At the Table

Happy Thanksgiving from Southern Chefs

By: The Local Palate

If you’re reading the Local Palate, we can guess that food lies somewhere on your gratitude list this Thanksgiving. We sure have it on ours, along with the people and places that bring it to our tables. We wanted to hear from those chefs and restaurateurs about what they feel thankful for this year. From Texas to North Carolina and Louisiana to Tennessee, Southern chefs give thanks for good health, supportive communities, and MSG.

Nick’s Westside, Atlanta, chef and partner Nick Leahy

“First and foremost, my family, the support and love from my wife, daughters, sister, mother, and everyone (it’s a lot of folks, we’re Irish Catholic) have been amazing through everything. Secondly, my team. They went through everything with me, and they were happy to try every hair-brained idea I’ve had over the last couple of years, from launching a ghost kitchen to re-concepting, and beyond. I’m blessed to have such great people to work with every day.  And I have to give credit where it truly lies, and thank God for all of the blessings in my life, as they all come from him. And lastly, I am truly grateful for all of the farmers, ranchers, microgreen growers, fishermen, cheesemakers, and more that we get to work with every day—they make my job easy.”

Chicken + Beer, Atlanta, chef Gary Caldwell

“Over the past few years, I’ve come to the very real perception that health is what to truly be thankful for. I say that because having caught COVID-19 and surviving it, you really rethink a lot of things and how important it is to be close to your family and friends. As chefs, we spend eighty percent of our lives in the kitchen working and creating alongside our work family and sometimes forget that we do this for our family at home. So, I’m also thankful for my beautiful and amazing family that put up with the long sixteen-hour days at work leaving only five hours for sleep and 4 hours to spend with them . . . If not for health, I couldn’t be here for them.”

Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, Atlanta, chef/owner Deborah VanTrece

“I’m thankful to still be moving forward.  For a while, things came to a complete halt, so it’s a blessing to be moving forward and growing.”

O-Ku, Atlanta, executive chef Masatomo “Masa” Hamaya

This year has been filled with recovery from the pandemic. The restaurant industry has faced many challenges while trying to get back to ‘normal’ circumstances. Our restaurant has suffered from a lack of labor. With this being said, I would like to thank my back-of-house staff for coming back to work every day, even though we are uncertain whether we would ever find new hires. I am also thankful for my health, and family who has supported me while working fourteen to fifteen hours a day.”

Feeling Thankful For New Beginnings

Maya, Charleston, executive chef Brett Riley

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have an entire life transformation with Maya and the Indigo Road Hospitality Group. Times were hard in New York City, and it seemed as there’d be no hope for the future of restaurants. I’m thankful for the stars to align and connect me with Jon Murray. Without him and the introductions he gave me, I would have never been able to do what I love here in Charleston. I’m thankful for Steve Palmer for giving a broken-down guy from Brooklyn a chance. I’m thankful to have Wilson Brannock as my partner in crime and the entire team we all have built together at Maya. This is the first and only thing on of my list to be thankful for—a solid family.”

Lyla Lila, Atlanta, executive chef Craig Richards

“I’m thankful for the support network around me, my wife, and family, who’ve supported me through opening a restaurant and navigating a business through a pandemic. This hasn’t been easy for anyone, but it feels like we’re on the other side, and I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Common House, Chattanooga, Tennessee, chef Neil Trumler

“Easiest question I have been asked all year. I’m thankful for my incredible staff for crushing opening, being flexible with our ever-changing events and programming, and for putting up with me. I simply could not do it without them.”

Vestal, Lafayette, Louisiana, chef Ryan Trahan

“This year has been a crazy one, but what I am most thankful for this holiday season has to be my team. From my wife and children who have been so supportive of me throughout my career to my Vestal team who has put forth so much hard work to get our restaurant up and running this April. It’s been an inspiring year, and I’m looking forward to what we have in store for 2022.”

A’Verde Cocina and Tequila Library, Cary, North Carolina, Katsuji Tanabe, executive chef

“I am thankful that I chose Raleigh as my new hometown at the right time of my life; the food scene is growing, and the local flavors have so much history–plus, the people are awesome. And, of course, I’m always thankful for MSG.”

H Town Restaurant Group, Houston, chef Hugo Ortega and (wife) restaurateur Tracy Vaught

“We have a lot to be thankful for always, but especially after what we all have been through these last 20 months. We are thankful for getting a second chance to run our businesses and to see them begin to thrive once again. We are thankful for the vaccine, and that all our family members are healthy. We are thankful we were finally able to open URBE, our newest concept, after very challenging supply chain and hiring issues. Whew!  We are very thankful to our guests, local companies, government officials and our Texas Restaurant Association who helped our industry through some very tough and uncertain times.

Sam Jones BBQ and Skylight Inn, North Carolina, co-owner and pitmaster Sam Jones

I am thankful for a wife and two children that are in good health, parents that are in good health, and that we came through the last year without having to lay anyone off at the restaurants. Personally, we’re better off to not fret the small things and just be thankful for all that we have.”

Helen, Birmingham, Alabama, chef Rob McDaniel

“We are thankful for our staff at the restaurant, the Birmingham community that has welcomed us to downtown, and all the wonderful vendors, farmers, and partners who have helped us week after week.”

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