South's Greatest Chefs, a Q&A



Published:

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, chazitos.com

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, topdeckbar.com

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, treylorparksavannah.com

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, jazzdtapasbar.com

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, savannahspirits.com

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, local11ten.com

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, aluresavannah.com

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,  theordinarypub.com

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, richmondhillcitycenter.com

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.

 

Subscribe now to the print edition or get instant access to our interactive digital edition to finish reading this article. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

South's Greatest Chefs 2018

This is the tastiest contest of the year! Nominate now!

South's Greatest Kids 2018

Nominate your kid for the cutest contest of the year!
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Events Calendar

  • Firefighters 5k and 10k

    Oct 13, 2018
    1:00 PM

    Did you know that every October, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation sponsors the official national tribute to all firefighters who died in...

  • 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...

  • Girls Night Out - Make Your Own Skin Care Products!

    Sep 28, 2018
    5:00 PM @ Salacia Salts

    Grab a group of girlfriends for a private skin care making workshop. Design and hand mix your own body scrub while unwinding in our relaxing space...

  • Alee Haunted House-Terror Plantation

    Oct 05, 2018
    7:30 PM - 11:00 PM @ Alee Temple

    Voted as Georgia's third scariest haunted house, the Alee Haunted House is ready to scare! Starting in October, it will be open every Friday...

  • Art Start: Stroller and Toddler Tour of Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens

    Oct 18, 2018
    10:30 AM - 11:30 AM @ Jepson Center

    Our youngest patrons are invited to the museum for story time, a special tour, and an art activity. Strollers, crying babies, toddlers, and older...

  • DineSouth

    Oct 18, 2018
    6:00 PM - 9:00 PM @ Savannah Station

    DineSouth, the premier dining event in Savannah is back and 2018’s event is going to be the best yet! In conjunction with the release of the...

  • Monthly Satsang

    Feb 21, 2018
    7:15 PM - 8:30 AM @ Savannah Power Yoga

    Join us for a monthly gathering to discuss and reflect on the ethical principles of yoga.    We will use The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah...

  • Lean Ensemble Theater presents Who Am I This Time (& Other Conundrums of Love) by Aaron Posner from Kurt Vonnegut

    Oct 18, 2018
    7:30 PM - 9:30 PM @ HHPS Main Street Theatre

    The subject of this play—as we are told at the outset—is love, pure and complicated. Set on the stage of The North Crawford Mask & Wig Club...

  • Party In The Pines

    Oct 19, 2018
    12:00 PM - 11:45 PM @ Bienville Plantation

    Presented by Bienville Entertainment, Party In The Pines announces that Zac Brown Band and Little Big Town will headline second annual festival on...

  • Yellow Fever in Savannah 1820

    Oct 05, 2018
    7:00 PM - 7:00 PM @ Davenport House Museum

      This October see a historical recreation of Savannah’s dreadful Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1820 with particular emphasis on daily life in...

  • Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival

    Oct 19, 2018
    All Day @ Richmond Hill Bryan County Chamber of Commerce

    The Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival is an annual event held at J. F. Gregory Park, located at 521 Cedar St., the third weekend in October. People...

  • Old Town Oyster Run 5k/10k

    Oct 20, 2018
    8:00 AM - 10:00 AM @ Bluffton Oyster Factory Park

    The race starts at the Bluffton Oyster Factory and winds through beautiful downtown and along the May River. Compete in a fast-paced 10K or...

  • Run for the Homeless 5k

    Oct 20, 2018
    8:00 AM - 10:00 AM @ SEDA Building on Hutchinson Island

    This is a fundraiser for the Savannah Inner City Night Shelter to help men, women, and children in our community who may find themselves homeless...

  • NAMI Mental Health 5k

    Oct 20, 2018
    8:30 AM @ Coligny Beach

    Join us for the 2018 NAMI Lowcountry 5K Mental Health Walk! This is an event for the ENTIRE FAMILY, including your four legged, furry family...

  • Wag-O-Ween Savannah 2018

    Oct 20, 2018
    12:00 PM - 5:00 PM @ Historic Downtown Businesses

    https://www.facebook.com/wagoween.savannah.ga/ Join us Saturday October 20, 2018 from Noon-5:00 for the fun annual WAG-O-WEEN! This annual...

