Chef Holly Chute left New York 34 years ago to work as the official chef at the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time, she had no idea how to cook a biscuit, and she wasn’t sure what collard greens were. On Wednesday, she stopped by The Daily Meal — bringing with her fresh produce from the Southern state — and wowed us all with her knowledge of, enthusiasm for, and finesse in the cuisine of the Peach State.
We had to ask her: How is Georgian cuisine different from other Southern cuisine? “For starters,” said Chute, “We are the second-largest agricultural producer in the United States, after California.” Georgia also has a more sustainable agricultural environment: it does not suffer from drought as often as the Golden State, and much less travel time is required to deliver goods to the East Coast and Europe. Georgia also has immense agricultural diversity. Its climate is such that blueberries, wine, nuts (especially pecans and peanuts), seafood, and even olive oil can be sourced in-state.
And gosh, was that produce Chute brought with her good. The strawberries she offered me straight from the colander, in between zipping around the kitchen yet still engaging in friendly conversation, had such a delicate yet complex taste that I felt transported to a porch in Savannah — which, by the way, is one of the few cities in the Old South that wasn’t completely razed during the Civil War, and thus retains many of its historic buildings.
But Georgia is more than just fresh ingredients. Kevin Langston, Gerogia's Deputy Commissioner of Tourism, tells us Georgia is a great place for creative chefs. "There is an entire food market, called Krog Street Market, designed for up-and-coming chefs to execute their restaurant concepts or retailers to sell top-quality ingredients." The best time to visit Georgia? "May to September," says Langston. He also tells us about that Georgia tourism will soon be launching culinary tours that highlight local flavors, such as a meat and three (meat with three side dishes) tour, a fin to fork tour, and a "pretty sweet" tour that explored the state's famous desserts. We highly recommend checking out their website to find out about all the tours they offer.
According to Chute, one thing that makes Georgia special is the number of creative chefs looking to make beloved but unhealthy classics healthy in inventive ways that don’t involve diet shortcuts or gimmicky superfoods. Plus, community engagement is a tradition for the Georgia food community. For example, brew pubs like Twain’s and 5 Seasons donate the grains left over from production to local pig farmers in exchange for livestock — including the rare Ossabaw hog, whose meat has a naturally olive oil-like flavor.
To prove that Southern hospitality is not just a fashionable concept, Georgia Tourism arranged the event to be a hands-on cooking experience for all the attendees. Guests put on their “Georgia Grown” aprons and made items like boiled peanut hummus, Georgia shrimp with cheese grits, and sublime Asian-grilled skirt steak with a ginger-peach glaze while sipping on wine from Georgia’s award-winning Yonah Mountain Vineyards.
The best part was definitely dessert. Guests passed around mini strawberry shortcakes, panna cotta atop blueberry compote, and peach tarts, exhilarated by the surprising fact that a test kitchen in a random office building in New York’s Flatiron District could feel so much like home. That’s the power of Georgian hospitality, we guess.