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Pick Cook Keep Chef Biographies

Chef Virginia Willis

Southern chef, cookbook author, award-winning food writer, and blogger Virginia Willis is one of the most popular and respected voices on Southern food and cooking. She is the author of Bon Appétit, Y'all; Basic to Brilliant, Y'all; Okra; and Grits. Her latest work, Lighten Up, Y'all celebrates the healthy and wholesome side of Southern fare.

Virginia has cooked Lapin Normandie with Julia Child, prepared lunch for President Clinton, and catered a bowling party for Jane Fonda. She began her culinary career tossing pizzas in college, has since foraged for wild herbs in the Alps, made mustard in Dijon, crushed olives in California, and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother's country kitchen.

She is also a regular blogger for, as well as her own popular blog, that was tagged as a favorite by Saveur magazine. Named by the Chicago Tribune as one of "Seven Food Writers You Need to Know," her fans love her knack for giving classic French dishes a down-home comfort feel and reimagining Southern favorites.

A graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne, her first job in a professional kitchen was as an apprentice for Nathalie Dupree's TV cooking show on PBS. Willis has subsequently worked on over 1000 TV episodes, as Kitchen Director for Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay, as well as Producer of Epicurious on The Discovery Channel and Home Plate for Turner Studios. 

She has been featured in USA Today, Country Living, and House Beautiful as well as Food52 and She is a contributing editor to Southern Living and her writing has been published in Family Fun, Fine Cooking, All Recipes, and Taste of the South. She has appeared on Fox and Friends, Martha Stewart Living Television, Paula Deen's Best Dishes, Thrown Down with Bobby Flay, and on Food Network's Chopped.

Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, and Georgia Grown Executive Chef. She is a past president of the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a member of Georgia Organics, Chef’s Collaborative, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

Marc Taft

Chicken and The Egg Resturant

With extensive experience in the restaurant industry, Chef Marc Taft brings a wealth of knowledge to his restaurant development, consulting and management company, Southern Fried Hospitality Group LLC.

Since opening Chicken and the Egg in August 2011, Taft has received accolades for his sophisticated yet approachable modern farmstead fare. In the 2012/13 Zagat Survey, Chicken and the Egg was recognized as one of the Top Five Best New Restaurants in Atlanta. The restaurant was ranked in the top 100 inJezebel Magazine 100 Best Restaurants list for 2012, 2013 and 2014 and won Best Meat and Three,Best Fried Chicken and Best Bartender in Cobb Lifemagazine Best of Cobb County issue. The Atlantan2012 Restaurant issue called Chicken and the Egg “OTPerfection,” while AirTran’s GO magazine named the restaurant one of five culinary destinations for an upscale meal in Atlanta. Chicken and the Egg has been featured on the television program “Atlanta Eats” and Chef Taft has been featured on every morning news show in Atlanta. In addition, his recipes have been featured in various publications, including the most recent Southern Living Cookbook “Off the Eaten Path – Second Helpings.” He was also named as one of the top chefs in the South East and the United States by Best Chefs America in 2013 and 2014. Chef Taft was named by Governor Nathan Deal as a Georgia Grown Executive Chef, chosen as one of four chefs to represent the State Department of Agriculture as an ambassador for Georgia farmers and crops. Taft serves on the Chef Advisory Board for Georgia Organics and Best Chefs America and is a member of the Georgia Restaurant Association. Taft’s travels have given him experience leading restaurants in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, South Beach, Nashville, Dallas, Houston and Orlando. He has also overseen the opening of 41 new restaurants. In addition to running his own company Taft has been serving as Sr. Director of Openings & Transitions for The ONE Group based in New York. His responsibilities include all project development, concept, budgeting, construction management, critical path management, opening and training for the company’s concepts which include STK, Rebel by STK, Bagatelle, Asellina and the hospitality division overseeing the management of hotel F&B operations for Starwood, ME, Hippodrome and Gansevoort Hotels in the United States and Europe. Taft resides in West Cobb with his wife, Elizabeth. Outside of the kitchen, he enjoys playing golf!

Chef Roberto Leoci

Leoci's Trattoria

Chef Roberto Leoci is the proud chef/owner of Leoci’s Trattoria in Savannah offering back to basics Italian cuisine boasting the freshest  ingredients available from local purveyors, including homemade pastas, brick oven pizzas, enticing entrees and an extensive wine list.  And recently Chef Leoci opened  Pacci Italian Kitchen + Bar in downtown Savannah with Kimpton Hotels.  Chef Roberto Leoci utilizes the purest ingredients and age old techniques to create soulful and sophisticated Italian dishes using food that’s available locally! 