  • Free Family Day: "Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens"

    Oct 20, 2018
    1:00 PM - 4:00 PM @ Jepson Center

    Enjoy a day celebrating Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Children and families can try out pointillist painting techniques, make miniature...

  • Southern Songbirds: Jill Knight, Danielle Howle & Caroline Aiken

    Oct 20, 2018
    8:00 PM - 10:00 PM @ Tybee Post Theater

    Three beautiful singer-songwriters from opposite coasts come together on the Tybee Post Theater stage for an incredible night of music.Jill Knight,...

  • Mindful Triathalon

    Oct 21, 2018
    9:00 AM - 11:00 AM @ Coligny Beach

    Jiva Yoga Center and Go Tri Sports are teaming up to produce the Mindful Triathlon - Hilton Head Island. What is the Mindful...

  • Lean Ensemble Theatre presents Who Am I This Time? (& Other Conundrums of Love) by Aaron Posner from Kurt Vonnegut

    Oct 21, 2018
    2:00 PM - 4:00 PM @ HHPS Main Street Theatre

    The subject of this play—as we are told at the outset—is love, pure and complicated. Set on the stage of The North Crawford Mask & Wig Club...

  • Fall 2018 Lecture Series - "Poetry: Why Read It? Why Write It? Who Cares?" by Olivia Stiffler

    Oct 21, 2018
    4:00 PM - 5:30 PM @ Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home

    The Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home is proud to present the second installment of the Fall 2018 Lecture Series in the parlor of the Flannery...


Show More...

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Scenes of the South

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.

Closet Raiders

Described as the “superbowl of fashion”, Closet Raiders was taped at the Lucas Theatre in front of a live audience. Contestants showed off their personal style fashion knowledge. Hosted by Savannah locals Reneé LaSalle and Kevin Cartee, offered the chance to win a closet full of designer clothes.

Cure and Whiskey Wednesday

Local celebrities competed on stage to help support the mission to provide training and supervision to volunteers who advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children of Savannah and Chatham County.

Cure and Whiskey Wednesday

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day, 43 families in the United States will hear the words “your child has cancer.” Meaningful supporters came came out to help spread awareness, learn more on how to stop childhood cancer, to recognize the children and families affected by childhood cancers and to emphasize the importance of supporting research on these devastating conditions.

7th Annual Savannah Ambucs/ Celebrity Bowlapalooza Auction

Plenty of supporters came came out to the 7th Annual Savannah Ambucs/Vaden Chevrolet Pooler Celebrity Bowlapalooza Kickoff and Auction for a night of fun and fundraising. There was an Amtryke, specially adapted 3 wheel bike giveaway, and a silent and live auction. The auction was to help make a difference in the Savannah community and to inspire mobility and independence for people with different abilities.

Ronald McDonald House Super Summer Shindig

Children came dressed as their favorite superheroes as they enjoyed face painting, games, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and their favorite favorite superheroes and McDonald’s characters. There was delicious appetizers by Chef Cynthia Creighton-Jones of Cape Creations Catering, Ghost Coast cocktails, door prizes, and the great networking opportunities in Savannah.

Whiskey Wednesday

First City Network, Ghost Coast Distillery and South Magazine came together for this event at 39 Rue De Jean on the 3rd Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. The mission of First City Network (FCN) is to enhance and sustain the well-being of LGBT individuals and their allies .

The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra -Swingin' Savannah River

The beautiful Westin Harbor Lawn was the perfect setting to enjoy the ultimate July 4th experience on the Savannah River including a patriotic concert with The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra.

JCB Mudrun 2018

As feet hit the wet mud, eyes were set on the trophies and hearts beat with adrenaline at this year’s 7th annual JCB Mud Fest. Nearly 1,500 participants showed up from around the country, making this the most successful event to date. All proceeds benefited the Lady Bamford Center for Early Childhood Development. Participants endured a variety of new challenges, including fan favorites such as the JCB mud lake and the tire field.

Old Town Trolley's 25th Anniversary

Old Town Trolley celebrated 25 years of business!