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The Atlanta Rising Stars and Why They Shine
By Heather Sperling and Antoinette Bruno
September 2007

StarChefs.com 2007 Atlanta Rising Stars on StarChefs.com

Click here for more information about the Atlanta Stars Revue on
October 10th at the Georgia Aquarium

From white tablecloth dining with local ingredients and Southern techniques to well-researched Latin flavors in a neighborhood setting, the Atlanta Rising Stars are bringing refinement, experimentation, and diversity to the multicultural, fast-growing city. What makes them stand out? It's their training, their openness and enthusiasm for the city's burgeoning food culture, but mostly their uncompromising palate and vision, that will make them the future leaders - and definers - of new Southern cuisine.

CHEF: Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten

Hugh Acheson of Five and TenC on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Hugh Acheson has been a leader in Southern cuisine for the last 6 years. With delicious, refined but approachable dishes and a distinctly Southern repertoire, he is one of the principal figures in a regional revival that's shedding light on the region's cuisine. Locally, he's done a lot to teach the college town of Athens how to eat, including stubbornly keeping sweetbreads on his menu until people finally started to eat them. Acheson is a natural, albeit reluctant, poster boy for both sustainability and chefdom - an intellectual who is devoted to local tomatoes, okra, hogs, grains, and lamb, which he turns into dishes you could eat every day: fried catfish accented with Nepalese tomato chutney, and black eyed pea succotash topped with crisp fried cooked sweetbreads and a custard of local grits from a mill turned by a single red mule.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Chile-Dusted Catfish with Red Mule Grits, Tomato Chutney, Lemon Emulsion and Okra with Almonds
- Crisp Veal Sweetbreads with Piccalilli, Baked Grits and Tarragon Jus

CHEF: Drew Belline, Floataway Cafe

Drew Belline of Floataway Cafe on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:

Floataway Cafe is pretty, airy and light - a comfortable and suitable backdrop for Drew Belline, whose bright, elegantly rustic cuisine changes with the seasons. Belline was at Kitchen 22 and Craft in New York, with Marco Canora and Damon Wise, before coming to Atlanta to work with Anne Quatrano, his culinary and business mentor. At Floataway, one of her three Atlanta restaurants, he plays with local produce, serving skillfully-executed and photogenic dishes that play with the season's best. In October scallops are paired with celery root puree and pickled celery hearts; in March they join vibrant asparagus in three textures, translucent radishes, and asparagus-tarragon soup. He integrates sweet and savory in simple, wonderful ways, with a good eye and palate for balance. An example (not on the menu, but served as a treat): homemade soft serve ice cream with fruity Italian extra virgin olive oil and a generous sprinkling offleur de sel - it's a testament to Belline's appreciation of simple and satisfying, and brilliant in its own way.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Crudo of Black Grouper with Ramos Farm Organic Cranberries
- Nantucket Bay Scallops with Celery Root, Celery Leaves, Pickled Celery, Celery Hearts and Burgundy Black Truffles

CHEF: Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene

Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:

After going pre-med in undergrad at Emory, Linton Hopkins headed to the CIA and never looked back. He worked with Gerard Manas at Mr. B's Bistro in New Orleans and with Jeff Tunks opening DC Coast in Washington, DC, before returning to Atlanta and opening Restaurant Eugene with his sommelier/wife Gina Hopkins in 2004. The restaurant is named for Hopkins' grandfather from Tennessee, who greatly influenced his culinary style. At Eugene, Hopkins brings the ingredients, flavors and techniques of Southern cooking to a white tablecloth setting. He has an appreciation for the past and the present: his favorite kitchen tools are an old hand-made Kramer chef's knife and a thermal circulator. The same is true for the menu: his family's fried chicken is served Sunday night, and followed by vibrant Kumamoto oysters with a pickled ginger-vodka-lime granita, and a gratin of bay scallops, sunchokes and white truffles the next.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Gratin of Nantucket Bay Scallops, Jerusalem Artichoke Puree and White Truffles
- Joyce Farms Poisson, Gold Nugget Fingerling Sweet Potatoes, Chestnut Game Jus

