Meet the Chefs
Atlanta continues to be a destination for chefs from all walks of life. Every day, it seems, talented chefs arrive, new restaurants open and the diverse Atlanta food scene benefits.
Here, we introduce you to top chefs to watch out for in Atlanta. Learn about their stories and their passions.
Chef Ana Arriaga
Chef Ana Arriaga
Ghoul Next Door Bakeshop
Growing up in a Hispanic family, food was always around for chef Ana Arriaga, owner of Ghoul Next Door Bakeshop. “Food was always a way to show love to somebody,” she says. Today, she shares that love with Atlanta. A sweet tooth, chef Arriaga would always take on the task of making the sweets for family gatherings.
A self-taught pastry chef, Arriaga’s journey as a baker began as a side gig. From brownies to cookies, she liked to experiment and delight those around her. Eventually, TV shows and YouTube videos inspired her to take on the challenge of cake decorating. She was a natural and people began to fall in love with her sweet creations. Through word of mouth, her side business began to grow.
In 2020, chef Arriaga moved to Atlanta. She decided to make her baking side business a full-time venture. Networking with other food vendors, event organizers and community members, she found a family in Atlanta. “That is a very tight-knit community that helps each other,” chef Arriaga says.
Atlanta became the perfect home for Ghoul Next Door Bakeshop where the Cinnamon Ghost Crunch, the Cult Classic and the Madame Crow satisfy sweet tooths. Her creation, The Descent, is a chocolate peanut butter cookie with a Hershey’s cocoa cookie base plus milk chocolate morsels, Reese’s pieces and a full Reese’s peanut butter cup, along with lots of chocolate goodness.
What makes chef Arriaga’s baking different are her iconic big and chunky cookies. Using seasonal local ingredients, she brings Atlanta into her creations. The peach gobbler cookie made with fresh peaches says “Atlanta.”
“Atlanta celebrates diversity,” says chef Arriaga. “It celebrates different food and culture, and that is what I love about it.”
Bring sweetness to your life with Ghoul Next Door Bakeshop. Follow her on social media and find out where she will pop up next.
Chef Justin Dixon
Chef Justin Dixon
Atlanta native, chef Justin Dixon, is fueled by his love for his city. The owner of Humble Mumble Sandwich Shop writes a love letter to the city through his food in a new concept restaurant where sandwiches are at the front end.
Named after chef Dixon’s favorite Outkast song, Humble Mumble is more than a sandwich shop. It personifies his dream to create something that belongs to and represents Atlanta. With the philosophy, “People Matter Most,” Humble Mumble strives to “feed the soul, the culture and the community,” says chef Dixon.
Growing up, chef Dixon had to figure out his meals. With both parents working odd hours, it was up to him to feed himself. That is where his passion ignited. After attending the Art Institute of Atlanta, chef Dixon had the opportunity to work with some of the best chefs in the city, and it was during his time at Local Three with chefs Chris Hall and Ben Barth that he began to find his own identity as a culinary creative.
He quickly learned that high-end cuisine and corporate kitchens were not his thing, and with the goal in mind to do something that would represent Atlanta’s food culture, he started the sandwich shop. Humble Mumble is, he says, “For Atlanta. By Atlanta.”
Armed with fan favorites like the meatball or Italian sandwich, chef Dixon pops around the city with Humble Mumble looking to bring the experience to those who don’t adventure out to his location in Midtown. His mouth-watering sandwiches are a delight quickly becoming a must-try in Atlanta.
Inspired by Atlanta’s Southern, Black, Jewish and Hispanic culture – and everything in between – chef Dixon’s creations are meant to represent the diversity of the city. “I just want to give us all something that we can enjoy,” he says.
Catch Humble Mumble in Midtown at Tech Square, 756 W Peachtree St NW.
Chef Santiago Gomez
Chef Santiago Gomez
Born and raised in Mexico City, chef Santiago Gomez moved to Miami around 2012, and since then has taken the food industry by storm.
With multiple awards, chef Gomez has demonstrated his impressive skills inside and outside the kitchen. Not only does he master the art of creating bold and delectable dishes with Mexican ingredients, but he also has succeeded in developing acclaimed restaurants all over the continent, including Mexico City, Bogota, Aruba, Miami and now Atlanta.
Eating at chef Santiago’s restaurant is like an intimate conversation between him and the ingredients. He tells a story of culture and personal experiences in every dish.
“I saw potential. It’s a big city. It’s a great city, but I also believe there are so many things that can be done in this city that keeps growing,” says chef Gomez in the midst of opening his new restaurant, Palo Santo, on the Westside.
His first days in the industry started with a job in a cafeteria where he went from being the coffee boy to working every station before becoming general manager in six months. Chef Gomez developed a strong culinary background at one of Mexico City’s top culinary academies, Centro Culinario Ambrosia, and the renowned Hoffman Culinary School in Barcelona. His experience has also been shaped by working under chefs such as Thomas Buckley, corporate executive chef for NOBU.
