Big cities with their thriving theater, arts and culinary scenes were long considered the only locales for fine dining. While many highly trained chefs still flock to the bustle and glamour of cities, others are returning to their roots, to the memories of cooking with grandmothers and growing their own foods in rural settings.
As some accomplished and celebrity chefs are seeking a slower pace or moving closer to family, fine dining options are opening in seemingly far-flung towns. The chefs say working in small communities reminds them of a slower-paced off-season in cities. Here are a few examples of established chefs who are finding professional and personal success in smaller towns:
1. Sanford D'Amato
James Beard Award-winning chef Sanford "Sandy" and his wife, Angie D’Amato, were seeking country living and a slower pace when they moved to rural Hatfield, Mass., from downtown Milwaukee, Wisc., in 2014 to open Good Stock Farm cooking school. Sandy, who worked in various New York City restaurants before opening his highly acclaimed Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee, has won numerous awards, appeared on several TV shows, and was among a handful of chefs who were personally chosen by Julia Child to cook for her 80th birthday celebration.
“As a chef, this rural setting is a playground,” D’Amato says. “You can find whatever you need – produce, dairy, meat – right here. I love to be able to cook with vegetables I grow in my own garden, and I drive down the road and find the most beautiful strawberries and kohlrabi. My classes are a way to encourage people to use all these great, locally grown foods.”
2. Mario Batali
Batali worked in Europe and New York City to develop his cooking philosophy: “Use the best local ingredients as simply as possible and serve them with flourish and joy.” The award-winning chef is owner of multiple restaurants around the globe and co-host of The Chew on ABC television. In the summertime, Batali leaves the cities behind for Michigan’s quiet Leelanau Peninsula, where he lives in a renovated 1920s fish camp on Lake Michigan and says he enjoys taking in the local food and wine scene. Batali says farmers are the "rock stars of the food world," and these rural northern Michigan chefs celebrate what is grown locally.
3. Wesley Genovart
Originally from Spain, Genovart was a popular chef in New York City’s restaurant scene before he and his wife, Chloe, left their urban lifestyle to return to her roots in the quiet hills of Vermont, where they are raising a young son. The couple opened SoLo Farm & Table in South Londonderry, Vt., and the restaurant, though off the beaten path, has quickly received accolades among foodies from near and far.
4. John Sharpe
As chef/owner of a string of restaurants in trendy California towns, Sharpe wore an earpiece to prepare for hectic shifts. He began to yearn for a slower-paced life outside southern California, and moved to Winslow, Ariz., with his wife, Patricia, to open The Turquoise Room Restaurant in the historic La Posada hotel. In this northern Arizona town, Sharpe is a big fish in a small pond, and he has continued to receive industry accolades, even as he serves a combination of tourists, foodies, RV travelers, local ranchers and railroad workers.
5. Andy Blanton
After cooking in some of the finest restaurants in New Orleans, Blanton left the bayou behind when he moved to Whitefish, Mont., for a change of scenery and pace. He has garnering numerous accolades and is now chef/owner of Café Kandahar, which specializes in the pairing of wine and foods that are classified as “modern American” with roots in French and the Creole cooking on which he was raised.
6. Hugh Acheson
Outside Athens, Ga., Acheson is known as a competitor on Bravo channel’s Top Chef Masters, a judge on Top Chef, a James Beard winner of Best Chef: Southeast, and as the author of an award-winning cookbook. In Athens, where he lives with his wife and two children, Acheson is simply known by locals as the chef/partner of Five & Ten and The National restaurants.
7. Joshua Dalton
Dalton developed a love of food while growing up in the south. While this James Beard Guest Celebrity Chef travels to big cities to gather ideas, he brings them all back to tiny Delaware, Ohio where he is chef/owner of Veritas Tavern. The restaurant has been described as “the height of haute cuisine” since its opening in 2012.
Love reading about small towns? Have a look at our picks for the best small towns in the USA.