Dan Catinella: What inspired you to cook professionally?
Justin Burdett: My nanny and my grandmother when I was really, really little. She raised five kids by herself, an old-school Southern lady. She would prop me up at this tiny table at her kitchen. I would help her make biscuits. I started cooking in kitchens 15 years ago. I was 14, and it was a barbecue place—One's BBQ. I washed dishes for about a month before they finally let me work the fryer. I eventually worked my way through mom-and-pop places while living in Athens.
DC: Do you recommend culinary school for aspiring cooks?
JB: I didn't go, and I personally don't recommend it. I think you can get more experience just doing it. I think culinary school can skew your experience of what really goes on. I wouldn't say the same thing to everyone though—to each their own. I'm not a school person though, and I know it wouldn’t have worked out for me. You get what you put into it.
DC: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?
JB: I want to make food that is very modern Southern. My main philosophy on food is knowing where everything I serve comes from and I think ultimately, the standard practice of everyone should be to use good animals. I like really modern technique and plating and have a very heavy Southern influence. It’s also important to have quality over quantity. It’s one thing to push high volume numbers, but I feel like it’s so easy for quality to start slipping. I’d much rather worry about filling seats and having a product that I’m totally proud of.
DC: What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
JB: I did the show "Chopped" on the Food Network. I ended up winning, which was good, but it was extremely stressful. The most difficult thing though is the lifestyle that comes from working in a restaurant. It’s difficult rarely seeing my wife and kid. It’s tough.
DC: How would you describe your style?
JB: The style we try to do is still pulling Southern flavors but keeping things very modern and having the modern aspects of texture and plating come through. I think a lot of it is trying to show some restraint in cooking. When I was younger I wanted to put as many things on the plate as I could, and now I’m realizing just a few things done well speak volumes more than a ton of elements that are mediocre.
DC: What's your proudest accomplishment to date?
JB: Having a kid has been a super proud moment. Professionally? Being recognized by Food & Wine. I was one of a hundred in the country that was nominated for "People’s Best New Chef." I hope if I’m on the list again, I’ll win.