Meeting chef Gomez feels like picking up a conversation with an old friend. His modesty, hospitality and passion shine through. He fits right into the Atlanta restaurant scene.
Try out chef Gomez’s dishes on Westside Atlanta at Palo Santo, 955 West Marietta St NW.
Chef Josue Peña
Chef Josue Peña
Iberian Pig Buckhead
A busboy job as a teenager planted curiosity into chef Josue Peña about what would become his career. “I was miserable as a busboy,” remembers chef Peña. “I would see the kitchen and they would be sauteeing. You would see the flames come out of the pan. They were having such a great time.” So, he asked the owner to let him cook, but he kept getting turned down. Eventually, his persistence got him his first job in the back of the house at the age of 15 in a restaurant in South Florida where he grew up.
Fast forward 15 years later and chef Peña accomplished a milestone he had been working toward – to become executive chef by the age of 30. Just days shy of his 30th birthday, chef Peña was promoted to executive chef of Iberian Pig in Buckhead.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and raised in Miami, chef Peña has found a special connection with Spanish cuisine. “I now understand certain cooking techniques my grandmothers used,” says chef Peña referring to his grandmothers who would make Spanish-influenced food in Puerto Rico. “The cooking gene came from my grandfather,” says chef Peña of his grandfather who instilled in him discipline and respect for the kitchen. “He was a low-key chef in the house.”
Today, chef Peña can explore those flavors and ingredients through his art at Iberian Pig Buckhead. His dishes speak for themselves, always pushing the envelope and personifying a deeply rooted connection to who he is and what he is passionate about.
Chef Peña comes from humble beginnings, and despite his successes, he holds dear to his heart the self-assigned responsibility to lift and give opportunities to up-and-coming generations in a tough industry. With the support of Castellucci Hospitality Group, chef Peña is helping pave the way for new talent by creating internship opportunities for international culinary students. His efforts have brought to Atlanta rising chefs from all over the world, including Colombia, Dominican Republic, India and the Philippines. “It’s great to bring more culture into the culinary world,” says Peña.
Learn more about chef Josue Peña, and don’t miss an opportunity to try his cooking at the Iberian Pig in Buckhead, 3150 Roswell Rd NW Suite A3.
Chef Parnass Savang
Chef Parnass Savang
A bright and colorful mural on the wall, framed family pictures and Thai art are the welcome you get at Talat Market, co-owned by chef Parnass Savang.
The experience begins from the moment you step into the intimate space that feels like a family dining room. Looking into the open kitchen, you can see chef Savang, living his true passion to share authentic Thai food with Atlanta.
Growing up in his parent’s restaurant in an Atlanta suburb, chef Savang is no stranger to the food industry. Raised behind the kitchen counter and helping from a very young age, this is home for him. However, it wasn’t until his college days when he watched the “Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares” TV series that he saw the restaurant business with different eyes. “I felt inspired to learn how to run a restaurant, to help my mom and dad’s restaurant to make it go up to the next level,” says chef Savang.
So, he went off to culinary school in New York and soon found himself missing his parents.He decided to come back home. Chef Savang’s talent landed him jobs at two of the top restaurants in Atlanta, Staplehouse and Kimball House. But something was missing. He kept thinking about something much more meaningful for him. He wanted to open his own space to introduce Atlanta to a kind of Thai food that the city had never experienced before.
Chef Savang quit his two jobs and made the dream happen. Partnering with a friend and co-worker, he went from pop-ups to a homey eatery where all are welcome to come and explore cultures and flavors. “[The guests] are just so open-minded, says chef Savang. “They want to try new things, and they love bold flavors and challenging flavors.
From Eastside Atlanta to Thailand, travel through taste with chef Savang at Talat Market, 112 Ormond St SE.
Chef Jerry Lawrence
Chef Jerry Lawrence
Saints + Council
Chef Jerry Lawrence began his career washing dishes at a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant at age 15. Throughout the years, his curiosity and hard work took him from a line cook position to kitchen manager, sous chef and eventually executive chef.
For the last four years, chef Lawrence has been creating for Atlanta. Like many other chefs, he is delighted to be in a city where quality local produce and meats are available. The seasonality of Atlanta allows for his menus to be creative and diverse throughout the year. This is something that his guests at Saints + Council appreciate. “[Atlanta] brings a lot of cultures together. You get people who are not afraid to try something a little bit different,” says chef Lawrence. “We have some adventurous guests, and I really stretch out creatively.”
The pandemic put a strain on the food and beverage industry, but chef Walker stays motivated and inspired by young cooks who are coming behind him. He believes that if you are still standing after the pandemic, you are here to stay.
As executive chef at Saints + Council, chef Walker has the opportunity to work with president and owner William Pitts, who previously served as CEO of Café Intermezzo.
Chef Lawrence brings to Midtown a culinary experience worth checking out at Saints + Council, 112 Ormond St SE.
Despite their differences, these six chefs have something in common. They all cook with heart and soul, raising the bar for the food scene in Atlanta. Check them out, and watch them continue to keep Atlanta on the radar.
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