South's Greatest Chefs, a Q&A


This year’s Greatest Chefs Contest turned out to be cutthroat. With 46 entries, more than 30,000 votes, and a shocking turn that left some of the Lowcountry’s best chefs in the lead, it’s no surprise that citizens of the Hostess City have such a passion for their chefs. We sat down with the top ten winning to pick their brains on the foodie scene in Savannah. 

Chef Chaz Ortiz from Chazito’s Latin Cuisine,

How long have you been cooking? About eight years.

Do you remember the moment you realized cooking was your passion? That would have happened when I was a little boy. My family is very, very big, so definitely at our family cookouts. I think my passion came from my grandparents teaching me, and that’s kind of where it hit.

What’s your favorite dish to make? My favorite dish to make would probably be paella. I love seafood. It’s probably one of my favorite things to eat, too. I do a pad Thai paella. Traditionally, it’s a Spanish dish, but I mix in a lot of seasoning and I add in mixes of Thai.


Chef Tommy Dye from Top Deck,

How long have you been in the chef game? Well, I’ve been doing this on and off since I was eighteen. I’m 46 now. I’ve been steady with it for the last four or five years.

Do you remember the moment you realized cooking was your passion? Yeah, actually. I went to school for nursing and didn’t like it. I would always watch cooking shows on TV. Right before I decided to go full time and do cookin’, I was actually repairing restaurant equipment. I found myself staring at the chefs and just listening to everything. I remember thinking, “That is stupid. This is what you really need to be doing.” So that’s what I did.

What’s your favorite dish to make? My favorite thing to make would probably be our Salmon Top Chop.


Chef Emanuel May from Bon Appétit at the Savannah College of Art and Design

How long have you been cooking? I’ve been cooking all my life, but professionally for 24 years.

Where did you get your start? Well, my father owned an old-school pharmacy and it had a grill behind it. As soon as I could see over the counter, I was cooking and running the cash register.

Do you remember the moment you realized cooking was your passion? My grandmother Rachel used to cook a lot. I still have her cast iron skillet. She would make fried okra and it was the best thing in the world to me.


Chef Marvin Sterling from Treylor Park,

How long have you been cooking? The first job I could get was as a dishwasher at Ruth’s Chris here in Savannah. I took it and busted my a-- for a year and a half, and then three years later, I was the executive chef. While I was working there, I took a couple jobs for a seafood place, salad shop, and a couple restaurant jobs to get more experience. I figured, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all out. And then Treylor Park was going to open up four years ago, I applied and got the job. Ever since it just took off and we’ve just been cranking it out.

What started your passion? For me, it was at a young age I knew that cooking was something I was kind of good at. My parents both worked when I was younger. I had to cook dinners and I was good at coming up with stuff. Experimenting is my niche.

What’s your favorite dish to make?

Definitely the shrimp and grits tacos. That’s my jam.

If you could only have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? I don’t know why I’m such a carnivore, but I love short rib that falls off the bone. I’ll make that at home for me and my girlfriend.


Chef Johnny Smalls from Jazzed Tapas Bar,

How long have you been cooking? Well I was the sous chef at Vic’s on the River for six or seven years and I left to come to Jazz’d. I’ve been here for about two years.

What fueled your passion? I grew up with a very large family, so cooking was always a way to bring everyone together. Mom did a lot of cooking. Grandparents did a lot of cooking. So it was always around.

What’s your favorite dish to make? I don’t really have a favorite, but I love to cook fish. Any type of fish.


Chef Peter Schott from Savannah Spirits,

How long have you been cooking? I’d say about 30 years.

Do you remember the moment you realized cooking was your passion? I don’t remember the exact moment. I always grew up with cooking. I was always around my grandparents and they cooked all the time. My parents cooked all the time. It’s kind of like I knew when to do it.

If you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be? I’d have to say my grandmother’s baked chicken.


Chef Kevin Conway from Local 11Ten,

How long have you cooking? I’ve been cooking since I was 15, so about 14 years.

How did you get your start? My sister’s boyfriend, back whenever she was in high school, was a sous chef. I was looking for a job and started off dishwashing. I was there for about three months, then I started cooking on the fry station, sauté, grill, so on and so forth.

Do you remember the moment you realized cooking is your passion? I was sitting in class at Armstrong. It was my senior year. Classes weren’t going as planned and I kicked back, thought about it, and realized I should be cooking, which is what I was doing a lot of at the time.


Chef Bryce Knott from A.Lure,

How long have you been cooking? I’ve been cooking for almost 13 years. I’ve been doing fine dining for almost seven of those. Started off in a very corporate background, Outback Steakhouse, and then I eventually hit a point in my career where I figured this is what I want to do and got into fine dining. Did a little bit of traveling. Spent a few years in New England on Nantucket Island.