CHEF: Mihoko Obunai, Repast

Mihoko Obunai of Repast on StarChefs.com WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:

She was raised in a food-loving family in Tokyo - her mother cooked 10 dishes per night for the family alone - but it took a group of backpacking chefs in Peru to convince Mihoko Obunai, who was in the country doing field work for Unicef at the time, to finally pursue her dream of cooking. She returned to New York, earned a degree from FCI, and began working in kitchens, spending time at L'Absinthe with Jean-Michel Bergougnoux, La Caravelle with Cyril Renaud, and Gustavino with Daniel Orr, where she learned to use local, wild, organic ingredients. In February 2006 she and her husband opened Repast; the two are co-executive chefs, but it's easy to pick out her dishes on the menu - they're shaped by her Japanese upbringing and her philosophy of culinary simplicity. Kombu-cured hamachi is paired with shisho, ume, and exquisite local radishes; the macrobiotic composition of greens, grains and tofu is delicate, earthy and textured; steamed halibut with shiitake dashi has a pure simplicity and lightness, yet incredible depth.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Daily Macrobiotic Composition: Quinoa and Amaranth with Tofu; Kimpira; Baby Kale with Brussels Sprouts, Miso and Pecans; Azuki Beans with Brown Rice and Hijiki
- Steamed Halibut with Shiitake Mushrooms, Asian Greens, and Shiitake Dashi


CHEF: Hector Santiago, Pura Vida

Hector Santiago of Pura Vida on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Since opening Pura Vida, a South American tapas bar, in 2002, Hector Santiago has spent time staging with some of the world's most noteworthy chefs: Andoni Luis Aduriz, Jose Andres, and Rafael Morales at the el Bulli property in Seville, to name a few. He is a constant learner, and between journeys to Latin America and Europe to taste wine, try new cuisines and source products, Santiago experiments relentlessly, playing with traditional South American ingredients and the most current techniques. His sure, seasoned hand is shedding light on the still unfamiliar flavors and ingredients of Central and South America, and his inquisitive culinary mind constantly in search of challenges. Most recently: taming the heat of chiles without losing any of the flavor. Mastering chiles is a personal mission of his, and beautiful multi-colored beads of aji amarillo chile caviar adorn his vibrant neo-traditional ceviche of lime- and ginger-cured tuna slices.

The Dishes that Clinched it:

- Mafongo de Guineo (Fried Green Banana with Slow Cooked Goat and Coconut Milk)
- Agnolotti de Malanga al Huitlacoche (Cocoyam Agnolotti with Epazote Brown Butter and Huitlacoche)


CHEF: Drew Van Leuvan, Formerly of Saga

Drew Van Leuvan, Formerly of SagaC on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
What do you get when you put together Jean Louis Palladin, Gunter Seeger, Sam Mason and Joel Antunes? Drew Van Leuvan, a young but seasoned chef whose youthful face belies the maturity of his food: English pea and brown butter capelletti with curried hazelnuts absolutely sung, and a Peekytoe crab salad wrapped in paper-thin cucumber, paired with gazpacho, avocado sorbet, and edible flowers, was delicate, elegant and refreshing. Van Leuvan did his CIA externship at Palladin; five years after graduating he had already owned a hand-made pasta company that sourced to restaurants around Atlanta, and had taken the executive chef position at Toast and then Spice in Midtown Atlanta. Saga opened in 2006 and was open for less than a year, but demonstrated the tricks Van Leuvan had up his sleeve. He is currently working with Concentric Hospitality on a number of new projects.