Chef Leoci also used his family recipes and memories, and developed his Leoci’s gourmet bottled products consisting of Pickeled Items, Relish, Jams, Coffee and Gourmet Ketchup.  These items can all be found in 62 Southeast Kroger grocery stores, 7 Southeast Whole Foods and many local shops in Savannah and the surrounding areas.  Additionally, Chef Leoci has partnered with Hunter Cattle Company to extend the Leoci Fine Foods into all natural meats with an All-Natural Salumi Line (USDA approved) that boasts fresh Italian Sausage, Pancetta, Prosciutto’s Guanciale, Lonza and Lamb Sausage.


Chef Jennifer Booker

Chef Jennifer Booker

Your Resident Gourmet

Chef Jennifer Hill Booker is not only a culinary Educator, but a personal chef as well. She is the executive chef and owner of Your Resident Gourmet, LLC, a personal chef and catering company. Your Resident Gourmet LLC specializes in bringing fine dining to its clients in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Chef Booker is the author of the upcoming cookbook “Goin’ Down South: A Chef’s Journey Home”; an ode to her agrarian heritage. Chef Jennifer provides culinary therapy for The Cottages on Mountain Creek, a private stabilization residence for those living with mental illness. She has partnered with Hard Rock Café-Atlanta as their Celebrity Chef of the Hard Rock Café Culinary Series and is a Culinary Expert for Williams-Sonoma.

Chris Hall

Chef Chris Hall

Local Three

Chris is both chef and managing partner at Local Three, which is why he has the least hair of the three partners. A self-taught cook, Chris has worked in kitchens from Philadelphia’s Le Bec Fin to Atlanta’s Canoe and 4th & Swift. His culinary style is completely unrestricted and might often be characterized as simple while at the same time a bit irreverent, and always with respect for tradition and method - however you describe it, the net results illustrate imaginative combinations of ingredients, technique and exceptional flavors.

Chris grew up around the corner from Local Three on Peachtree Battle Avenue and thus really is a local. He now lives in Smyrna with his wife Julie, who you’ll see in the restaurant frequently. An avid Georgia Tech fan, Hall considers home game Saturdays religious ceremonies. You have been warned………

Linton Hopkins

Chef Linton Hopkins

Holeman & Finch Public House

Linton Hopkins is an internationally celebrated chef with deep Atlanta roots. After graduating from Emory University and the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, NY, Hopkins honed his skills at restaurants in New Orleans and Washington, DC. It was in DC that Hopkins met his wife Gina. The pair moved back to Hopkins’ hometown to open Restaurant Eugene on Peachtree Road in 2004 and quickly caught the attention of media and food lovers throughout the country with their unique vision of hospitality and community-driven cuisine.

Hopkins opened Restaurant Eugene’s sister establishments Holeman & Finch Public House and H&F Bread Co. in 2008, followed by a service-focused retail wine and spirits shop, H&F Bottle Shop, in 2011. In 2009, Hopkins was crowned one of Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs, and after several James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef – Southeast, Chef Hopkins took home the prize in 2012. His latest endeavors include 3 H&F Burger outposts in Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, and Eugene Kitchen, a proprietary food and beverage development company that will make available to retailers and foodservice operators many of the from scratch pantry products that have made his restaurants so distinctive.

Hopkins is especially committed to celebrating the rich bounty of Georgia farms through his meticulous and loving house-made preparations of natural meats and fresh, local produce. He helped found the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market, and is a member of Georgia Organics chef’s advisory committee, the Atlanta Local Foods Initiative, and Food & Wine Magazine’s Grow for Good campaign. Hopkins served as the President of the Board of Directors for the Southern Foodways Alliance during 2012 and was awarded the honor of harvesting vegetables at the White House Garden with Michelle Obama, DC School children and the White House Chef to celebrate the First Lady’s Chef’s Move to Schools Initiative. He remains insistent that making mayonnaise from scratch, and teaching others to do the same, can change the world.

