Savannah’s food scene has been growing exponentially over the past few years, putting it on par with some of the most notable culinary destinations. Southern Living magazine recently ranked the city third on its list of the South’s best food cities, just behind New Orleans and Charleston. Good company indeed. And some talented chefs are behind it all.
Grab a snack and join us as we take a look at some of the culinary creatives and operators that are making this scene so special.
Mashama Bailey – Executive Chef and Partner at The Grey
Chef Bailey’s early cooking influences were split between New York and Georgia, and that background shows in her creations at The Grey. The foie gras and grits are perhaps the quintessential combinations of culinary sophistication and Low Country tradition. She strives to serve a personal interpretation of port city Southern food with deep, layered and soulful flavors.
A career path that started at Aquagrill in SoHo and later led to Château du Feÿ in Burgundy, France, eventually took her back to Savannah and the opening of The Grey.
Chef Bailey appeared on Netflix’s Chef’s Table in 2018 and won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast in 2019. She has also led The Grey to multiple culinary awards over several years.
Whitney Otawka – Executive Chef at Thompson Savannah
At Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, Georgia, Chef Whitney Otawka created her menus with the goal of combining new flavors with rustic cuisine. She focused on sourcing as many ingredients as possible right from the island, including seasonal produce and fresh catch.
Chef Otawka’s expertise led her to an appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef and the publication of her well-received cookbook, The Saltwater Table, Recipes from the Coastal South.
Savannah will soon be able to enjoy Chef Otawka’s talents when she joins the Thompson Savannah at Eastern Wharf. We look forward to enjoying her contemporary perspective on Low Country flavors in her signature restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel, which is slated to open later this year.
Greg Garrison – Executive Chef and Partner at Repeal 33
Just up the street from The Grey is the celebrated cocktail bar and restaurant, Repeal 33. Chef Greg Garrison gives us his take on American cuisine with such favorites as crispy brussels sprouts, house-made charcuteries and charred wings. Fresh local seafood and seasonal ingredients are important parts of his repertoire.
Chef Garrison graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and has honed his skills at a number of celebrated restaurants, most recently Boston’s acclaimed French fine dining restaurant, L’Espalier. Get a taste of what his experience has resulted in with a five-course chef’s tasting menu at Repeal 33.
Stephen McLain – Executive Chef at La Scala Ristorante
Chef Stephen McLain discovered his love of cooking while traveling in Europe as a teen. He now brings this passion to Savannah as a chef at La Scala Ristorante, after serving as chef at Alligator Soul for a number of years.
La Scala offers fine, regional Italian fare paired with choice wine and spirits in a beautifully restored mansion representative of Savannah style. Chef McLain complements this style with in-house prepared artisan breads, sauces, and aged and cured meats, presented in old-world regional Italian combinations.
Sean Freeman – Executive Chef at Common Restaurant Bar
“I want Common to feel like sitting at mom’s house,” is how Chef Sean Freeman describes his approach to his craft at the Savannah restaurant. We’re sure his mom would be proud of the hard work and determination that has allowed him to turn his talent into a successful career.
Chef Freeman worked early on as a line cook alongside Chef Justin Grizzard, and later joined him at The Ordinary Pub. When operations expanded with Common, Freeman was promoted to executive chef at the new location. His success led to having his picture on the cover of South magazine in 2020.
A memory of his grandmother’s cooking inspired one of the first items he added to the menu at Common, the wonderful cornbread. His Savannah upbringing also inspires a personal favorite: the lobster and crab white gumbo. We can’t wait to sample more from this up-and-coming Savannah native.
Abraham Rios – Executive Chef at Rancho Alegre
Rancho Alegre is the creation of Juan Manuel Rodriguez, a Venezuelan native, and his daughter, Melody. Abraham Rios moved to Savannah from Mexico and has been the chef from day one. His talents bring the Cuban-inspired menu, with its Spanish, Caribbean, and Creole influences, to life.
Chef Rios excels at making the house special paella and he is passionate about including just the right combination of spices. We would love to try his favorite dish, the pineapple stuffed with seafood.
Josh Yates – Owner of Green Truck Neighborhood Pub
Sometimes a career in the culinary arts takes a slightly different path. Such is the case with Green Truck Neighborhood Pub owner Josh Yates. Yates went from a career in engineering to doing what he loved, cooking and bringing people together around a table.
The path was not an easy one. He spent seven years working his way up from server to manager, learning all he could about the restaurant industry and completing a night-school MBA on the side. After his wife Wendy’s career brought the couple to Savannah, he saw the neighborhood pub as an unfilled niche.
The couple’s ideal is that “Savannahians deserve a casual place to eat and drink well.” The commitment shows in the dedication to creating almost everything by hand, from ketchup and pimento cheese, to salad dressing and veggie patties.
They also source whatever they can from the local community, like beef raised nearby and locally made or salvaged decor.
Jason Winn – Executive Chef at Classes by Kessler
Our discussion of notable Savannah chefs may have you wondering just what it takes to be one. Chef Jason Winn can give you a taste of the profession at Classes by Kessler, a Savannah cooking school housed in the 700 Drayton restaurant.
Chef Winn comes to Savannah by way of Texas and South Carolina, and brings with him an affinity for Low Country staples and Southwest flavors. In his classes, you can learn to grill, cook the perfect pasta, conquer seafood, and plate beautiful desserts. And he ensures that everyone in the class gets an opportunity to cook.
Low Country, classic Italian, and international street food are among the cuisines presented through storytelling and sampling at this Savannah destination.
From starting at the bottom of the kitchen ladder to the culinary institute-trained, Savannah has become a city that can attract and retain some of the best chefs around. We look forward to tasting more of their creations!
And if any of you Upper East River residents are reading this, we think you should take Chef Winn’s class and cook something up for the whole neighborhood!