The Dishes that Clinched it:

- English Pea and Brown Butter Cappelletti with Baby Carrots, Mint and Curried Hazlenuts
- Pan Fried Pork Shoulder with Red Pepper, Piquillo Pepper and Zucchini Chutney, Olive Oil Pudding and Olive Caramel


SUSTAINABILITY AWARD: Dave Larkworthy, 5 Seasons

Dave Larkworthy of 5 Seasons on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Self-taught chef Dave Larkworthy's food is as sustainable as it is playful, exciting, and bold. First of the season Georgia strawberries in soup-form, crowned with a cube of fresh local chevre, pea tendrils and smoky chipotle-dried strawberries; local lamb tartare and a lamb cappucino, reminiscent of shepard's pie, deepened with cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and cocoa powder; lollipops of fried quail with buffalo froth - gutsy food for a brewery in the middle of Georgia. Larkworthy sources directly from local farmers (softshell crawfish is brought from neighboring Florida in a truck that allegedly runs on alligator fat), and some of the freshest products (and quirkiest farmers) find their way into his kitchen on a daily basis. His adoring staff and constant sleep deprivation are testaments to his role as an active leader both in the community and his kitchens, of which there are 2, soon to be 3.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Buffalo Quail with Carrot and Celery Slaw, Buffalo Froth and Sweet Grass Blue
- Georgia Organic Strawberry Soup with Sweet Grass Dairy Chevre, Chipotle-Glazed Strawberry and Lemon Olive Oil


RESTAURANT CONCEPT AWARD: Ford Fry, JCT Kitchen

Ford Fry of JCT Kitchen on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
JCT is a new type of outlet for Southern food; the concept is to create a casual and fun space, reminiscent of New York City's Balthazar in its bustling, open style, and in the way it scratches the itch, so to speak, for a cool venue with timeless, comfortable cuisine. Chef/partner Ford Fry's regional Southern dishes are not edgy or challenging - rather, they are well-executed, and just plain good. Shrimp and grits is buttery with a hint of garlic, with local smoked sausage and grilled bread for dipping, and strip steak comes with crunchy, creamy turnip gratin and crisp, barely battered onion rings. His concept is focused on comfort and fulfilling needs, both on the menu of classics and in bi-level space, which has an ample downstairs bar and a comfortable, industrial-chic upstairs bar and deck area with oysters, beer, and a stunning view of the city.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Bone-In New York Strip with Turnip Gratin and Onion Rings
- Shrimp and Grits


HOTEL CHEF AWARD:
Nick Oltarsh, Lobby at Hotel Twelve

Nick Oltarsh of Lobby at Hotel Twelv on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Lobby at Hotel Twelve is about as far from stogy, old school hotel dining as you can get. The lively dining room centers around an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven, from which come pizzas, pulled lamb, local trout, and roasted root vegetables - all meant for sharing. Chef Nick Oltarsh went to CIA and worked across New York, spending time at Gramercy Tavern with Tom Colicchio, Aquavit, 11 Madison Park and Lespinasse, where mentor Gray Kunz inspired passion and taught him about cooking, particularly how to approach vegetables. At Lobby, filets of Georgia trout with shaved Brussels sprouts and almonds are fresh, lemony and bright, and pulled braised lamb is served with a bowl of crème fraiche and slabs of grilled bread, to be assembled at the table by hand. Oltarsh is one of a new breed of hotel chefs that bring a versatile and energetic culinary approach to the task, give guests what they really want, and breath new life into the genre.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Pulled Braised Lamb, Crème Fraiche, Grilled Farm Bread
- Georgia Rainbow Trout, Almond Brown Butter, Lemon, Capers


RESTAURATEUR AWARD:
Kevin Rathbun, Rathbun's, Krog Bar, Kevin Rathbun Steak

Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun's, Krog Bar, Kevin Rathbun Steak on StarChefs.com WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Chef/Restaurateur Kevin Rathbun is the first recipient of the Rising Stars Restaurateur Award, an award that recognizes an up-and-coming restaurant owner who is changing his or her city's dining landscape. With a full 20 years in kitchens under his belt, and three successful restaurants opened in as many years, Rathbun is doing just that. He is a restaurateur who didn't jump right into the game, but worked, watched and learned from mentors Bradley Ogden, Emeril Lagasse, Stephan Pyles and Pano Karatassos, ensuring that when he finally opened Rathbuns in 2004 in a small industrial building in East Atlanta, he got it right. In the three years that have followed, he has opened Krog Bar, a miniscule shack of dark wood, ceramics, cured meat and good wine, and Kevin Rathbun Steak in the same compound, effectively turning an off-the-beaten-path area into a vibrant, exciting, multi-faceted dining enclave.


