Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten, Athens, GA
Billy Allin, Cakes & Ale, Decatur, GA
Ashley Christensen, Poole’s, Raleigh, NC
Scott Crawford, Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa, Cary, NC
Craig Deihl, Cypress, Charleston, SC
John Fleer, Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley, Cashiers, NC
Damian Heath, Lot 12 Public House, Berkeley Springs, WV
Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta
Scott Howell, Nana’s, Durham, NC
Shane Ingram, Four Square, Durham, NC
Anthony Lamas, Seviche, Louisville, KY
Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY
Ouita Michel, Holly Hill Inn, Midway, KY
Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC
Keith Rhodes, Catch, Wilmington, NC
Hector Santiago, Pura Vida, Atlanta
Chip Smith, Bonne Soirée, Chapel Hill, NC
Aaron Vandemark, Panciuto, Hillsborough, NC
Ken Vedrinski, Trattoria Lucca, Charleston, SC
Tandy Wilson, City House, Nashville, TN
I, of course, being a fierce Charleston partisan, am biased toward Deihl and Vedrinski. But, if I had to put some money on the contest, I would probably put it on Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. He's been doing his thing for quite a while, but this year his combination of intense, local, heirloom Southern cuisine with fine-dining flair seems to be right in the whole general zeitgeist thingamajig.
I've gotta admit, however, that even though Sean Brock's Husk made it onto the long list for best new restaurant nationwide, I'm a little surprised he didn't make semifinalist for the national outstanding chef award. Maybe next year.
I'm rooting for the home team!