You may not be familiar with some of the names at the New + Notables Dinner, but we predict you will be very soon. From Sean Brock's No. 2 at McCrady's to Hugh Acheson's appointed successor at Empire State South in Atlanta, this group is poised for greatness. "I've had some of the most renowned chefs in the country cook in the City Grit kitchen, and I've never been as nervous as I am about cooking with these chefs," Sarah Simmons, one of the featured chefs, told us. That says it all. The five chefs will work together on a menu, paired with wines from Pax Mahle's Wind Gap Wines, a vineyard based in Forestville, Calif. These chefs are the ones to watch. Too bad the dinner is sold out.
Jeremiah Langhorne is the local boy in this accomplished group, and he admits he's a bit nervous about representing his city. As the chef de cuisine at McCrady's, Langhorne runs the show whenever Sean Brock jets off to Alaska to film an episode of Top Chef or to Nashville to open a new branch of Husk. But don't expect him to rest on his laurels just because he's on a first-name basis with our local purveyors. "I use a lot of wild and indigenous stuff from around here, so I'm definitely going to highlight a lot of our wonderful local shellfish, and then some of the plants and wild herbs that grow around here as well," he says. Langhorne made his first major push into the culinary world under John Haywood at Charlottesville's OXO and came to Charleston for the chance to stage at McCrady's with Brock. He's worked his way up the ladder, from line chef to sous chef to chef de cuisine, taking a break somewhere in there to stage at Noma in Copenhagen (otherwise known as the world's best restaurant). Still, the Lowcountry remains one of his major inspirations. "I tend to think of my food and the way that I create stuff — I try to take strictly my influences from here and what region I'm in and what we do, especially down here in Charleston," he says. "That's kind of my way of getting inspiration — exploring Charleston and our heritage and our history and moving on from there."
Katie Button is another Noma alum, and someone you should definitely get acquainted with: She's a semifinalist for the 2013 James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award for her work at Asheville's Cúrate, a tapas bar. But not too long ago, Button was well on her way toward becoming, of all things, a neuroscientist. After getting her master's degree in Paris and spending time doing lab work with the National Institutes of Health, Button took some time off to reflect — and she realized this path wasn't for her. "To tell you the honest truth, I had a panic attack," she says. So she called up the NIH and burned her bridge. Then she told her parents. Then she started looking for restaurant jobs in the DC area. She picked up a Zagat guide and applied at the best spots, eventually getting her first front-of-house job at José Andrés' Cafe Atlantico/Minibar. Button eventually made her way into the kitchen, and her resume now includes jobs and stages at elBulli, Jean-Georges, Bazaar, and 41 Degrees. She moved to Asheville and opened Cúrate in 2011 with her husband Félix Meana, who was the main catalyst for getting Button into Spanish food. "It became the food that I was the most familiar with and loved and most comfortable cooking, so it's kind of by circumstance and fate," she laughs. Despite training in plenty of non-regionally focused restaurants, Button has taken what she's learned and applied it in the kitchen at Cúrate. "Even though they're doing really fine dining, advanced food, I take some basic principles," she adds. "It motivates me more than anything. I come back motivated and I talk to my staff and share the experience with them and get them excited about what they're doing."
City Grit, New York City
Like Katie Button, Sarah Simmons made an abrupt career change when she started cooking professionally. Being a retail strategist for Fortune 100 companies gave her the opportunity to travel and eat at the world's best restaurants, bringing the cuisine she tried back home with her. When Food & Wine Magazine named Simmons their "Home Cook Superstar" in 2010, it gave her some solid recognition in the food world and opened a lot of doors. She started City Grit, a "culinary salon" that hosts events to showcase the skills of Simmons and guest chefs. But don't call it a supper club. "It's more of a restaurant where the menu changes every day," Simmons says. "Knowing that I can constantly come up with something new for each dinner — that's the inspiration for what I do." Since Simmons is a Southerner, the region is often well represented at a City Grit event. The dish she plans to serve at the New and Notable dinner is a perfect example of how she uses Southern ingredients in unexpected and nontraditional ways. "I'll be making an Asian play on shrimp and grits," she says. "I'm really excited to be with my people and cook for a Southern audience, but it also makes me a little more nervous — Southerners have been eating some of these dishes all of their lives, and they have preconceived notions of how they're supposed to taste."
Empire State South, Atlanta, Ga.
A Culinary Institute of America alum, Ryan Smith has worked at Bacchanalia, Canoe, Restaurant Eugene, and Holeman & Finch since he moved to Atlanta. He was named executive chef of Empire State South by the unibrowed wonder Hugh Acheson in 2010. Smith is a Pennsylvania-born Yankee, but that hasn't stopped him from learning the ins and outs of Southern cooking, from pimento cheese and fried bologna sandwiches to more adventurous items like Border Springs lamb heart and crisp sweetbreads. "Ryan and I can make a menu in five minutes together that is an awesome menu," Acheson told eater in 2011. "There's an ease of working together. There's respect."
Coi, San Francisco
Save for McCrady's, there isn't a single dining experience in Charleston that compares to San Francisco's Coi. Since 2006, Daniel Patterson's North Beach restaurant has been setting the standard in Northern California cooking, foraging and sourcing the best ingredients for an 11-course tasting menu. It's won two Michelin stars, and as pastry chef, Matt Tinder is the cherry on Coi's cake. Formerly of Meadowood in Napa Valley and San Francisco's Saison, Tinder candies yuzu, bakes panettone, and even prepares a five-course dessert tasting menu. "I don't consider myself that big of a risk taker," Tinder says. "I want it to taste good, you know?" Since he hasn't spent too much time in the South, Tinder is planning to get to Charleston a few days early, and he hopes to use ingredients like sorghum, coffee, and chicory in his dessert. "It'll be good for sure," he says. "I have a couple of ideas of what I'm going to do and I'll adjust it with what's available."