PASTRY CHEF: Chad Guay, Table 1280

Chad Guay of Table 1280 on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:

At Table 1280 across from the sleek, modern High Museum of Art, 24 year old Chad Guay is making some of the most exciting pastry in town. His aim is to make desserts that are sweet but not overwhelming, and so good that his diners want another later that night - this is exactly what he achieves with his White Chocolate Fennel Cheesecake made of hand-dipped Ricotta and paired with pomelo sherbet and pomegranate caramel, and his Smoked Chocolate Tart. There's more to the chocolate than meets the eye: dark chocolate is cold-smoked over a Spanish cigar, imbuing the tart with a hint of tobacco that hits at the back of the palate, and echoes the sprinkling of pimenton that hits the front. Guay has never worked outside Atlanta - he attended the Art Institute, and worked at the Ritz-Carlton downtown and with pastry chef Johnathan St. Hilare - but his homey but mature dishes have the refinement of someone who has been around.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Stout Cake, Lady Apple Beignet, Vermont Maple Ice Cream, Santa Sophia Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Smoked Chocolate Tart with Jack Daniel's Ice Cream, Blackberry Sorbet and Smoked Paprika

PASTRY CHEF: Joe Truex, Repast

Joe Truex of Repast on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Joe Truex wears many hats at Repast, the small, vibrant, neighborhood restaurant he opened with his wife in early 2006: co-executive chef, pastry chef, sommelier and manager, on any given day. He brings his French sensibilities from time at Daniel in New York to the savory side; in pastry he is all about richness and comfort. Banana pecan bread pudding with banana ice cream and rum sauce is nutty and remarkably light, but still as fulfilling as one could ever want a bread pudding to be. An elegant Japanese-style soufflé cheesecake is made with creme fraiche instead of butter and steamed in his Rationale in a mold lined with coconut and almonds, and his Terrine au Chocolate is decadent and savory, with olive oil, Okinawa sea salt, and smoked paprika.

The Cocktail that Clinched it:
- Banana Pecan Bread Pudding with House-Made Banana Ice Cream and Dark Jamaican Rum Sauce
- Japanese-Style Soufflé Cheesecake with Citrus Zest and Tropical Purees


SOMMELIER: Vajra Stratigos, Fifth Group Restaurants

Sommelier Vajra Stratigos of Fifth Group Restaurants on StarChefs.com
As the beverage director for all of Fifth Group Restaurants, Vajra Stratigos crafts both the wine lists and the cocktails for the company, and the playful approach he takes with his mixed drinks doesn't stop when he gets to wine. He doesn't take things too seriously, yet takes everything into account - from the space to the diner to the weather that day. He favors old world wines for their nuances, and likens drinking them to watching the plot of a new movie unfold. Stratigos thinks outside the box, and is enthusiastic, creative, and invested in the education of his staff and his diners. Time spent in kitchens - notably staging at Chez Panisse - has given him a full view of the process. He brings this knowledge to the table, where he creates a rich, dynamic experience - at Ecco, by the glass wines are served with take-home wooden coasters printed with the name and description of the wine you've just drunk.


MIXOLOGIST: Eric Simpkins, Trois

Eric Simpkins of Trois on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Eric Simpkins is bringing enthusiasm and dedication to the craft in a city whose cocktail scene is just burgeoning. He worked at local restaurants before completing FCI's 9-month culinary program in New York. After graduating in 2006 he worked with mentors Audrey Saunders and Toby Maloney at Pegu Club, and has brought the Pegu Club style to the sleek, luminous bar at Trois. Retro ingredients make an appearance- frothy egg white meets rosewater, green tea-infused gin, mint and an East Coast twist in the Trois Cocktail as do ingredients from the kitchen: spicy homemade ginger beer, homemade grenadine, and raspberry jam. Sherman's Revenge is Southern in its name and its whiskey, but aromatic and sweet with Hidalgo cream sherry and flamed orange zest


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