Hopkins is also a co-host of Feed Radio, a bi-monthly AM radio show broadcast on Atlanta airwaves and available online for free download. The show is an ongoing conversation of the techniques, personalities and experiences that have helped to shape his career, alongside the music that inspires him. Past guests of the show have included Joe Truex, Paul Calvert and Kevin Young.

chef Ahmad Nourzad

Chef Ahmad Nourzad
Affairs to Remember Caterers

Affairs to Remember Caterers’ Executive Chef, Ahmad Nourzad, is responsible for research and development of new food ideas for the company’s product line, sourcing and purchasing, food preparation logistics planning for off-site events, and training and managing all kitchen staff. Chef Nourzad is a hands-on chef who can sometimes be seen working on the line. His love of the kitchen and cooking began at an early age in Tehran, Iran, where he was born. Chef Nourzad came to Atlanta by way of Vienna, Austria, and Austin, Texas, where he worked in various positions in the food industry. He has 25 years of experience in all aspects of a working kitchen.

His knowledge of global cuisine is eclipsed only by his passion for environmental stewardship. Chef Nourzad was using both sides of paper sheets and recycling long before it was considered ‘cool’. His dedication to sustainability helped propel Affairs into taking initiatives that turn refuse into resources. Any leftover foods are donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank and monthly, 14 tons of materials (the equivalent weight of four Toyota Priuses!) are diverted from landfills through our Legacy Green sustainability program.

Chef Nourzad is responsible for executing some of Georgia’s most exclusive events, including the opening of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s new International Terminal, the Fernbank Timeless Signature Benefit Gala, and the Buckhead Business Association’s Annual Luncheon and many others.

chef david snyder

Chef David Snyder

Halyards Restaurant

For 28 years, Chef David Snyder has worked in the restaurant industry. After working in kitchens throughout high school and college, he attended and graduated from the New England Culinary Institute before working in New York City under talented chefs for five years. After working as an executive chef in Atlanta, he moved to St. Simons as the executive chef of J Mac's for 4 years. Halyards opened in 2000 and Tramici opened in 2007.

Through the Halyard Restaurant Group, Chef Snyder buys, sells, and promotes Georgia Grown products in their restaurants and with their guests. He showcase local oils, cheeses, vegetables, and seafood on television shows, websites, and on their menus. He also passionately promotes Georgia Seafood by meeting with U.S. Senators and the South Atlantic Fishermen's Association about national fishing regulations.

He is the Co-Chair for the College of Coastal Georgia’s Culinary/Hospitality Advisory Committee, serves on the Committee of the Wild Georgia Shrimp and Grits Festival, won a silver medal at the ACF Chefs of the Low Country/US Foods Food Show, 2008, category F3, is an active member of the American Culinary Federation, won First Place and a Gold Medal at the ACF Winterfest Competition in St. Augustine Florida in January 2007 in the Signature dish category, and cooked at the James Beard House in New York City in March of 2006 with the Historic Hotels of America.

Chef Hilary White
The Hil at Serenbe

Farm to table is more than just a catch phrase for Executive Chef Hilary White of The Hil at Serenbe. She lives that ethos daily, having specially selected her restaurant’s location for the proximity to the farm at Serenbe and the community’s collective commitment to sustainability.

Chef Hilary grew up in rural Shelby, Ohio, near expansive farms with an abundance of fresh produce and wholesome ingredients, which has greatly influenced her ideas about the dishes she creates. After traveling extensively throughout the United States, Caribbean, Central and South America — via land and in working with a cruise-line — she was drawn to the creativity and artistry of being a chef. Pursuing only the best, she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 1995.

Hilary began her culinary career at Atlanta’s prestigious Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, in the popular and elegant 103 West restaurant. During her 13 years there, she became the company’s first female executive chef. She opened her namesake restaurant, The Hil, in 2007, with her husband, Jim, and her mother, Sandy Pitsch, at her side. She is part of a unique partnership with Serenbe Farm, spending time tending the farm and growing produce, which serves to further her connection to the Earth and to her community.

Chef Hilary’s talent has been widely recognized, having garnered attention in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Garden & Gun, The New York Times, Atlanta Magazine, Creative Loafing and many others. She is an active member of the internationally respected Les Dames d’Escoffier, Southern Foodways Alliance and Georgia Grown. She also lends her time supporting important non-profits such as Share Our Strength and Wholesome Wave. Chef Hilary loves mentoring younger chefs, so she participates in the Culinary Institute of America’s extern leadership program, providing an educational environment in her kitchen.

In her spare time, she likes nothing better than to spend the day with her husband, exploring the open roads of Georgia (and beyond) on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle.