13 Southern Chefs and Bartenders Predict The Next Big Thing in Food

June 1, 2015 | By | Comments (5)

While the weight of our food may lie in tradition, in recent years chefs across the South have reshaped those old perceptions to create a new definition of exciting regional cuisine. We asked 13 chefs participating in this past weekend’s Atlanta Food and Wine Festival how they think their contemporaries are forging the South’s future food culture.

Photo: Squire Fox

Photo: Squire Fox


  1. “A trend we’ve noticed recently is Southern bakers getting excited about where their wheat, buckwheat, and rye are grown and milled. Bakers like James Beard Award-nominated Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina are using stone-ground flours from Jennifer Lapidus’ Carolina Ground Mill in Asheville. Lapidus buys only wheat and rye from small growers in Southern states so she knows the field-origin of every 2,000-lb bag of grain in her warehouse. She works closely with bakers to choose the grains and the grind that will yield the best, most flavorful bread or pastry they can make. And if you’ve ever eaten baked goods from La Farm or Farm & Sparrow in Candler, North Carolina, or The Flat Rock Village Bakery in Flat Rock, North Carolina, the results speak for themselves!”- Matt Lee and Ted Lee, Authors, The Lee Brothers Charleston Kitchen 
Photo: Danielle Crego

Photo: Danielle Crego

  1. “In wine, I feel there’s a trend to start returning to the “new world”. There are so many amazing wines from America, Australia, and other regions that are finally getting their due. It’s hip to drink these wines going forward.”- Eric Crane, Advanced Sommelier, Empire Distributors in North Carolina

    Photo: Greg Dupree

    Photo: Greg Dupree

  1. “I think trends will focus on new traditions with foraged and found ingredients to help support proper traditional techniques in how we cook. I think we have a great new palate of items that may have been missed or overlooked as ingredients. Working with new sources will give rise to relearning some of the basic foundations in cooking.”-Kevin D. Ouzts, Owner, Executive Chef, and Charcutier, The Spotted Trotter in Atlanta, Georgia


  1. “If it’s rosé and if it’s bubbly, people are crushing it. We just added a Cava rosé for happy hour to see what would happen and we can’t keep it in stock. I’m also impressed with the amount of rosé consumption in general – both still and sparkling, by both men and women. Drink pink!”-Julie Dalton, Lead Sommelier, Wit & Wisdom – a Tavern by Michael Mina in Baltimore, Maryland
Photo: Heidi Geldhauser

Photo: Heidi Geldhauser

  1. “I bought a cold press juicer and we have been juicing vegetables or fruits for sauces or as the liquid in a puree, for instance cooked carrots pureed with carrot juice, for extra carrot flavor. We also cold press fruits and herbs for the bar program. With all of the gluten allergies, intolerances, and other gluten objections, we are experimenting with alternative grains like millet, amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, and nut or seed flours like pumpkin, peanut, chickpea, or chestnut.”-Steven Satterfield, Executive Chef, Miller Union in Atlanta, Georgia and Author, Root to Leaf, A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons


  1. “‘Hipster hospitality’ has run its course. Service will become increasingly important to the guest.”- Frank Lee, Chef, Maverick Southern Kitchens in Charleston, South Carolina
Photo: Claus Peuckert

Photo: Claus Peuckert

  1. “Because of higher prices of heritage breed proteins, in-house butchering of larger primal cuts of meat offer customers a better value and selection. In preparation of these meats, the mixing of ethnic flavors and cooking techniques, such as live-fire grilling from Argentina and low and slow American barbecue, makes menus a melting pot. Also trending is the in-house creation of dry rub seasoning blends as opposed to adding individual spices.”- Chris Lilly, World Champion Pitmaster, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, Author, Fire And Smoke, A Pitmaster’s Secrets


