GUEST BLOGGER: Best Chef Pano Karatassos fuses his Greek roots with vegan and vegetarian options in an upscale fashion

Kyma, part of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group owned by my father I. Pano Karatassos, is a dining experience that cannot be matched anywhere else in Atlanta. It is unique in that it’s the only upscale Greek restaurant in the city, as well as the only restaurant to offer a white tablecloth vegan and vegetarian menu. My roots lie in Greece and I have grown up on Mediterranean fare. I began cooking at my father’s various restaurants when I was 16 years old and went on to train under some of the most famous chefs in the country after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. My entire life has been based in the culinary arts so I have a sincere appreciation of upscale dining. Kyma has given me the opportunity to blend my heritage with the fine dining standard that my father founded in Atlanta with Buckhead Life many years ago.


At Kyma, we value a variety of tastes and lifestyles. We not only offer traditional Greek vegetarian cuisine, like Spanakopita and Dolmades, but we also serve more contemporary dishes that incorporate Mediterranean flair, such as our Watermelon Feta Salad and Quinoa Salad. The modern dishes have proved to be just as popular as the traditional ones, helping us to keep the menu balanced and colorful.

We also pride ourselves in providing the freshest and healthiest produce, much of which we grow ourselves in the garden at Kyma. Guests can expect that many of the vegetables and herbs that make up their favorite entrees and meze (small plates), came right out of Kyma’s backyard.

Vegetarian dining is valuable to Kyma: the lifestyle has gained great popularity in recent years and origins of vegetarianism can be traced back to the 6th century B.C. in Greece. It’s natural that we would blend the two.

We also offer seafood options and other meat dishes like chicken and lamb. One of our most popular Mediterranean seafood entrees is the Wood Grilled Octopus. We were the first restaurant in Atlanta to serve this dish and we are often told no one can match it. Just like our produce, Kyma also provides the freshest seafood in the city. Through Buckhead Life’s own boutique seafood company, we source directly from the fishermen and guarantee an 18- to 48-hour timeline of sea-to-table.

Next time you are in Atlanta, we hope you will consider Kyma. You won’t regret it.


INTERVIEW: Best Chef Chad Clevenger, Alma Cocina, Atlanta, GA

Best Chef Chad Clevenger is a very versatile chef. He has cooked all types of cuisines, been a personal chef for celebrities in France, a chef and owner of a fine dining restaurant, a chef and owner of a food cart and a consultant. He also cooks a cuisine that is not looked at as high end but has created a new way of thinking about Mexican cuisine.

Where and how did you develop your love of Mexican and Latin cuisine? 

I attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Texas. There is a lot of Tex-Mex in Austin and many southwestern restaurants. The food at one restaurant, Z’Tejas—something grabbed me—I liked all the flavor combinations. Out of culinary school, I went to Coyote Café in Santa Fe. I was hired as a sous chef and cooked southwestern food. I worked my way up over a few years time and became the executive chef at the age of 26. I started to love the cuisine and the culture. Ever since, I have been cooking Mexican full time or as a hobby at home.

What did you enjoy the most about staging in the Michelin-starred restaurants Saint Paul at Hotel le Saint Paul and Jacques Maximin?

At 26 years old, I was offered a position to be private chef in France for 6 months. I lived with Leslie Bricusse, a famous lyricist and composer. While Leslie would travel, I would stage at Michelin-starred restaurants. I enjoyed seeing some of the different techniques that the chefs are using, whether it was haute food or pastries. In France they have quite a few ingredients that we can’t always get here in the States. They are just more readily available to them: little courgette squashes, different types of whole fish and local ingredients.

What did you enjoy the most about working as a private chef? 

I went to three different villages for shopping: Cagnes-sur-Mer, Vence, Nice. I got up and cooked whatever I felt like cooking and every single meal I cooked something different. I chose whatever looked good at the market. I would go to these little towns and visit a cheese monger, who has been doing it his whole life. I would go to the butcher and have them break down the meat, truss it for you… pretty neat experience.

You’ve worked in European kitchens as well as kitchens in the United States. What are the biggest differences between the two?

French kitchens are a touch more organized—cooks are in the mode, heads-down, working. In American kitchens, cooks talk and cut-up while they’re working and sometimes play music. French kitchens are more strict… more serious in their approach.

Tell me a little about your food cart in Denver.

