6 Top Chefs at Hotel Restaurants Answer, “What is Southern Food?”

What is Southern cuisine? Is it BBQ? Southern Fried?

If so, how does Cajun, Creole, and low country fare fit in? And what about the Appalachian Mountains? Don’t they have their own style of cooking altogether? The true answer is, it’s complicated. Southern cuisine is as diverse as the people and topography that make up the South.

From the highest peaks of the North Carolina mountains to the wettest marshes of the South Carolina coast, each pocket of the South has its own style of cooking. Heck, even within states – take Louisiana for example – the cuisine is vastly different from town to town.

To take on the impossible task of defining Southern cuisine, I asked six top hotel chefs to dish up what Southern fare looks like in their pocket of the South.

Chef Marcus Day


How would you definite Appalachian cuisine?

What exemplifies Appalachian cuisine to me is the use of products indigenous to the area in a method that reflects the people’s culture and lifestyle that live in the mountains, while also borrowing from Southern Cuisine. Western North Carolina offers a more laid-back lifestyle that prides itself on the riches of the outdoors and lends itself back to a more traditional way of providing for oneself through raising livestock and gardening.

What dish at Vue 1913 most epitomizes Appalachian cuisine?

Our Millbrook venison entree speaks to Appalachian cuisine with its smoked pecan spoonbread and chicory gastrique. Venison is representative of people living off the land and providing for themselves. Spoonbread harkens back to the early settlers’ heavy use of ground corn products and simple way of preparing a savory corn pudding. Chicory is a product, starting in the Civil War, used to stretch coffee and became a mainstay throughout the larger South.

Why should foodies visit Asheville?

I think that Asheville has a wonderful food scene that’s continuously growing and evolving. One thing that foodies will enjoy about dining in Asheville is that most of our restaurants are dedicated to sourcing as much locally grown or raised, high-quality product as possible. Our culinarians here are very passionate about what they do and what they serve.

What’s a local dish out towners won’t be able to get elsewhere?

We love to focus on what’s in season in our own backyard. We can enjoy local ingredients all year round. My personal favorites to share with our guests in the spring are wild ramps and fried potatoes or in the fall a beautiful local apple stack cake, which is comprised of layers of sweet quick bread with heavily spiced applesauce accenting each layer.

What’s the best thing you ate recently?

To tell you the truth, that would have to be a smoked andouille and local rabbit gumbo made in my own kitchen at my house!

The Omni Grove Park Inn - Asheville

9.0 Excellent (2488 reviews)

Chef Chris Coleman


How would you define modern Southern cuisine?

I would call Stoke “modern Southern,” but I feel even that moniker is a bit broad. Stoke takes ingredients from regional farms and applies classic technique and a modern sense of time and place.

What dish at Stoke most epitomizes modern Southern cuisine?

One seasonal dish we love and that speaks to modern Southern cuisine is our heritage breed pork chop with chestnut purée, roasted cabbage, and apple mostarda. The pork, cabbage, and apples all come from our friends at Harmony Ridge Farms and are classic flavor combinations. The sweet, mustard twang of the mostarda brings out the best in the grilled chop and wood-roasted cabbage, and the creamy chestnut purée pulls it all together.

Why should foodies visit Charlotte?

Charlotte is a growing-up food city; we’ve seen an explosion of great restaurants, bars, and breweries in the last 5 years or so. We have an abundance of farms producing the best produce, artisan cheeses, and dairy products, and raising amazing proteins in Mecklenburg and the surrounding counties. We are a transplant city, and the communities moving to Charlotte are bringing vibrant food cultures that are blending with local traditions. We are a food city that’s just under the radar, and, as a community, we’re all gunning for the national spotlight, so you’re getting our best effort every time.

What’s a local dish out towners won’t be able to get elsewhere?

There are a few spots around town doing livermush, which is a Piedmont delicacy. Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored soda that is only available in the Carolinas and has been produced and bottled in Salisbury (about an hour from Charlotte) for 100 years. And NoDa Brewing’s Hop, Drop & Roll won a Gold medal at the World Beer Cup a few years ago.

What’s the best thing you ate recently?

A simple bowl of heirloom guinea flint grits from Geechie Boy Mill.

Charlotte Marriott City Center

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2167 reviews)

Chef Lyle Broussard

How would you define Cajun cuisine?

To me, Cajun cuisine is inspired by the area where we live and the culture that surrounds us here. Most of the recipes haven’t changed for hundreds of years and are still amazing. At their heart, these authentic dishes revolve around family gatherings and take hours to prepare – good time spent socializing with loved ones and friends at informal gatherings.

What dish at Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill most epitomizes Cajun cuisine?

Grilled redfish on the half shell. This dish reminds me of a typical fishing trip. Not much is done to the fish itself, it’s just a filet with the skin and scales still on then topped with Louisiana blue crabmeat. We put this dish on the menu in late 2017, and it was an immediate hit. We rolled out a new menu in early 2018, but this guest-favorite remained.

Why should foodies visit Lake Charles?

Because we have the unique and perfect mixture of Cajun and Creole cultures with a little bit of East Texas influence. Right now, we are in the middle of what I would call a food renaissance; local chefs (myself included) have stepped their game up. New restaurants are popping up everywhere but focused on the foods we grew up with. We’re sticking to our roots but slightly modernizing those flavors into something familiar yet innovative at the same time.

What’s a local dish out towners won’t be able to get elsewhere?

Sauce Piquant. You’ll see it prepared with anything from seafood to wild game to alligator or chicken and sausage. Tomato is the base with a dark roux. My brothers and I usually get together several times a year and cook a huge pot for the family. Every local has their own variation on this regional favorite.

