Matt Bell, South on Main, Little Rock, AR

A naturalized Southerner, CHEF MATTHEW BELL happily calls North Little Rock, Arkansas home. Since moving to the South in 2005, Bell has fallen in love with the heritage of southern food. Bell served upscale southern fare for five years at Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel under the direction of Chef Cassidee Dabney of Blackberry Farm before leaving to open his debut establishment, South on Main, in 2013.

Since opening almost three years ago, South on Main has received numerous accolades from local and national news outlets, including Business Insider, which named it the best restaurant in Arkansas. In 2015, Chef Matthew Bell was invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York

Chef Matthew Bell is passionate about fighting hunger. Both he and the restaurant staff have been very supportive of both the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance & Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

Bill Smith, Crooks Corner, Chapel Hill, NC

CHEF BILL SMITH is as well known for his sumptuous take on Southern comfort food as he is for his exceptional food writing—including the New York Times Notable and Food & Wine Best-of-the-Best cookbook Seasoned in the South and the bestselling Savor the South title, Crabs & OystersBill Smith is the only James Beard Foundation “America’s Classic Restaurant” chef to have also been named a final-five finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast—and twice. Bill Smith stands out for creating dishes that often become iconic dishes, first served at the Chapel Hill, NC, restaurant Crook's Corner. Among the classics: Green Peach Salad (featured in the New York Times), Tomato & Watermelon Salad (featured on the cover of Southern Living), Cheesepork! (the southern schnitzel) and of course his many desserts, including Honeysuckle Sorbet and Atlantic Beach Pie (dubbed by NPR the “Oh, My God Pie”). Also Jerusalem Artichoke Relish, Bourbon Brown Sauce and possibly the tastiest Soft Shell Crabs, Corned Hams, Fried Oyster and Banana Pudding renditions—anywhere. 

Recognized by Chefs Collaborative as a finalist for an award given to chefs who are leaders in incorporating local foods into their menus, Bill Smith has long worked with farmers and also homestead gardeners and foraged himself for ingredients that gather season by season on the Crook’s Corner menu. A foremost chef-expert in Southern foodways, he has served now for years on the board for the Southern Foodways Alliance.


Cynthia Wong, Butcher & Bee Charleston & Nashville

A Mobile, Alabama native, CHEF CYNTHIA WONG began her career as the baker at Reed Heron's Restaurant Lulu in San Francisco in the early 90s. From there, she continued her education with formal culinary training at École Lenôtre in Plaisir, France, earning the Grande Diplôme de la Cuisine Française. In 2008, she opened Cakes & Ale with Billy Allin as its sous-chef/pastry chef, where she creating her signature style of desserts. In 2011, Cynthia joined Chefs Hugh Acheson & Ryan Smith at Empire State South as Executive Pastry Chef. After a two-year stint in London, she became Executive Pastry Chef of John Fleer’s Rhubarb in Asheville, North Carolina, developing and opening their adjoining bakery and cafe, The Rhu. In 2016, Cynthia joined Michael Shemtov and the team at Butcher & Bee as Executive Pastry Chef and Bakery Manager. Cynthia is a 2011, 2012 and 2016 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Pastry Chef Award nominee. She and her recipes have been featured in Garden & Gun, Food and Wine, and Bon Appetit. Cynthia lives in Charleston with her husband, two boys, and Blue Heeler. When she's not baking, she likes to garden and shoot skeet.

Cole Ellis, Delta Meat Market, Cleveland, MS

Born and raised in Cleveland, CHEF COLE ELLIS has spent the past thirteen years honing his skills as a chef in Charleston, SC and Nashville, TN. He and his wife recently moved back home to the Delta after they missed the great people, the close-knit communities, and the appetite Deltans have for good food.

For Cole, cooking is more than a job and a paycheck. He chose the culinary arts because he enjoys the atmosphere of a restaurant. Growing up, dinnertime was always his favorite time of the day, when the whole family would come together. This is why he dedicated his life to finding the best ingredients and preparing the most delicious meals.

Cole came to the Delta because he saw an opening where he could cater to this same desire. His goal is to offer customers the freshest selections of meats and vegetables.

Asha Gomez, Spice to Table, Atlanta, GA

CHEF ASHA GOMEZ launched Cardamom Hill Restaurant in January 2012 in Atlanta. An instant success, the restaurant received praising reviews, Cardamom Hill was named one of Bon Appetit’s 2012’s 50 Best New Restaurants, was on the 2013 James Beard Semi-Finalist List of 20 Best New Restaurants, one of Southern Living’s 5 Best Restaurants in the South. Asha was also named one of the 2013/2014 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef - People’s Choice semi-finalists. The acclaim universally acknowledged Asha’s pioneering spirit for opening a finer dining venture that focuses on one region of India, a rarity in the U.S.

Her Kerala fried chicken, Cardamom Hill’s signature, was voted by Fox Television Network as one of the ten best fried chicken dishes in the country and has received numerous national and international acclaim. She has also been showcased in feature stories in the Wall Street Journal, Conde-Nast Traveler, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and numerous other national publications. and her recipes have appeared in issues of Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Country Living, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and numerous other publications.

Asha opened a new culinary event studio called “The Third Space” in the summer of 2013. In August 2014, she opened Spice to Table, a fast-casual Indian pattiserie that has already garnered national and local acclaim including Zagat's 12 hottest Brunch places in the US. In February 2015, Spice To Table was selected by Alan Richman as #16 in GQ Magazine's yearly “25 best new restaurants in America award”. Currently, she is working on her first cookbook : “My Two Souths,” with Running Press (Perseus Books) slated to launch fall 2016. In her spare time she is passionate about her advocacy work as a CARE Global Ambassador as well as raising her 10 year-old son Ethan.

Nick Hertel, Merchants, Nashville, TN

CHEF NICK HERTEL's culinary career has taken him from some of the finest establishments in the west, down south to Nashville where he now serves as Executive Chef of the 2nd floor dining room at Strategic Hospitality’s historic Merchants Restaurant.

Hertel’s culinary career began at the young age of 14-years-old, when he began working in his first kitchen, dishwashing and assisting with meal preparation at a Christian retreat center in Portland, OR. Hertel worked in various kitchens throughout high school and college in Portland before traveling Europe, gaining experience and elevating his passion in kitchens throughout Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.

In 2005, Hertel moved to Scottsdale, Arizona to attend culinary school at Scottsdale Community College and worked as Chef de Partie at The Phoenician Resort, learning classical culinary skills at the Five Star restaurant Mary Elaine’s. Hertel then made his way to Las Vegas in 2008, working under award-winning chef Charlie Trotter as part of the opening for Restaurant Charlie in the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas before following Chef Trotters to Chicago. Eager to learn the art of craft brewing, Hertel joined the team at Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, where he also served as Sous Chef for the brewery’s kitchen. In 2011 he left the brewery for Barrelhouse Flat, where he held the position of Executive Chef, using local and seasonal products to pair with the comprehensive beverage program at the restaurant.

In 2012, Hertel made his way back to Scottsdale and became the Chef de Cuisine at the Boulders, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Carefree, Arizona. Wanderlust hit again when Hertel took an 18-month trip to Southeast Asia and South America in 2014, when he was once more able to develop his culinary style and broaden his use of flavors and spices.

2016 brought Hertel to Merchants restaurant in Nashville, where he continues to work closely with farmers to provide local and seasonal products in a refined environment.