New to Southern Art is executive chef Timothy Magee, who comes to the restaurant after working for Concentrics, Fifth Group, and Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. He came to Atlanta by way of Florida, a state he left because he wanted to be somewhere with "more deliberate seasons"— something that's greatly reflected in his cooking. Magee didn't decide to become a chef until after college, but about starting culinary school, he says, "I still remember to this day what it smelled like and what it sounded like when I walked into Johnson & Wales. It really just kind of clicked into place for me that this is who I am and this is what I should be doing." Below, the chef talks about how he got to Southern Art and what his plans for the restaurant are.
What's your background?
I went to college at Florida State and then from there I went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Charleston. I worked at Magnolia's and Pusser's Landing, and it really just sparked my interested in the whole farm to table thing. Now it's really hot, but back then it's just how they did it. They didn't use it as a tagline or anything like that, it was just the day to day operation. Then I came to Atlanta and worked at Buckhead Diner and then South City Kitchen. I spent about five years at [Fifth Group Restaurants] and then I went to work for Bob Amick [of Concentrics]. That was really cool, working for him, because you really got involved with the whole process of working with a restaurant. You were kind of given the freedoms to operate as an owner, and you got exposure to the way he does things— the way he approaches opening a restaurant is like nothing I've ever seen. He's really attention-to-detail-oriented and focused on the little details which he feels really contribute to the big picture. It was a great experience.
How did you come to Southern Art?
I had heard that they were kind of looking for a chef, and a friend of mine [Arianne Fielder] was the head mixologist at the time so I texted her and asked what they situation was. She said they were looking, so I sent in my resume and I met with the general manager and the chef of the hotel, I did an interview and a tasting, and then I did another tasting for Chef Art himself, which was really cool, and then they made me an offer the next day. So it all worked out.
The restaurant has a made a lot of changes lately. There's a new mixologist and you, the new executive chef. What can we expect to see moving forward?
We're going to change the lunch and dinner menus in the restaurant, make them a little more finessed and seasonal and change them a little more frequently. We're going to focus on the ham bar that we have in the spring. We'll do signature sandwiches using those products that people can "grab and go," either to sit and enjoy on our patio or to take back to their offices. We'll also changing one of our upstairs walk-ins into a curing room. My hope is that by spring, all of our charcuterie will be made in house. I want to start making some cheese for the restaurant too and really just getting back to that Southern way of life, making things as local and fresh as possible and really working with the seasons. We're going to cook with really sustainable ingredients and
Where did you learn how to cure meats and make cheese?
I had a little bit of exposure to it in culinary school, but a lot of my interest was piqued by seeing it being done somewhere. When I was in a chef at La Tavola in Virginia-Highland, that's when I got my first taste of, "Gosh, why can't we make our own mozzarella?" From there, the more I learned, the more I wanted to know, whether it's curing meats or making pickles. My great-grandmother had a garden and three seasons a year she was canning vegetables and making pickles and jellies. It sounds hokey, but that was really my first taste of it: spending time with her pulling stuff out of the garden or digging, watching her can vegetables.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
Just to be looking out. The first week of February, we'll have a new menu. We have an herb garden on site at the restaurant and we'll be making good use of it when the weather gets better and we're going to be a lot of things with the ham bar this spring and summer. It's an exciting time at Southern Art, and I would encourage people to come and check us out again if they haven't been in awhile or haven't been at all, because things are going to evolve and it's going to be great.
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Timothy Magee. [Photo: Our Labor of Love for the Reynolds Group]