Do you remember the moment you realized cooking was your passion? My first season in Nantucket, at the end of it, I was the youngest guy. At the end of the season, on the last day, the chef brought me outside of the kitchen and he gifted me a handmade Japanese chef’s knife. It meant the world to me. I was looking at it like it’s Christmas. He said, “Don’t you dare darken that knife at an Outback.” I said, “Yes, chef.” I came back to Savannah and started at a.Lure.

How long have you been there? Four years. Started as the line cook for about two years, then I was sous chef for a year, and now executive chef for almost a year.


Chef Justin Grizzard from The Ordinary Pub,

How long have you been cooking? I’ve been doing this for 18 years. I got hired on my 16th birthday at a restaurant in Virginia and ever since I’ve been cooking and sweating and bleeding and all that.

What fueled your passion to be a chef? To be honest, it’s just because I like to eat. There’s only a few things I don’t like, but I genuinely love being around food. I love creating food. I like surrounding myself with people who like to push the boundaries of what food can be. I’m very fortunate now because I have the best team in Savannah that makes me want to come to work every day. I am so proud of my team. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.

What’s your favorite dish to make? Gumbo is my favorite thing to cook, just because it’s very technical. Everyone knows what gumbo is, but they don’t know what a trinity is, the process of when things should go in. Gumbo seems so simple, yet it’s so technical.


Chef Kevin Nape from Richmond City Center,

How long have you been cooking? I’ve been in it for 37 years.

Do you remember the moment you realized cooking was your passion? It was when I was going through college, working three jobs. I wanted to be an architect, but things just happened.

If you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be? Probably oxtails.


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South's Greatest Moms Contest 2018

We're looking for the greatest, most authentic and sincere, southern moms. Taking nominations November 1st!

South's Greatest Photographers 2018

We're looking for the greatest, most creative photographers. If that is you, or you know of any, don't hesitate to nominate!
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Events Calendar


    Dec 16, 2018
    10:00 AM - 9:00 PM @ Cool Savannah Tours and Gifts

    Cool Savannah Tours and Gifts is partnering with GALA – Guardian Ad Litem Angels to help provide the essential needs that children in our...

  • Lean Ensemble Theater presents Bad Dates by Theresa Rebeck

    Dec 16, 2018
    2:00 PM - 4:00 PM @ HHPS Main Street Theatre

    Confessions of a single mother and self-described restaurant idiot-savant abound in this thoroughly charming, intoxicating and slyly sweet...

  • Spankys Southside 40th Anniversary Party

    Dec 16, 2018
    3:00 PM - 7:00 PM @ Spankys Southside

    Come to Spankys Southside to celebrate 40 years!

  • ATC presents...Fly More Than You Fall meets Sun Records: Nat Zegree in concert

    Dec 16, 2018
    3:00 PM @ Tybee Post Theatre

    Get ready for some Rockabilly on the keys! In this third performance in a new musical series with the American Traditions Vocal Competition,...

  • Tybee Marsh Treks

    Sep 01, 2018
    4:00 PM - 5:00 PM @ Tybee Island Marine Science Center

    On a marsh trek, you’ll enjoy a hands-on exploration of Georgia’s salt marsh, searching the mud for fiddler crabs, snails, and more. Learn...

  • Savannah Children's Choir Holiday Concert

    Dec 16, 2018
    4:00 PM - 5:30 PM @ Trinity United Methodist Church

    Queensborough National Bank, Speros and Atlanta Gas Light present a holiday favorite. Experience the “wall of sound” created by all...

  • Barbershop Christmas

    Dec 16, 2018
    4:00 PM - 6:00 PM @ Asbury Memorial UMC

    13th Colony Sound, Savannah's Barbershop Harmony Society Chorus, is slated to present 'Barbershop Christmas' on Sunday, Dec. 16 at Asbury Memorial...

  • Capture a ‘paw‑fect’ pic

    Nov 19, 2018
    5:00 PM - 8:00 PM @ Oglethorpe Mall

    Bring your furry friends in for a pic with Santa, because pets are family too! Capture a special moment with your dog or cat to cherish for years...

  • Bonaventure Cemetery: After Hours Stories Eternal

    Nov 17, 2018
    5:00 PM - 8:00 PM @ Bonaventure Cemetery

    Savannah's only after hours cemetery tour awaits! Few places are more invoking of Easter and life's great questions and mysteries than that...

  • Lights of the South

    Nov 16, 2018
    5:30 PM - 10:00 PM

  • Santa's Wonderland

    Nov 14, 2018
    All Day @ Bass Pro Shops

    The magic returns to Bass Pro Shops and Savannah-area families are invited to enjoy this enchanting Christmas village offering FREE 4x6...

  • Greenbriar Children's Center Toy Drive with the SMC Partners

    Dec 04, 2018
    All Day

    Savannah businesses are uniting to assist a local nonprofit for the holidays! From December 4–17, the Savannah Master Calendar Partners...

  • License to Chill Snow Island

    Nov 16, 2018
    All Day @ Margaritaville at Lanier Islands

    Margaritaville at Lanier Islands is preparing for a winter wonderland makeover that will surprise and delight local residents and travelers...

