Matt Cohen and Scott Gordon are passionate about cooking. Trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, they’re also passionate about presentation, so diners at their New South Cafe will eat with real silverware from a ceramic plate on a linen tablecloth. Yet at the same time, the atmosphere is casual and the prices are reasonable. Before they opened the New South Cafe -- celebrating its grand opening this week at 2601 Skidaway Road -- Cohen and Gordon spent six years running a catering business called Professional Chef Services. “The best thing about catering is we have the same clients use us over and over and over again,” Cohen says. “One thing we believe is that it doesn’t matter what the ingredients are, your cooking techniques are what’s important.” The only thing Cohen and Gordon won’t do is cook for themselves on their days off. “Never,” says Cohen. “Never, never,” adds Gordon. Cohen is a fourth-generation Savannahian. “My grandfather had a grocery store in Savannah,” he says. He was a food peddler, so I guess it was in my blood.” Cooking isn’t Cohen’s only passion. “I’m a big boy,” he says. “I love to eat.” At an early age, Cohen knew what he wanted to do with his life. “When I was very young, my grandfather used to come and visit us,” he says. “I loved to do two things. “I would get up early in the morning and write him a little breakfast menu,” Cohen says. “I’d give him the menu and he’d order. He always paid his bill and gave me a tip. “At 5 p.m., I’d fix him a cocktail,” Cohen says. “I’d give him a little bowl of peanuts to go with it. He paid me $5 for the cocktail and gave me $5 for the tip.” That sparked Cohen’s interest. “When he paid me for serving him, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he says. Gordon originally is from Philadelphia. “I just love cooking,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but when I try to take a break, it draws me back. It’s a passion.” Gordon also started cooking at an early age. “I can remember being in the kitchen and making cookies,” he says. “We always made a big Thanksgiving dinner. “When I got older, I always found my way into the kitchen,” Gordon says. “Curiosity got me in there.” Cohen and Gordon met on their first day of classes at the Culinary Institute. “There were 84 students in our class,” Cohen says. “Someone asked a question, and I made a smart-aleck comment,” he says. “Scott said he knew he ‘wanted to get to know that dude.’ We hit it off and became friends and switched around so we could become roommates. We always knew we would probably go into business together.” After classes finished, the two did further training at the Houston Country Club. “One of the best parts of working together is we don’t do the same things,” Cohen says. “I like left, while Scott likes right. The things I dislike, Scott likes.” However, Cohen is highly complimentary of Gordon’s signature dishes. “He came up with the sweet potato succotash,” Cohen says. “There are eight, nine, ten flavors going on in that dish.” Everything made at the New South Cafe is made from scratch from the freshest ingredients. “It is simple, fresh, local ingredients,” Cohen says. “We want collard greens to taste like collard greens. We want sweet potatoes to taste like sweet potatoes. We’re very loyal to the food.” While the two prepare traditional Southern foods, those foods are prepared with a twist. Such an approach can take lots of practice. “Scott came up with hush-puppy-crusted fried catfish fingers,” Cohen says. “We tried 15 to 20 ways to figure out how to bread it.” That doesn’t mean the two always agree. “We argue all the time,” Cohen says. “When you make something out of a prepared batter or a mix, it comes out perfectly. When it’s handmade, the process doesn’t always turn out right. We have to practice and practice and practice.” The chefs say by far their most popular dish is the award-winning crab cake burger, made with fresh lump crab meat served with an Asiago cheese dressing. “Everyone in town goes nuts for our crab cake,” Cohen says. “It’s 100 percent crab meat, with no filler.”
The New South Cafe is open M-F from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Take-out available. The cafe is at 2601 Skidaway Rd. Call 233-7568.