Explore Atlanta

Six Chefs We Love



These chefs aren’t A-list celebrities. Not yet, anyway. But we think it’s only a matter of time until they’re household names. Taste any of their creations and we bet you’ll agree.Robert Elliott
“I enjoy the creativity of being a chef,” says Chef Robert Elliott. “I enjoy taking something that’s been done before and making it more my own by changing things subtly.” Exhibit A: His stroganoff replaces beef with braised lamb and had us swooning with each bite. Southern influences shine through Elliott’s cooking since he says he’s spent “three quarters of my life in Georgia.” He enjoys “getting different ingredients and making them special” such as woodfire-grilled alligator skewers with onion, mushroom, pepper and sweet remoulade. Drawn to the kitchen at an early age thanks to an uncle’s restaurant, Elliott worked with chefs in Florida and Georgia before taking the executive chef role at Sprig, which opened last fall. His slight-of-hand ability to tweak seasonings and techniques elevate familiar seasonal ingredients to ethereal heights. Sprig, 2860 Lavista Rd., 404-248-9700, www.sprigrestaurant.com

Hilary White
“I’m the luckiest chef there is,” says Chef Hilary White, who helms the kitchen at The Hil at Serenbe, where fresh produce arrives from the organic farm just around the corner. “Beautiful things come from the farm every day—impromptu surprises are what I like the best.” Whatever comes to her door, she transforms into dishes that satisfy all senses. “It’s really seeking out quality ingredients and applying proper cooking techniques,” she says as if it were that easy—but each heavenly bite suggests that she added some sort of pixie dust to the mix. Inspired to cook after travel introduced her to international cuisines, White prefers a simple approach to food supported by classic French techniques. Dishes like her braised lamb multigrain risotto and roasted chicken pot pie with seasonal veggies prove that we’re the lucky ones. The Hil at Serenbe, 9110 Selborne Lane, 770-463-6040, https://thehillserenbe.com/menu 

Joe Truex
“The most rewarding part of what I do is being able to put my passion into food,” says Chef Joe Truex, executive chef at Watershed. “People connect to food. It’s such an amazing, deep connection and I get excited about creating an enriching experience.” And we’re thrilled to bite into his dishes like shrimp and crab burger or coconut cream pie. A native Southerner, Truex cooks from the heart. “I feel good about creating things that I think work here,” he says. “I want to be true to this space, cook within the context of Southern food.” The former med student fell in love with restaurant work and “never looked back,” he says. “It wasn’t cool to be a chef, but it spoke to me on many levels.” We’re so glad he listened. Watershed, 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-378-4900, www.watershedrestaurant.com

Hopeton Hibbert
“The high pace, high energy just drives me,” says Chef Hopeton Hibbert of why he enjoys leading the kitchen at Café Circa and The Reserve. “I want to be busy, slammed, with pans flying.” And his food, which blends Caribbean and French influences, draws fans in numbers that led to expanding the restaurant onto the roof. Hibbert, whose résumé includes stints in Charleston and Atlanta, finds inspiration in the creative process: “Everything can be turned into something,” he says, “There’s so much you can do, it’s a continuous creation. There are thousands of different tastes and textures to play with, explore and taste.” His enthusiasm comes through dishes like poached seafood salad and Puerto Rican mofongo with roasted pork. Each bite makes us swoon. Café Circa/The Reserve, 464 Edgewood Ave. SE, 404-477-0008, www.cafecircaatl.com

Gary Donlick
“Keeping the fun factor in food is my goal,” says Chef Gary Donlick, who serves up modern French-inspired fare at Bistro Niko. Inspired to become a chef after feasting on international cuisines prepared by frequent guests to his childhood home, Donlick moved to Atlanta to escape New York winters after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. His busy kitchen is a lab for creativity. “It’s a work in progress every day,” he says of his innovations “to create new dishes with new flavor profiles, and take classics and modernize them in such a way that people appreciate them again.” He’s also a mentor who enjoys “being able to open the eyes of young chefs and train them.” Spring infuses his menu with seasonal favorites like heirloom tomato tart, though classics like boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin remain popular. We’re gluttons for it all. Bistro Niko, 3344 Peachtree Rd., 404-261-6456, www.buckheadrestaurants.com

Hugh Acheson
Chef Hugh Acheson first drew attention as chef/partner of the acclaimed Five & Ten in Athens, Ga.—racking up accolades like Food & Wine’s Best New Chef (2002), AJC Restaurant of the Year (2007), James Beard nominations for Best Chef Southeast (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010) plus a 2007 Rising Star from StarChefs.com. It’s no wonder, then, that news he’d open Empire State South in Atlanta had folks salivating in anticipation. Lured to the big city by attractive rent rates (one upside of the down economy), Acheson’s concept ”celebrates local products and farmers,” he says. May menus showcase ingredients like wild ramps, corn, morels and chanterelles, lettuce, asparagus and lamb. Acheson adores being a chef because it’s “a topic of endless curiosity,” he says. “I never get bored and can learn something new every day. It’s always a fun prospect.” We can say the same about eating his food. Empire State South, 999 Peachtree St., 404-541-1105, www.empirestatesouth.com