What’s the best thing you ate recently?

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with beef from a local beef farm – JVS Cattle Co in Sulphur. We cooked up some of their huge short ribs, and they were amazing. Also, last week my local seafood vendor brought us some fresh alligator ribs to smoke. They were mouthwatering. We are fortunate to have a wide variety of unique proteins to work with.

L’Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles

Lake Charles
8.0 Very good (4226 reviews)

Chef John Folse


How would you define Creole cuisine?

Numerous cultures arrived in America fleeing famine, war, and homeland hostilities. These included nations like France, Nova Scotia, Spain, Africa, England, Germany, and Italy. These cultures and many others joined the Native Americans, who were already well established here in Louisiana. They intermarried, and the word used to describe this was “Creole.” Eventually, it was used to describe everything in Louisiana from vegetables to furniture to even the state itself, which became known as the “Creole State.” Simply stated, Creole is an aristocratic “melting pot cuisine” that developed in New Orleans.

What dish at Restaurant R’evolution most epitomizes Creole cuisine?

My turtle soup. And the reason being, turtle soup was brought to America at the hand of the English sailors. They made a clear broth soup using the meat of sea turtle. When it arrived in New Orleans, the French, preferring a rich, thickened soup, added their famous dark brown roux and trinity (onions, bell peppers, celery [plus garlic]). The French created a rich stock by boiling the turtle meat on the bone, and then they pulled the tenderized meat off the bone. This luscious stock gave the soup an entirely different look and certainly a more robust flavor. At that time, the city came to realize that the combination of flavors, techniques, and ingredients supplied by the different nations into a single pot would create a dish unique to the city of New Orleans.

Why should foodies visit New Orleans?

New Orleans is a food center like no other. With the founding of New Orleans in 1699 by La Salle and the city being built by Bienville in 1720, an influx of seven nations eventually arrived. The French arrived to set up the flag of La Nouvelle-Orléans. The Germans arrived as the workers who saved the city of New Orleans from starvation. The Spanish arrived with the spices and different culinary techniques. The English, who came with the War of Independence, brought the herb gardens and the desire for pastime. Lastly, the Italians came after the reunification movement failure in Italy. Families of cooks arrived, and many of these Italians had incredible pastry talents. Nowhere else in the world did seven distinct nations come together and intermarry. This created a melting pot cuisine that did not exist anywhere in the world. To come to New Orleans to search out this cuisine is what makes us so different.

What’s a local dish out of towners won’t be able to get elsewhere?

There are certain dishes in New Orleans that you must experience because they are unique to our city. One of those being gumbo, the wonderful soup that gets its name from the African word for okra. Gumbo has different versions from wild game to seafood to shellfish to domestic meats. Gumbo is usually thought of as a soup; however, in some areas, it’s a stew. It’s always served over rice and definitely a “stick to your ribs” dish. At the same time, our wild game dishes like duck, rabbit, wild goose, and mélange of seafood available in the Gulf of Mexico are wonderful as well.

What’s the best thing you ate recently?

One of the early dishes that came to New Orleans from the Spanish was salt-baked fish. The Gulf of Mexico has so many large-bodied fish, like redfish and red snapper. Fish of this type are easily scaled and put into a pan covered with salt. Then, the fish is baked under this salt crust for a couple hours. After, it’s removed and placed in the center of a communal table with friends and a good glass of wine or dark beer. A small hammer removes the salt crust, revealing the luscious, sweet, and moist fish. This is typical of many dishes that we love as Creoles, Cajuns, and Southerners. Dishes like these bring people together like crawfish boils oftentimes do. We love to join our friends around the table. That is what is so unique to our culture.

The Royal Sonesta New Orleans

Top rated
New Orleans
8.6 Excellent (6261 reviews)

Chef Derek Brooks


How would you define Southern roots cuisine?

To me, it’s sourcing fresh local ingredients, which I have access to at our restaurant owned Double H Farms, from our Red Poll cattle to our garden at Glen Leven for produce. Southern cuisine is all about keeping food traditions alive and being able to pass them to the next generation.

What dish at Capitol Grille most epitomizes Southern roots cuisine?

Our onion bisque, as it’s our signature soup since the hotel opened in 1910. Simple but elegantly refined.

Why should foodies visit Nashville?

Foodies should visit Nashville because we are pushing collectively the edge of southern cuisine by introducing different flavors and new techniques, but still keeping southern traditions alive and well.

What’s a local dish out towners won’t be able to get elsewhere?

Nashville Hot Chicken done right. Crispy skin, juicy chicken, just the right spice, and some great bread and butter pickles.

What’s the best thing you ate recently?

I love our Double H Farms Burger with our burger sauce.

The Hermitage Hotel

Top rated
9.6 Excellent (1355 reviews)

Chef Michelle Weaver

How would you define low country cuisine?

Lowcountry cuisine is a hodgepodge of cultures: African, French, English, American Indian, and Caribbean. Rice is the heart and seafood such as oysters, crab, and shrimp are its soul.

What dish at Charleston Grill most epitomizes low country cuisine?

Charleston Grill Crab Cake.

Why should foodies visit Charleston?

Foodies should come to Charleston to taste its rich cultural history and inspiring innovations. All while surrounded by a picturesque setting and served with warm genuine hospitality.

What’s a local dish out towners won’t be able to get elsewhere?

Most would say she-crab soup.

What’s the best thing you ate recently?

A satsuma from a local farm.

The Charleston Place

Top rated
9.6 Excellent (6379 reviews)