I opened a food cart named “The Porker” and it was anything and everything pork. “Street Food at its Swinest” was my motto and it was named “Best Street Food in Denver.” I was nominated for Street Food Chef of the Year in Denver and a couple of the dishes won awards.

You cook contemporary Mexican cuisine at Alma Cocina (July ’11-Present) in Atlanta. Define what contemporary Mexican cuisine is.

Technique and ingredients; elevating the dish with either the technique that is involved, or using local, authentic and made-in-house ingredients. I’ll take something that’s very traditional in Mexico and put a spin on it just by using a nicer cut of meat or a modern technique. For example, sous-viding a piece of octopus, charring it on the grill and having Octopus Al Pastor.

Best Chef

What cuisines and who in your life have influenced and inspired your cooking style and menu?

My menu and cooking style have a French influence and technique from studying at Le Cordon Bleu and also growing up in the south and now being back in the south. Influences such as, “collard greens stewed with white Peruvian beans.” I owe a lot to the women in my life: my mother, grandmothers, sister-in-law and especially Mama Jewel for showing me how to cook and enjoy good southern food. The restaurant in Texas that kind of made me want to pursue Southwestern/Mexican was Jack Gilmore’s Z ‘Tejas. Jack’s son is now a great chef himself, Best Chef Bryce Gilmore.

What would you say is the most incorrect assumption about Mexican cuisine? What do you want people to know about Mexican cuisine? 

Think about Mexican food as you would your favorite French and Italian; they’re allowed to do new things.

Who are other chefs cooking authentic Mexican cuisine that you admire and respect?

Rene Ortiz, Rick Bayless, Alex Stupak, Mark Miller, Hugo Ortega, Brad Borchardt (my consulting chef now).

BCA award: what does it mean to you?

It means a lot to me to have my peers think of me and nominate me for such an award. I feel special knowing I’m one of the Best Chefs in America. I worked hard for it as well as all of the other chefs featured. It’s truly an honor.


Road Trip: The Best Chefs of Rabun County, Georgia

Rabun County, Georgia packs a punch. Team BCA recently found that out on an excursion to the Northeast Georgia mountains. This region has three beautiful lakes, two excellent wineries, and six Best Chefs. Below, is a photo essay of our trip:

Rabun County GA

The mountains of Northeast Georgia near Mountain City


Left to right: The Beechwood Inn; BCA decal; Breakfast with Best Chefs David & Gayle Darugh


Tiger Mountain Vineyards, Tiger, GA


Martha Ezzard, co-owner of Tiger Mountain Vineyards, inside the tasting room


The Red Barn Café


Clockwise from top left: Chuck Mashburn of Mill Gap Farm in Tiger; Squash blossoms; Corn rows; Blackberries; BCA Creative Director, Richie Swann holding a parsley-leafed turnip; Dragon’s tongue (Pride of the Piedmont)


Stonewall Creek Vineyards, Tiger, GA


Best Chef Ryan Spruhan’s plaque displayed at the Lake Rabun Hotel & Restaurant


Left to right: Fortify Kitchen & Bar; Smoked Gouda “pimento cheese” stuffed Springer Mountain Farm airline chicken breast, cremini mushroom-sherry sauce, Anson Mills farro risotto with spinach; Flourless chocolate cake


The lobby at White Birch Inn, Clayton, GA


Left to right: The main entrance to Laurel Bar and White Birch Inn; BCA VP of Sales, Brittany Beran with Chef Ben Findley; The Breakfast Room at Laurel Bar


Left to right: Prosciutto, blackberry, apricot & brie pizza on Naan bread with basil, goat cheese and balsamic honey vinaigrette, side of succotash salade; Terrapin Beer Co.’s Golden Ale; The South Carolina-Georgia state line (Chattooga River)


Left and right: Richie with his root beer float at Annie’s Market and Deli in Lakemont; Brittany in a field of flowers at the Dillard House in Dillard


Tallulah Gorge State Park



Sourcing Locally in Unusual Ways

Best Chef Robert Phalen visits Charleston

By Colin Riddle


Chef Robert Phalen (middle) with BCA staffers in Charleston, S.C.

While dining at local favorites McCrady’s, Edmund’s Oast, Leon’s, and Two Boroughs Larder among others, Atlanta’s One Eared Stag chef and partner Robert Phalen dropped by BCA headquarters for a quick hello and photo op.

