Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Best Chefs in America Features Nashville Chefs in Special Southern Edition

Posted By on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 7:42 AM

BCA_South_WebCover.jpg
Last year I told you about the Best Chefs in America book, a curated list of outstanding cooks that is actually voted on by the chefs themselves. James Beard awards are definitely prestigious, but the fact that these awards are compiled from interviews with more than 5,000 chefs across the country — who are asked who they consider to be influential and inspirational — makes this book something that many chefs hope to be included in.

The company behind the original guide has started a new regional series of more focused books, and chose to focus on the American South for their first spin-off. This book covers 12 Southern states, basically the SEC minus Texas plus the Virginias and Carolinas. Each state has its own chapter led off by an introductory essay, followed by food facts about the state and a word cloud of terms that showed up in multiple responses to the interviews with the chefs. A list of the top chefs separated by city is the highlight of the chapter for potential culinary travelers setting up an itinerary to another state. Finally, each chapter concludes with a recipe from one of the recognized chefs, a dish that helps represent the state's cuisine.

For Tennessee, the talented food writer (and occasional Bites and print edition contributor) Jennifer Justus wrote the intro, a lovely paean to the culinary heritage and extraordinary ingredients of the state. Nashville dominates the list of recognized chefs with 23, compared to 18 in Memphis, 15 in Knoxville and 11 spread across the rest of the state.

It's fun to take a peek at the word cloud and try to figure out which specific chefs the interviewees were talking about. "Grains of Paradise?" Chez Phillipe in Memphis. "Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce?" Scott Witherow of Olive and Sinclair "Farm to Table?" Everybody.

Like any print edition of a list of chefs, the guide is unfortunately already a little out of date only a few months after publication, as at least five of the Nashville chefs listed are no longer working at the place indicated in the chapter. But that doesn't make them inferior chefs. You just have to go different places to find them now.

Regular suspects on these lists are definitely represented: Jeremy Barlow, Tyler Brown, Tandy Wilson, Josh Habiger, Hal Holden-Bache, Philip Krajeck, Matt Lackey, Jason McConnell, Margot McCormack, Deb Paquette, Charles Phillips, Kevin Ramquist, Will Uhlhorn and Jamie Watson. It was also nice to see some inclusions that we know and appreciate here in town, but don't always make national lists. The chefs being interviewed also drew attention to André Prince Jeffries, Yun Choo of Samurai Sushi, Edgar Pendley at Urban Grub and Roderick Bailey of The Silly Goose.

The list of lists in the book is a roster of the Top 25 Best Chefs in the South, where Nashville is represented by part-time resident Sean Brock and City House chef/owner (and Beard finalist) Tandy Wilson.

The plan is to release five of these regional guides over the course of a couple years and then return to update the cycle after the whole country has been covered. Future editions will cover the Northeast, Midwest, Southwest and West. We're lucky that they started with our region first, because this well-written and beautifully photographed guide would be an excellent addition to any food traveler's library. If you'd like a copy, the best place to buy one is at the BCA website, where the book is $25 with free shipping.

If you'd like to contribute to the crowd-sourcing and curation of this august list, the editors at BCA encourage chefs, restaurants and the public to send any updates to editors@bestchefsamerica.com.

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