  1. “I think we will see the trend toward sustainability and health continue, which will require a shift to more old world based cooking. Less center-of-the-plate, high-cost proteins and more of using smaller amounts of flavor-rich off-cuts to compliment more vegetable-centric meals. I also believe that down the line as more of the population becomes accustomed to upscale and chef-driven casual restaurants and food trucks that the pendulum will swing back towards true upscale and fine dining. There will be less of the intimidation factor and more of the wonder and enjoyment of a beautifully crafted dining experience mixing perfect atmosphere, food and service.”-Michael Gulotta, Chef and Owner, MoPho in New Orleans, Louisiana
Photo: Lissa Gotwals

Photo: Lissa Gotwals

  1. “In a region where corn whiskey (moonshine) and bourbon are historically the spirits of choice for many Southerners, I am seeing a worthwhile interest in the spirits category of malt whisky as it becomes more popular to our discerning Southern palates. This trend for using barley rather than corn, wheat, or rye grains has distilleries in the South putting award winning efforts into hand crafting American Single Malt Whisky with complexities and flavors that used to be only found in older barrel aged whisky from Scotland. Cheers to that!”- Gary Crunkleton, Bartender, The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, North Carolina


  1. “To me, the important trend will be knowing what you are really eating seafood-wise — where it comes from, how it’s caught, and if the fishery is sustainable. The last few years, everything has been farm-to-table with everyone worried about where the land food is coming from, but it seems to me we should be looking at where our fish comes from. Are we really eating what the menu says we are eating? I would like to see more consumers ask the question ‘where does your fish come from?’ If we don’t ask, we wont know, and one day we won’t have fish to eat.”-Derek Emerson, Executive Chef and Owner, Walker’s Drive-In in Jackson, Mississippi


  1. ”It’s all about fast-casual and tons or new restaurants. The market is flooding with millennial culinary grads itching to ply their new talents. It’s gonna be fun and interesting.”-Mark Abernathy, Chef and Owner, Loca Luna in Little Rock, Arkansas
Photo: Jessica Crawford

Photo: Jessica Crawford

  1. “In terms of sourcing at Standard Foods, we’re trying to find creative ways to work with lesser known growers who are off the beaten path. We’ve found that by taking on the logistics & delivery, we can provide a sales outlet for them, and bring in some of the best food being grown within 100 miles of us. Essentially, we are creating a network of growers & a profit stream that doesn’t already exist. We’re also forging direct relationships with farmers and fishermen, which gives us access to progressive and unconventional paths to sources like urban farms, aquaponics, backyard farms, and foragers, for example.”-Scott Crawford, Executive Chef, Nash Square Hospitality Group and Standard Foods in Raleigh, North Carolina13-VishweshBhatt
  1. “The biggest trend I see is a return to basics: simple food done well. I am also excited about the return of vegetables. I expect more and more chefs will feature seasonal vegetables on their menus moving forward. I also expect to see a greater diversity in the kitchens, and that makes me very happy. It is high time for minority chefs to step to the forefront and show the world what they are capable of.”-Vishwesh Bhatt, Chef, SnackBar in Oxford, Mississippi


  1. Elsa

    Where are the Black chefs? Or there aren’t any in the South.

    November 13, 2015 at 2:03 pm
  2. The Next Big Thing in Food | The Cockentrice

    […] —Kevin Ouzts in Southern Living […]

    September 9, 2015 at 7:19 pm
  3. Emaleigh Brooke

    Nothing, other than the rose trend, seems to be anything new. Moving towards sustainability and knowing where your food comes from has BEEN a thing. Let’s hear some truly new trends.

    June 12, 2015 at 2:20 pm
  4. John-Bryan Hopkins

    Great article! What people eat and source locally helps define their region…otherwise this great big country of ours will seem homogenized. What most of us, especially the next generation are seeking is authenticity and a since of place or local culture. Thanks for the great article… Glad to know there are people out there striving to experience new trends and are being recognized as an important part of their own local culture.

    June 2, 2015 at 11:20 am
  5. Kathleen

    I wish there was a “movement” to put terms like locally sourced, artisinal(spelling?), heritage, & sustainable to rest. Seriously. It’s become a cliche & makes me want to run to the Winn Dixie or WalMart ASAP & buy something in a can.

    June 1, 2015 at 2:32 pm

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