Cooking isn’t like singing—you’re not born with a talent in the kitchen. That’s why so many professional chefs hit their stride in their thirties and forties, after years of training and more than a few willing taste-testers. Not Sam Davis. The new executive chef of the Garden & Gun Club, age twenty-seven, was perfecting his recipes in his tweens. “I grew up in a family of eight kids, and I’m number two,” Davis says. “So I learned to cook for my family at a young age.”
Having a large kitchen garden behind his parents’ Atlanta home only helped the budding chef. Davis experimented with homegrown herbs and vegetables, and by the time he enrolled in—and eventually aced—a high school culinary program in Florida, where his family had moved, he was a confident home cook. He later returned to his native city and earned a degree in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Atlanta. Jobs in the city’s best kitchens followed—at Revival, Gunshow, Atlas, and Lazy Betty.
Now leading his own culinary team at the Garden & Gun Club at the Battery Atlanta, he’s marrying his professional training with the creative license he enjoyed as a wunderkind home chef to deliver new twists on Southern classics. His version of shrimp and grits, for instance, substitutes coconut milk for heavy cream to brighten the time-honored dish with subtle tropical notes. The Creole sauce is also an homage to his African roots, he says. “Southern food is ever-evolving,” Davis says. “The food my generation is making is about taking our grandmas’ recipes and remixing them.”