South's Greatest Chefs 2019
#1. William Deane of Alligator Soul
What was your first restaurant job? I started washing dishes in high school at a restaurant in Lehigh Acres, Florida. That’s what got me into the industry — watching all the line cooks and seeing how hectic it would get, but somehow, they kept it all organized.
What do you love about cooking? I like making people happy, but what I really love is the team at Alligator Soul. From the front of the house to the back of the house, everyone tries to do better every day when they come into work.
What advice do you have for diners who make Savannah a food travel destination? Go to the places where you’re going to try something you’ve never had before. Stay open minded.
912.232.7899 • alligatorsoul.com
#2 Kyle Brown of Churchill's
What was your first restaurant job? My first real restaurant job was at a place called Oliva. I worked the grill.
Did you know, then, that cooking was going to be your life’s work? I was already going to school at Savannah Technical College for cooking at the time. Before that I was in the Coast Guard, and we would take turns cooking meals for each other. That’s what got me into it.
What advice do you have for diners who make Savannah a food travel destination? Try something you’ve never had before. The dishes on the menu have gone through a lot of work, so be open to the dishes and trust the chef.
912.232.8501 • thebritishpub.com
#3 Tyler Slade of 10 Market, A Chef's Kitchen
What was your first restaurant job? My first job was working at Perry’s Fish House in Burlington, Vermont, but I wasn’t cooking fish. I was the omelet guy at the buffet. I had no experience cooking, and, man, I smoked that dining room out a couple of times.
Is there an omelet on the menu at 10 Market? I did put an omelet a la garconne on one of the menus for our weekend prix fixe dinners. They are all themed, and we were doing a series of movie-themed dinners – Great Gatsby, Titanic. That one was Pulp Fiction.
When did you realize cooking was going to be your life’s work? I always tell people it was the first job where I woke up excited to go to work. That’s how I knew. I decided to go to the New England Culinary Institute. Culinary school gave me the technique and basics, but the head chef at Posana in Asheville taught me how to be a chef. A lot of who you are and who you become as a chef depends on the mentors you learn from along the way.
843.644.1090 • 10market.com
#4 Christian Santiago of Òrale Tacos
What was your first restaurant job? I’ve been cooking since I was a child, but I had my first restaurant job at age 25 at the Disney Resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
When did you realize cooking was going to be your life’s work? When I realized it wasn’t just a job, it was my passion.
What advice do you have for diners who make Savannah a food travel destination? Try as many places as possible. Explore the emerging generations of culinary artists. I think people visiting here will be truly delighted to find some non-traditional tastes.
912.349.6012 • oraletacoplus.com
#5 Roberto Leoci of Green Fire Pizza
What was your first restaurant job? I worked at an Italian hall as a food runner in Montreal, Canada a long time ago.
When did you realize cooking was going to be your life’s work? I always loved cooking, but my dad kept trying to persuade me otherwise. My only other outlet was in creative arts — watercolor, film, painting. I went on to work as a color matcher for a big printing industry where I had an expense account, so I would eat out a lot. Finally, I said I wanted to do it every day. I was 28 at that point. In the kitchen world, that’s old.
What do you love most about cooking? I love seeing smiles on people’s faces when they have good food, how it changes the mood and brings people together.
912.298.0880 • greenfirepizza.com
#6 Joe Randall of Good Times Jazz Bar and Restaurant
What was your first restaurant job? I worked in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania in the kitchen at The Chalet Restaurant in 1964.
When did you realize cooking was going to be your life’s work? I started in the kitchen, and I never left. My uncle, Richard Ross, was a caterer and restauranteur in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He gave me a real taste of the hospitality industry. It wasn’t exactly a decision, but I liked to eat.
What is the best dish you’ve eaten recently? I’m a true lover of gumbo. I’ve been making it for 50 years all over the country. Gumbo makes people do strange things. I invited a friend over for gumbo once. He couldn’t come, but later I got a knock on the door. This woman said, “You don’t know me, but I heard you’re fixing a pot of gumbo.” I said, “If you’re crazy enough to knock on my door, I’m crazy enough to serve you a pot of gumbo.”
912.236.2226 • goodtimesjazzbar.com
#7 Bryce Knott of a.Lure
What was your first restaurant job? I was a dishwasher at a barbecue restaurant. From there, I worked my way up to cook and eventually I was pulling the pits. This was still in high school.
Did you know then that you wanted to be a chef? It was probably at my first fine dining job. A friend took a chance on me and I got seasonal work at a fine dining restaurant in Nantucket, Massachusetts. I was 23 and fortunate enough to work with some great chefs who saw something in me and pushed me. At the end of my first season, my executive chef bought me a nice chef’s knife. That’s when I knew.
What is the best dish you’ve eaten recently? Definitely our local seafood. I grew up fishing here. I’ve always been a marsh rat, and I’ve been cleaning fish since I was five or six.
912.233.2111 • aluresavannah.com
#8 Chaz Ortiz of Chazito's
What was your first restaurant job? My first job was actually at Panera Bread. I was 14, and I worked in prep, slicing tomatoes.
Did you realize, then, that cooking was going to be your life’s work? No, I got the cooking bug from my grandmother. We have a huge family, and we would have a cookout every Sunday.
Is that what inspired Chazito’s monthly pig roast? The monthly pig roast is inspired by my grandfather. He would roast a pig to celebrate big days – birthdays, anniversaries. Every month it’s a celebration that Chazito’s lasted another month. We have more than 40 pig roasts under our belt now.
912.348.3373 • Chazitos.com
#9 Jason Starnes of Rhett at the Alida Hotel
When did you realize cooking was going to be your life’s work? The industry chose me. Both of my grandmothers were in the food industry. I always enjoyed cooking and had the opportunity to cook with my family. It was the best decision I ever made.
What do you love about cooking? It’s multifaceted. I get to be artistic and creative. I get to help people enjoy an experience. As my career evolves, the biggest thing for me is teaching. We have a few international internship programs at The Alida, so I get the opportunity to take the knowledge I’ve gained and pass it on.
What is the best dish you’ve eaten recently? I’m pretty new to Savannah. I’ve been here three months now. I had a late summer cold a few weeks ago. My wife swung by a little dive in midtown and got me a bowl of pho. It blew my mind. The broth was rich, and the vegetables were fresh. It was outstanding.
912.715.7000 • diningwithrhett.com
#10 Blake Young of 700 Drayton
What was your first restaurant job? I was a line cook at the Lunchbox Café in Cairo, Georgia.
Did you know then that you wanted to be a chef? After being there for a little while, yes. My whole family is in restaurants. My grandparents owned a steakhouse. It was in my heart. I started competing in cooking competitions and won a scholarship to attend culinary school. I chose one in Orange County, California. I was there eight years then spent two years in Southeast Asia. After that, my family told me I had to come back to Georgia.
What is the best dish you’ve eaten recently? I’m going to go with our salmon crudo. That, right there, is me on a plate. It has a peach and chili vinaigrette. The peaches speak to my childhood in Georgia. The crudo speaks to my raw side and the time I spent in Asia. It has peas three ways — you see the whole life of the pea. It’s a life journey — the pea’s and mine as well.
912.238.5158 • kesslercollection.com