restaurants ahead of the pack.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Swiss Chard Ravioli, Ricotta, Lemon, and Basil (STG Trattoria)
  • Sweetbreads, Poached Egg, Grits, and Truffle-Madeira Sauce (Bocado)
Seth Roskind

Sommelier: Seth Roskind, 4th & Swift

Seth Roskind is the quiet surprise in the Atlanta sommelier scene, but his reserve means a refreshing lack of braggadocio. When you arrive at 4th & Swift, you'll quickly realize his wine talents and charm. For his list, Roskind often picks small-production, lesser-known vineyards, looking for body, texture, and depth of flavor and aiming to bring new and unknown wine regions and varietals to the forefront of his diners attention. He backs those picks with some serious wine knowledge, captivating (but never overpowering) the table with the story, background, and history of the grower, grape, and varietal. As a native Southerner, Roskind has found a good match at 4th & Swift, expertly pairing bold wine with Chef Jay Swift's rich cuisine. He's one enticing oenophile, luring you in with his cool charm and keeping you in your seat with superb sips.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Wood-grilled Spanish Octopus, Sunchoke Purée, Frisée, Charred Red Onions, and Chorizo Vinaigrette with Cinsault/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Musar, "Jeune," Lebanon, 2009
  • Pan Roasted Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Anson Mills Farro Carbonara, Lacinato Kale, and Seared Fall Spiced Quince with Roussanne/Marsanne, ANC "Shepards Mark," Sustainable, Washington, 2010
Miles Macquarrie

Mixologist: Miles Macquarrie, Leon's Full Service

Ask any bartender in town where he likes to drink, and he's bound to answer with Leon's Full Service (and we, along with the chefs and general public, fully agree). That's because Atlanta has a mixology scene that likes to talk shop, discussing the ins and outs of drink composition, mezcal production, and good old cocktail naming possibilities, and Miles Macquarrie is the guy people like to use as a sounding board. And it's no surprise. Inside Leon's campy bar, Macquarrie's drink list, dictated first by technique, runs the gamut of super aromatic to ultra-boozy and everything in between, with catchy titles like Heart of Glass and Blood Water (named doubly for Shark Week and a deep cut inflicted the night he originally crafted it, blood-free, we promise). And while you currently have to trek to Decatur to drink with the self-taught mixo, Macquarrie has big plans for his own future place in the works.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Blood Water: Death's Door Gin, Lime, Ginger, House Orgeat, and Bitter Truth Creole Bitters
  • Dr. Mead: Redemption Rye, Laird's Bonded Applejack, Lemon, Honey, and Fennel
Peter Dale

Athens Chef: Peter Dale, The National

Mediterranean flavors may not immediately come to mind when you think of the New South, but Peter Dale is on a mission to change that, and to change what the tiny market of Athens thinks about those flavors altogether. Dale originally worked on Capitol Hill, then started his culinary career as an stage for Hugh Acheson at 5&10. After travelling throughout Europe, he came back to Athens and opened The National with Acheson. But he's not cooking the tabbouleh and gyros you had on vacation last summer; instead he sources as locally as possible, then uses the Mediterranean as inspiration to create something altogether new. And Dale succeeds tenfold, combining the bold spices of the region into bright, clean flavors. And as The National continues to influence the Athens community, Dale looks to the future of what the town can become.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Grilled Lamb Chop, Lamb Kefte, Spring Tabbouleh, Feta, and Pecan Muhummara
  • Orange and Aleppo Marinated Sapelo Island Clams and Cucumber and Georgia Olive Oil Gazpacho
Whitney Otawka

Athens Sustainable Chef: Whitney Otawka, Farm 255

Living on an island can either be utter misery (the driving one mad type) or utter fantasy. For Whitney Otawka, who did a stint as chef of the Greyfield Inn of Cumberland Island, tucked off the coast of Georgia, it was a little of both, as she learned to make the utmost of her surroundings. And after her equally maddening and enjoyable experience on 2012's season of Top Chef, Otawaka has made her way back to Athens, where she once worked as sous chef for Top Chef wunderkind Hugh Acheson. As chef of Farm 255, Otawka is a veritable role model for sustainability in an area that practically birthed farm-to-table. Working in conjunction with the restaurant's sister farm, Moonshine Meats, Otawaka packs her menu with self-foraged produce, farmer's market bounty, and local meats and proteins, showing you don't have to live on an island to highlight the goods that grow nearby.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Columbia River Chinook Salmon, Sugar Snap Peas, Baby Carrots, Baby Fennel, Green Garlic, and Pea Tendrils
  • House-made Tagliatelle, Border Springs Farm Lamb Shank, Foraged Ramps, and Blackberry Farms Brebis