12 Southern Chefs Who You Should Pay Attention To Instead Of Paula Deen

Virginia Willis chefMove aside, Paula Deen — Virginia Willis is coming for you.

The Paula Deen racism scandal seems to have no expiration date.

Ever since the release of a deposition in which the former Food Network star acknowledged using racist epithets, controversy has swelled.

Deen had a very public breakdown on the TODAY show, companies distanced themselves from her brand, and she recently split from longtime agent Barry Weiner.

Given the fallout, it’s unlikely the inventor of deep-fried lasagna will make a comeback.

Thankfully, there’s a new generation of Southern chefs on the rise, and they don’t need a deep fryer to make fantastic food. Sarah McSimmons, an acclaimed Southern chef and founder of New York’s City Grit supper club, helped us find 12 promising candidates who could surpass Paula Deen’s fame in the Southern cooking arena.

Jeremiah Langhorne

Restaurant: McCrady's Restaurant, Charleston, SC

Jeremiah Langhorne is the executive chef of McCrady's Restaurant in Charleston, SC -- a far cry from his first job as a pizza deliveryman in Charlottesville, VA.

Inspired by the staff at that little Italian restaurant, he began cooking and even traveled to famed-restaurant Noma in Denmark to complete a two-month stage.

He describes his food at McCrady's as 'modern Southern cuisine with indigenous ingredients' that he either grows or forages.

Stand Out Dish: Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps

Kelly English

Restaurant: Restaurant Iris, Memphis, TN

Kelly English traveled from Missouri to Memphis and opened Restaurant Iris in 2008.

Since then, English has won numerous awards and accolades. He has appeared on Food Network's 'The Best Thing I Ever Ate' as well as been a James Beard Award Semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2010.

His food is French-Creole and New Orleans-inspired, with local and seasonal ingredients.

Stand Out Dish: Sweet corn griddle cakes with crab ravigot

Ashley Christensen

Restaurant: Ashley Christensen Restaurants, Raleigh, NC

After working at Raleigh's top kitchens, Ashley opened Poole's Diner in 2007 with a chalkboard menu of comfort-food made with locally grown, seasonal ingredients.

Now six years later, she has three other ventures including Chuck's, Beasley's Chicken + Honey, and Fox Liquor Bar, all relying on Southern classics with her French technique.

In 2008, Bon Appétit named her one of its 'Female Chefs of the Next Generation' and Christensen is also a three-time James Beard semi-finalist for 'Best Chef: Southeast.'

Stand Out Dish: Captain Andy's Paleo Burger Platter at Chuck's

Ryan Lachaine

Restaurant: Underbelly, Houston, TX

A former hockey player and Canadian transplant, Ryan Lachaine moved to Houston and graduated from The Art Institute of Houston for the culinary arts in 2009.

He currently works as the sous chef under Chris Shepherd at Underbelly where he serves up small plates of seasonal fare.

Lachaine was also named Houston Eater's Young Gun chef in 2013, and is known for his work ethic and culinary prowess.

Stand Out Dish: Chicken and Biscuits

Peter Dale

Restaurant: The National, Athens, GA

Peter Dale was born and raised in Athens, GA where he currently works as the chef of The National.

After apprenticing with Hugh Acheson at Five and 10 and holding an internship at La Broche in Madrid, Dale opened the National in 2007 with Acheson. In 2012, Dale was named Food & Wine magazine's The People's Best New Chef Southeast.

His cuisine is seasonal and Southern, with hints of the Mediterranean.

Stand Out Dish: Grilled Australian Lamb Chop with Lamb Kefte, Tabbouleh, Feta and Pecan Muhummara

Ryan Smith

Restaurant: Empire State South, Atlanta, GA (soon to be Staplehouse)

Ryan Smith is the executive chef of Empire State South, which serves authentic, modern Southern dishes.

Though he's originally from Pennsylvania, he has called Atlanta home for the last 10 years, and is a master of Southern cuisine.

He has worked at some of Atlanta's best restaurants, and now plans to join the Staplehouse team at the end of 2013.

Stand Out Dish: Pork belly with burnt bread, carolina rice, swiss chard, beets, and candied mustard

Andy Ticer & Michael Hudman

Restaurants: Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog and Hominy, Memphis, TN

Andy and Michael have been an unstoppable duo ever since they first dreamed of opening a restaurant together in 1994.

Now, the duo own two Italian-Southern spots, inspired by their big Italian families and Southern heritage where they make everything from Johnny Cakes to fricola.

They're also big on sustainable and homegrown foods.

Stand Out Dish: Confit artichoke heart served on a tonnato with cornbread, green beans and pickled peppers

Mike Gulotta

Restaurant: Restaurant August, New Orleans, LA

Gulotta began cooking in local restaurants when he was 17, and has cooked all over the world.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael came home to New Orleans where he began working at August as a line cook.

Now Chef de Cuisine, Gulotta is big on establishing relationships with local farmers so he can use the best local ingredients in his French food with a Southern twist.

Stand Out Dish: Anise boar sausage, red wine fusilli, Covey Rise rapini, and NOLA Sicilian style 'red gravy'

Issac Toups

Restaurant: Toups' Meatery, New Orleans, LA

Inspired by his Louisiana heritage, Isaac opened Toups' Meatery with his wife Amanda in 2012.

They serve up big platters of meat with southern sides like grit cake with pork shoulder and black eyed pea salad with lamb neck.

He's also a character, saying if he's not in the kitchen, he's throwing tomahawks in his backyard.

Stand Out Dish: 'Meatery board' with local beer

William Dissen

Restaurant: The Market Place, Asheville, NC

William Dissen combines French culture and Southern style as the Head Chef of The Market Place.

After working and cooking all across the Southern US, Dissen finally settled down in North Carolina where he serves small plates of expertly prepared food with ingredients within 100 miles of the restaurant.

Sweetbreads, pork belly, and house-made pickles are just some of the menu's hot items.

Stand Out Dish: Pan roasted wild snapper with roasted spring vegetables

Virginia Willis

Restaurant: Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Atlanta, GA

If someone were to 'replace' Paula Deen as the darling of the South, it would be Virginia Willis.

Not only is she a Southern cuisine expert, but she's written a series of a cookbooks including Bon Appétit, Y'all, appeared as a judge on Throw Down with Bobby Flay, and even prepared lunch for President Clinton.

She has both the personality to be successful as well as the expertise, having graduated from L'Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne.

In essence, meet the new and improved Paula Deen, America.

Stand Out Dish: Grilled Lemonade Chicken

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