Georgia has an incredible food culture, and Georgia chefs have placed an importance on farm-fresh ingredients and seasonality long before "farm to table" was a buzzword. Consumers can choose Georgia Grown products in their local stores and markets that feature the logo. They also can dine in restaurants that are led by chefs who emphasize locally grown ingredients and value their relationships with local farmers.
Six chefs are named annually as official Georgia Grown executive chefs and work throughout the year promoting local ingredients and food products that are special to Georgia. For each of the last five years, Georgia chefs have even taken that message to New York to cook a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House. This year's sold-out event in June featured six chefs from around the state: Deborah VanTrece, Greg Lipman, Thomas McKeown, Christian Perez, Julio Delgado and Jessica Gamble. View the menu and photos of select dishes here.
Chef Deborah VanTrece, Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours, Atlanta
Chef Deborah VanTrece was inspired by her years of traveling as a flight attendant when crafting the menu for her Atlanta restaurant Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours. But it didn't start there. She graduated as the valedictorian from the culinary program at the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1994 before going on to work as executive chef for a catering company during the 1996 Centennial Olympics.
After the games, she opened Edible Art, a neighborhood favorite in East Atlanta for her unique take on soul food. Twisted Soul opened in 2014 and adapted some of the beloved dishes from Edible Art. It went on to be named Atlanta's best new restaurant by the Georgia Voice. It also has been mentioned by Thrillist and featured on the Cooking Channel's "Late Nite Eats" and Genius Kitchen's "Carnivorous."
Her menu includes modern soul food with dishes like pimento cheese grit casserole, Springer Mountain fried chicken and fried green tomato BLT. The "pours" menu includes classic cocktails like Negronis and drinks inspired by their surroundings like the Peach Martini.
"I love working with Georgia collard greens, grits, peaches, apples, pecans and shrimp. I was recently introduced to Richland Rum Cane Syrup, and it is fast becoming a new favorite," VanTrece says. "The offerings in Georgia are many, and finding innovative ways to use the products is a lot of fun."
Chef VanTrece loves meeting visitors to her restaurant and tries to greet them when dining at Twisted Soul.
Chef Greg Lipman, Piastra Restaurant, Marietta
Chef Greg Lipman hails from Boston and learned how to cook from his mother. He continued his training in culinary classes in high school and later at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Lipman rose through the ranks at Boston-area restaurants, gaining knowledge on Italian cuisine, which would become his specialty.
In his 30s, Lipman trained under a French chef on a small yacht while sailing around the world. After completing the trip, Lipman moved to Atlanta to work at the Glenn Hotel's Maxim Prime restaurant, and he later worked as a chef at Alon's Bakery and Market before opening Piastra Restaurant on the Marietta Square.
"I like Georgia as a culinary destination because of the state's drive to push for agriculture. Everything in restaurants comes from a farm," Lipman says. His favorite Georgia Grown products include Southern Swiss Dairy, Springer Mountain Farms chicken and Oliver Farm sunflower oil.
Lipman prepares authentic Italian fare with sauces and dishes made daily with the finest ingredients sourced from Georgia farms and markets. Menu highlights include the locally ground polenta, tagliatelle with clams and gluten-free pizzas.
Chef Lipman can be found working at the restaurant, so diners can greet him in the food service window as he prepares their meals. "Momma Betty" is also always walking around to chat with people.
Chef Thomas McKeown, Hyatt Regency, Atlanta
Chef Thomas McKeown was born and trained in Europe and earned his stripes at the Limerick Golf Club in Ireland. His training was completed in Ireland and at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. McKeown worked as a sous chef at the Somerset Club in Boston before moving to Atlanta, where he is the executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
He oversees all of the landmark hotel's dining experiences, including the iconic Polaris, as well as Sway, Twenty-Two Storys and Market. McKeown has forged connections with 70 local farms, dairies and independent purveyors to incorporate into menus. The hotel and market sell countless Georgia Grown products, supporting small farms and artisans from around the state. He is a longtime partner of the Peachtree Road Farmers Market, the largest producer-only Georgia's largest vendor-run farmers market, and an organizer of "The Good Taste Series," Hyatt's global chef's competition.
Chef McKeown is inspired by the state's seasonality. "With a much longer growing season for farms, you are able to get local ingredients all year around," McKeown says. "The variety of ingredients is hard to beat with amazing farmers producing unique and familiar ingredients."
In addition to fresh produce, he likes the way local ingredients are used in creative food products. "I always love the Doux South products," McKeown says. "I have a close relationship with the family, and they also make a tomato jam with my recipe that I sell at the hotel in the market."
Chef Christian Perez, Atlanta
Chef Christian Perez grew up cooking Guatemalan and Mexican cooking traditions learned from her mother. She has climbed the ranks in some of Atlanta's top kitchens, including the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, the City Club of Buckhead, The Pig & The Pearl and White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails.
Now Chef de Cuisine at Redbird, opening in August, she was previously the executive chef of Covington's City Pharmacy, named one of Atlanta’s Hottest Restaurants by Eater. Perez crafted a "dinner experience to rival many in this big city," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Perez loves how diverse the state's restaurants are. "I have worked in kitchens in Atlanta and have done events, and every chef I have met has their own way of interpreting food," Perez says. "We all use the same ingredients, but what we do with them is the greatest part of being a chef." Her favorite products include Springer Mountain chicken, Pearson Farm peaches and Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses.
Chef Julio Delgado, Minnie Olivia Pizzeria, Alpharetta
Chef Julio Delgado was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where he learned culinary traditions from his grandfather, who ran a successful butcher shop. He graduated at the top of his class from the Hotelier School of Puerto Rico. From there, he pursued classical cooking in a number of kitchens, including The Bankers Club of Puerto Rico, Augusto's Cuisine and Compostela Restaurant, some of the island’s best restaurants.
He was hired as the chef for the Ritz Carlton in San Juan and later went to work for a number of the company’s luxury hotels, including Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee. Delgado was also the winner of the Food Network show "Cutthroat." Until the end of June 2019, Chef Delgado was the Executive Chef of New Realm Brewing in Atlanta. The menu uses regional ingredients in dishes like Georgia peanut hummus, Springer Mountain Farms beer can chicken and a grilled cheese sandwich with Thomasville Tomme from Sweet Grass Dairy. He also loves Silver Queen corn, peaches, shishito peppers and blueberries. Now, he's working on a new restaurant, Minnie Olivia Pizzeria, set to open soon in Alpharetta.
But, he says, it's the farmers that make Georgia special. "I had the opportunity to travel and work all over the nation, and I can say that there no place like Georgia," Delgado says. "Just the simple fact that you just can get with a farmer to produce product especially for you is amazing. Your product is the foundation of your restaurant! And your relationship with the farmers are for life!"
Chef Jessica Gamble, KR SteakBar, Atlanta
Chef Jessica Gamble was born and raised in the Atlanta area. Recognizing her love for the food industry, she started working in restaurants as a dishwasher at age 16. She has worked her way up to be Chef de Cuisine for Chef Kevin Rathbun at KR SteakBar in Buckhead. She was Rathbun's first female Chef de Cuisine and one of the youngest.
Chef Gamble draws on her experience from her travels and enjoys trying different food from a myriad of cultures. She builds her menu at KR SteakBar with a focus on Italian food, local and seasonal products, and prime steak. Menu highlights include house-made pasta. The restaurant has an open kitchen and floor plan so diners can see all the action.
"I love how versatile Georgia is," Gamble says. She gets ingredients from her family farm, especially peaches, pecans and strawberries. "I also love Oliver Farm. They also make some amazing oils and flours."