Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Whitney Otawka

June 2012

Katherine Sacks: What is your style as a chef?
Whitney Otawka: I think it goes back to that idea of rustic comfort food. It’s what I aim for, but it’s also based on season and place, and also what I'm reading. My environment influences me. At the end of the day, I want it the best it can be.

KS: How did you go from cooking on an island to Athens?
WO: I knew the owner of Farm 255. I was down on Cumberland Island, and he called me and said you've been on the island for years. I was reluctant at first—Hugh [Acheson] is the main chef in town, and I knew I’d have to really bring something to Athens. But eventually I got talked into it. I came in, cleaned out the kitchen, and changed the staff. Being back working in the community has been great.

KS: What is the hardest thing you’ve done?
WO: I think sometimes you have to put your life on hold. You have to be committed to being a chef. I never detach from my restaurant. It’s all consuming. But that’s how it can be for any successful career.

KS: What are you most proud of?
WO: I think all the things I've accomplished. The stages I’ve done, at Per Se and Le Bernardin. Doing “Top Chef” was really fun. To think about all the things I’ve done, if you are vicious and you work hard, you can get anywhere. I'm hyper-competitive with myself.

KS: Where will we find you in five years?
WO: Owning several restaurants. I really like traveling, besides loving food. I cook to be able to travel. So I'd like to own one if not two restaurants and spend some more time traveling. I’m trying to go to Italy this fall.