2018 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Richard Neal of Five & Ten

2018 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Richard Neal of Five & Ten
January 2018

Hailing from Atlanta, Richard Neal’s entry into the restaurant industry was of the short order variety, followed by a busy job on the fry station at Stagebrush Steakhouse. Neal was drawn to the work and wanted something more, so he enrolled in Atlanta’s Art Institute and used it as a platform to find work in some of the city’s best kitchens. Posts at Anne Quantrano’s Bacchanalia and Linton Hopkins' Restaurant Eugene followed, as did positions with Shaun Doty and Todd Immel. 

Neal left Atlanta for the bright lights of Nashville, where he worked for Mentor Tyler Brown at the Hermitage Hotel for four years, further refining his technique and learning how to manage the kitchen in a juggernaut of a property. Neal returned to Georgia to work as Hugh Acheson’s traveling chef, as the “Top Chef” master cooked across the country and promoted his cookbooks. 

After a year on the road, Acheson turned over the reins of his first restaurant, Five & Ten, to Neal. As executive chef, Neal is narrating an open interpretation of Southern cuisine and ingredients—one where boiled peanut tahini nestles up to crunchy beef tendons and cured radishes and turnips. With Neal leading the kitchen and pushing boundaries, Five & Ten received a 2017 James Beard semifinalist nomination for “Outstanding Restaurant.

Interview with Atlanta Rising Star Chef Richard Neal

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Richard Neal
: It’s the same old story. I started as a short-order cook, got into some trouble, and decided I needed to do something with my life. I moved back home and went to culinary school. In school, I thought the better the restaurant the better the paycheck, which we all now know is wrong, but I got into some from scratch kitchens and fell in love.

CH: Who’s your mentor?
: I would say that Anne Quatrano and David Carson taught me how to be a creative chef. Tyler Brown taught me how to be a manager. Hugh Acheson showed me how to connect with people.

CH: What’s your biggest challenge?
: I would say the biggest challenge is perception of value. In the South, we are still struggling with our guests thinking food is cheap. We believe in serving good, local, and healthy food. So, we struggle with competing with the sirloin and mashed potato spots.

CH: What's your five year plan?
: If I had to sum it up, sovereignty. Whether I can find investment to open my own places or not, just being able to fully and completely express myself through local food. To be able to share, enrich, and connect with my community in that way.

CH: In your operations or service, what are you doing differently that most you're proud of?
: Something that floors me every day is the gender diversity in my kitchen. I have some badass ladies that rock daily and make up 45 percent of the kitchen staff. I think that as modern food continues to evolve in an elegant and feminine way, that more and more ladies are really going to start shining. 

CH: Is there a culinary technique that you've mastered or are working on that another chef would be interested in learning?
: I'm not sure about that. My food is simple. If I had to say anything, it’s to connect with your farmers. I have had the privilege to become close with Jason Jones from Bartram Trail Farm in Winterville, Georgia, and he inspires me every week.