Phalen enjoys vacationing to the Holy City since completing his externship as a pastry chef at Johnson & Wales in Charleston. The Chicago native and Ole Miss grad took his first job working with Chef Shaun Doty at Guenter Seeger’s Mumbo Jumbo in the pastry department under Pastry Chef Edouard Fenoil. Four years later, Phalen took the executive chef position at Alon Baslshon’s namesake Alon’s before moving onto MidCity Cuisine in Atlanta.

In Febraury 2008, Phalen and his business partners opened Holy Taco, a taqueria in east Atlanta specializing in unique flavor combinations with the offcuts of meat. Mexican foie gras is a prime example on one of the weekly menus. “People took after it,” says Phalen.

In the Spring of 2011, it was time for a change in direction for Phalen. One Eared Stag was created in Inman Park on the east side of Atlanta, serving what can be called New American cuisine although Phalen is certainly not confined to one genre of food. The quaint area offers endless possibilities for the chef and the restaurant. Inman Park is what Phalen describes as a “lazy little neighborhood,” which has in turn made One Eared Stag a destination restaurant surrounded by Antebellum homes and neighborhood parks.


Additional excitement exists outside the restaurant. The area offers great places for foraging, where Phalen gets his hands on wild strawberry, honey suckle, wild spruce, and much more. One state over outside of Birmingham, Ala., sits their two farms totaling 600 acres. Thirty acres are dedicated to crops. Pecans, corn, truffles, and various berries and vegetables are grown here. The additional property serves as the hunting ground for wild boar, deer, dove and pheasant.

Sourcing his own food and communicating first person with local farmers has always been an important aspect of Phalen’s business. The fundamental being rooted from growing up around his grandmother’s farm in Arkansas. “I like to know really where everything’s coming from,” says Phalen. Their next addition might be setting up an aquaponics system on the back patio of the restaurant.

These types of innovation, experiment and acceptance have lead Atlanta in becoming a bustling food town that’s not afraid of the unusual. Phalen says he believes the dining scene in Atlanta is becoming more welcoming to young chefs as well. “Young chefs are getting their chance, which is nice,” says Phalen.

Check out samples of Best Chef Robert Phalen’s menus on the One Eared Stag website. Follow the chef on Twitter @RobertPhalen and Instagram robertphalen.


Fast Facts on America’s Birthday

Plenty of U.S. holidays see an influx in the volume of food and libations consumed, but nothing puts it on display better than the celebration of this great nation’s birth. From the all-night slow roast to Uncle Sam’s signature top hat, this year’s Fourth of July celebration is sure to see some unique spins on America’s favorite backyard snacks.  Here are a few Independence Day Food Facts to gnaw on this weekend.


Photo by Emily Chaplin

62.9 million

Total estimated number of hogs and pigs as of March 1, 2014. Chances are that the pork hot dogs and sausages consumed on the Fourth of July originated in Iowa. The Hawkeye State was home to an estimated 19.8 million hogs and pigs. North Carolina (estimated at 8.0 million) and Minnesota (estimated at 7.8 million) were also homes to large numbers of pigs. (USDA)


The number of paid employees (for the pay period including March 12) who worked in a poultry-processing establishment in the U.S. in 2012. There were 517 such establishments — California (45) had the most. Georgia has the most establishments with greater than 1,000 employees (13), followed by Arkansas (11) and North Carolina (8). (U.S. Census)

6.1 billion pounds

Total estimated production of cattle and calves in Texas in 2013. There is a good chance that the beef hot dogs, steaks and burgers on your backyard grill came from the Lone Star State, which accounted for nearly one-sixth of the nation’s total production. And if the beef did not come from Texas, it very well may have come from Nebraska (estimated at 5.1 billion pounds) or Kansas (estimated at 3.7 billion pounds). (USDA)

155 million

Americans eat some 20 billion hot dogs per year, and 155 million of them are consumed on July 4th alone, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. That’s enough average-sized franks to stretch from L.A. to D.C. five times, with some left over. (TIME Magazine)

$190 billion

The Nielson Company reported that 24 million cases of beer were sold during the holiday period in 2008 (the most recent date for a report of this size and scale), helping generate $190 billion dollars for the U.S. economy. (TIME Magazine)

**These figures may be subject to sampling variability and other sources of error.