Recipe for Creative Success

Chef Linton Hopkins 92C designs systems for efficiency, quality, and culinary performance.

By Michelle Valigursky

Story Photo

James Beard Award Winning Chef Hopkins with his wife and business partner, Gina.

As an award-winning chef-owner of numerous top-rated Atlanta restaurants and culinary ventures, Linton Hopkins 92C boasts a unique perspective on the role of the creative process. “We can look at chefs as artists like Michelangelo who create entire schools of thought, or perhaps as a composer who is responsible for understanding how each instrument interacts with another,” he says. “Creation is organization.”

As a businessman, Hopkins is highly detail oriented, managing the creative direction, supply chain, and processes for Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch Public House, H&F Bread Company, and H&F Bottle Shop. His wife and business partner, Gina, drives day-to-day business operations of compliance, system networking, banking and more. “She’s my boss,” he jests. The two met at DC Coast Restaurant in Washington, DC and now have two children, Avery and Linton.

Family values incorporate making food memories that elicit emotional responses. “Having our kids raised in a culture of good food is a big deal for us. We cook from scratch at home, start to finish, and I’m teaching a lot more now about how to eat. If I don’t teach you how to eat, you will never learn to cook.”  

With accolades such as four James Beard Award nominations and one win in 2012 and a Food and Wine Best New Chef nod in 2009, Hopkins maintains “total control over my kitchen. Being a chef is choosing the raw products, the recipes, hiring the staff, training those employees, establishing relationships with purveyors. It’s creating the vertical structures that allow me to cook.” 

Though he often reads seed catalogs to develop his menus several planting seasons in advance, he works closely with farmers to cultivate crops he will feature and share. He reviewed seventeen varieties of cucumbers before deciding what to grow for next season. “Chefs are dependent on these relationships and the growing process must be identifiable. I go to these places, meet the farmers, experience the land, and understand what goes into creating my ingredients.”

Hopkins also shares insight about scalability within the food industry. “There is no reason for bad food at all anywhere if you’re willing to use your mind on developing the systems that can deliver great finished products.” A man of his word, Hopkins maximizes the economies of scale advantages to ensure good food for a large quantity of guests. H&F Bread has expanded from 2,000 to 14,000 square feet to allow for greater production and distribution. H&F burgers have earned a great reputation for taste and quality and are widely thought to be the “best burger in America” by food lovers everywhere. By partnering with a co-packer, Hopkins now can produce up to 2,400 H&F Burger products each night for sale in Turner Field with the same attention to detail burgers receive in his restaurant. “There is no compromise,” he says.

Together the Hopkins family has also worked to launch the Peachtree Road Farmers Market that takes place each week at the Cathedral of St. Philip in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. Hopkins is proud of the role he’s played in shaping his community. “We develop systems of agriculture and food distribution, and that’s how the foundation for our communities begins,” Hopkins says. Just six years after it began, the Peachtree Road Farmers’ Market now has a significant economic impact on the local area.” Leftover food, too, is never wasted but is redistributed to area establishments in need. “The community can’t imagine the market not being here, and that’s how it will become multi-generational.”

Less than two years old, the H&F Bottle Shop is a place “where families can shop together, spin vinyl, and make spirits a part of the culinary experience.” In the bigger picture, Hopkins hopes to “create a culture of food and wine.” He notes that “sharing accessibility to great food feels good.” Hospitality, he says, “means caring for other people.”

A Restaurant Family Emerges

Restaurant

Holeman & Finch Public House.

Hopkins’ quest to learn the culinary arts came when he wanted Hollandaise sauce as a child. When his mother didn’t have it, he researched the recipe and made it himself.  “We grew up around food and always cooked from scratch. I remember caramel cake, country ham, and biscuits at the table. My mom was in love with Julia Child and we drew on my family’s pre-Civil War southern heritage. My own personal history is what I call my biodynamic terroir,” he reflects, using the French term for the influence region’s climate and geology have on the food and drink products it produces. ”We are a product of our traditions. You are who you are, where you are, when you are.”

Though he attended Emory as a pre-med student, Hopkins quickly realized that medicine was not his passion, though he loved its intellectual nature. Cooking and plating food, he found, gave him “immediate sensory gratification.”  

This former Iron Chef challenger to Chef Masaharu Morimoto believes in infrastructure as a key to efficiency – and ultimately – to creativity. Being a great chef means “watching the clock, creating great teams, and building systems. It’s not Iron Chef every night. The creative process is the absence of chaos.”

Inspired by the multi-generational restaurant families of New Orleans, Hopkins understands how a culture of chefs can help define a city by subtle reinvention of regional foods and a commitment to professional service. He aims to make this a reality for Atlanta.

He likens the style of his restaurants to music. “I see it as following the same framework. Holeman and Finch is rock and roll, and Restaurant Eugene is improv and jazz.”

Hopkins’ passion for cooking is obvious, but he is careful to caution. “Recipes no more make a good cook than sermons make a saint. You need to get in there and burn things, eat them, taste which elements to retain,” he says. Hopkins is also adamant that “cooking is beyond the recipe. Don’t force the market to feed a recipe. Work with what’s most fresh.”

Hopkins gets great joy in preparing food for others. “That’s what chefs do,” he says. “We take care of people.”

To view a gallery of Chef Hopkins at work, please visit here.

Email the editor

Michelle Valigursky