  • Toddler Touch Tanks

    Dec 06, 2018
    All Day @ UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium

    Explore the coast with your child in a unique setting perfect for inspiring wonder and curiosity! During select Thursdays in January and December,...

  • 2018 National Gingerbread House Competition™ Display

    Nov 25, 2018
    All Day

    What started as a small group of gingerbread houses built by community members in 1992 has evolved into one of our most treasured traditions at The...

  • Skatefest

    Dec 07, 2018
    All Day @ Savannah Civic Center

  • Designer's Showcase: Dressed for the Season

    Nov 12, 2018
    11:00 AM - 3:00 PM @ Kaminski House Museum

    The Kaminski House Museum in historic Georgetown, South Carolina will be dressing the rooms of the Kaminski House Museum this holiday season with...

  • Tybee Island Christmas Parade

    Dec 17, 2018
    1:00 PM @ Tybee Island

    The holiday season is a special time of year on Tybee and this parade has become a tradition that highlights the small town charm you only find...

  • Rock N Roll Karaoke at Dos Gatos

    Nov 26, 2018
    9:00 PM - 11:00 PM @ Dos Gatos

    Rock N' Roll Karaoke with DJ Randall! Be a rockstar or just point and laugh! From 9pm. The best Monday night party in Jax for sure!

  • Girls' Night Out: "Meet Me in St. Louis"

    Dec 20, 2018
    7:00 PM - 9:00 PM @ Tybee Post Theater

    Not many movies rate 100 % on the Rotten Tomatometer, but this 1944 classic MGM romantic musical comedy does. So that’s why we’re screening it...

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Scenes of the South

Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2018

Savannah's 39 Rue De Jean celebrated Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the official end of this year’s growing season. Harvest is complete and vintners—especially in France—are ready to celebrate the completion of the harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine that is annually released on the third Thursday in November. Nouveau wine undergoes a very short fermentation process, and yields an extremely fresh and fruity wine.

A Chefs Collaborative

This five course dinner held at Pacci Italian Kitchen and Bar allowed guests to taste exceptional flavors steeped in tradition. Included were the culinary skills of Chef Adam Barnett of The Katharine Brasserie & Bar, Winston-Salem, NC, Chef Robert Hoffman of Angeline’s Charlotte, NC, Chef Daniel Gorman of The Henley Nashville, TN, Chef Sebastien Rondier of Brabo, Alexandria, VA, and Chef Lauren Teague of PACCI Italian Kitchen + Bar.

East and West BBQ

A whole hog BBQ showcase, from two of the south’s most legendary Pitmasters, Pat Martin and Sam Jones. Hosted by Alida Hotel this event was a fabulous juxtaposition between Eastern North Carolina style BBQ and Western Tennessee style. Made possible by the Savannah Food and Wine Festival.

Savannah Food & Wine Fest

Hundreds came to experience Southern charm and hospitality, Savannah Style. The South's best culinary happenings - one exceptional week in Savannah. Iconic and historic coastal venues provided the perfect backdrop for gourmet and fun. South magazine captured the experience at the VIP tent.

Big Wig Boat Bash

Savannah's Riverboat, The Georgia Queen set sail to host the final fundraiser for the 2018 class of Big Wigs, together raising over $100,000 for the Susan G. Komen Coastal Georgia Foundation. This evening included heavy hors d’oeuvres, beverages, a silent auction, music and dancing and a contest to crown the Biggest BigWig! Contest categories included: The Biggest Wig, The Pink Ribbon Award and Best Pink Personality.

Boo Bash

This spooktacular evening included hors d’oeuvres, “spirits,” music and dancing, a Halloween costume contest with cash prizes, Halloween-themed entertainment, a 50/50 raffle, live auction and talent contest. Contest categories included: Dancing, Singing, Rapping, Stand-up Comedy and Lip Syncing.

Masquerade at the Mansion

Plenty of patrons donned masks and beads for an unforgettable Mardi Gras at the Mansion. There unique entertainment, food, and decor including magic fire, beignets, king cake and a photo booth, plus music and dancing, libations, late-night treats, and lots of surprises.

DineSouth After Party

This year's DineSouth ended in a blast. Dozens headed over to Barrellhouse, who hosted the after party. They enjoyed great drinks and live music by Individually Twisted.

DineSouth 2018

This year's DineSouth sponsored by was the greatest yet! South magazine has once again put on a night filled with fantastic food and entertainment. Guests enjoyed delicious food & drinks in the city while getting the opportunity to meet and mingle with the best chefs in the South. The entertainment was amazing with American Idol winner Candice Glover, unique band Velvet Caravan and the acoustic sounds of Annie Allman. The event supported the local Salvation Army.

Grand Opening of 201 Seafood

Mixing the traditional tastes of the south with the local flair of the city, 201 Seafood and Tapas Lounge showcases Savannah's culinary community and their grand opening now gives us full access to some of the best seafood in the Coastal Empire.