12 Southern Chefs We LoveLucy BuffetLinton HopkinsKathy CaryBradley McGeheeJohn CurrenceBill SmithJay PierceSarah O'Kelley and Chris StewartDerek EmersonKahlil ArnoldKelly EnglishDavid Guas
Southern food is red hot right now. Diners and home cooks all over the country are enjoying dishes reminiscent of the meals that Southern grandmas have been cooking for generations. In my book The Southern Foodie: 100 Places to Eat in the South and the Dishes That Made Them Famous
I profile some of the region’s favorite chefs and share recipes from their restaurants that you can prepare in your own kitchen. Here are some of my favorite chefs from my travels around the region.
—By Chris Chamberlin
Restaurant: LuLu's at Homeport
Located: Gulf Shores, AL
Besides being the sister of the King of the Parrotheads, Lucy Buffet has plenty of reasons to be famous in her own right. “Lulu” operates a hugely popular family restaurant on the Intercoastal Waterway near Gulf Shores, AL where she serves tropical seafood recipes and the quintessential “Cheeseburger in Paradise” to droves of hungry tourists and locals.
Recipe of Lucy's: Chocolate Pound Cake with Mocha Glaze
Restaurant: Holeman and Finch Public House
Located: Atlanta, GA
Linton Hopkins is a renaissance man. Not only does he run two restaurants in Midtown Atlanta, Holeman & Finch Public House and Restaurant Eugene, but he has also opened a high-end beer, wine and spirits store he named H and F Bottle Shop. Atlantans trust Hopkins as a taste-maker in both the food and drink arenas. As a board member and past president of the Southern Foodways Alliance, Hopkins culinary roots are firmly planted in Southern traditions.
Recipe of Linton's: Chicken Peanut Perloo
Restaurant: Lilly's-A Kentucky Bistro
Located: Louisville, KY
Kathy Cary was espousing “farm to table” long before the philosophy became a hot topic among restaurateurs. In fact, Cary has printed “Bless our Farmers” on the menu of her restaurant, Lilly’s Bistro, since she opened in Louisville over twenty years ago. Her unique Bluegrass state takes on traditional bistro food have earned her multiple invitations to cook at the James Beard House in New York City.
Recipe of Kathy's: Lilly's Asparagus Soup
Restaurant: Ye Olde College Inn
Located: New Orleans, LA
Ye Olde College Inn has been a neighborhood institution in the Mid City district of New Orleans since the 1930’s, and from the outside the building definitely shows its age. But inside, Executive Chef Bradley McGehee is cooking up inventive versions of New Orleans classics utilizing local ingredients, including vegetables from the restaurant garden across the street in a vacant lot.
Recipe of Bradley's: Sweet Potato-Andouille Soup
Restaurant: Big Bad Breakfast
Located: Oxford, MS
John Currence could probably run for mayor of Oxford, MS. Of course, many folks would hate to take him out of the kitchens at his four local restaurants, so maybe politics isn’t his bag. The upstairs bar at City Grocery is the unofficial gathering spot for foodies visiting William Faulkner’s hometown, and Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast is the perfect place to recover from the evening’s festivities.
Recipe of John's: Tomato Gravy
Restaurant: Crook's Corner
Located: Chapel Hill, NC
Crook’s Corner has been called “a temple of Southern cuisine,” and had been named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation. Many people believe that the iconic Southern dish of shrimp and grits was invented here and then perfected by Chef Bill Smith. Chef Smith took over the kitchen at Crook’s Corner almost two decades ago and continues to innovate the cuisine of his home region.
Recipe of BIll's: Tomato and Watermelon Salad
Restaurant: Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen
Located: Greensboro, NC
Chef Jay Pierce grew up on the Mississippi River about ten minutes outside of New Orleans, a member of a family that traces their Cajun roots back to the 1700’s. After spending a few years working for Emeril Lagasse, Chef Pierce brought his Louisiana-style cooking to North Carolina where he adds piquant spices to local ingredients at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen.
Recipe of Jay's: Whipped North Carolina Sweet Potatoes
Restaurant: The Glass Onion
Located: Charleston, SC
Chefs Sarah O’Kelley and Chris Stewart believe that there is nothing more delicious than a sandwich made with a perfect tomato on white bread slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise. You don’t get much more southern than that. At the Glass Onion in Charleston, O’Kelley and Stewart create slightly more complex dishes than that simple pleasure, but always with a dedication to their Southern heritage.
Recipe of Sarah and Chris's: Jennie Ruth's Deviled Eggs
Restaurant: Walker's Drive-In
Located: Jackson, MS
Chef Derek Emerson grew up in Beverly Hills, CA, so moving to Mississippi as a teenager was probably quite a culture shock. After stints cooking in Memphis and Atlanta, Chef Emerson returned to Jackson, MS to purchase a venerable dining institution, Walker’s Drive-In. With his wife Jennifer, Emerson revamped the menu to feature some of the most upscale drive-in food you’ll ever enjoy.
Recipe of Derek's: Roasted-Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Restaurant: Arnold's Country Kitchen
Located: Nashville, TN
Kahlil Arnold is a second-generation chef at the most famous “meat and three” restaurant in Music City. Don’t be fooled by the fact that your food is served from a steam table. Every ingredient is prepared fresh from scratch, and Arnold’s Country Kitchen is the go-to lunch spot for chefs visiting Nashville from all over the South. Eat where they do and you won’t be disappointed.
Recipe of Kahlil's: Turnip and Collard Greens
Restaurant: Restaurant Iris
Located: Memphis, TN
After putting himself through college at Ole Miss by working as a cook in Oxford kitchen, Chef Kelly English moved to New Orleans to work for acclaimed chef John Besh. After his apprenticeship, English opened his own restaurant in Memphis, TN. Restaurant Iris is the ideal venue for Chef English to present his brand of French-Creole Southern cooking to the lucky residents of the Bluff City.
Recipe of Kelly's: "Salad" of Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Sherry
Restaurant: Bayou Bakery
Located: Arlington, VA
Chef David Guas grew up hunting and fishing on the bayous of his native Louisiana. When he moved to the Washington DC area to open Bayou Bakery, it wasn’t too great of a change for him. Now his menu features the fish and fowl of the Chesapeake Bay region cooked with a Big Easy twist. Primarily known as a master pastry chef, Guas treats patrons to his brand of Southern sweets.
Recipe of David's: Muff-a-lotta