Nick Wilber isn’t the first chef I’ve spoken to over the years that touched down in Savannah and essentially had to learn a whole new language.
I’ve been told stories of executive chefs taking jobs in Savannah specifically because of the culinary influences of the region. Not just Savannah, of course. The South in general. Successful chefs head this way all of the time in order to ‘fill out their resumes’ with the flavors that have made this corner America famous.
It wouldn’t be the first time a 15-20-year veteran in a Savannah kitchen taught some ‘big city hot shot’ how to really make grits like mama makes.
I’m not sure if Chef Nick knows how to make Grandma’s grits or not, but he’d be the first to tell you there has been a little bit of a learning curve in his two years running the show at The Fat Radish in downtown Savannah.
“There’s been some getting used to,” Nick said of his getting a feel for this market.
You see, you learn pretty quickly around here that it doesn’t really matter what was popular at your stops in New York and Los Angeles, both of which Chef Nick can claim, downtown Savannah is a little different. If you want to appeal to as many people as possible in a brand new restaurant, then you need to figure out a way to remain ‘approachable’ while at the same time staying true to your vision for a new restaurant.
That’s not a ‘Fat Radish’ situation; that’s almost any chef in a tourist dominated market situation.
Any chef will tell you that it takes a minute to understand what is available to you from suppliers. You may have an abundance of some produce, but you may not like it. Your favorite seafood supplier may only come to your area once a week or less.
When you are trying to provide as much quality as possible, those are just some of the challenges.
If you bring up the fact that nearly a year was lost to a pandemic, Chef Nick smiles and says, “It gave us the opportunity to try some things that we may keep going forward.” Which is about all you can do in trying to acclimate to a new market under ridiculously tough conditions.
The good news is, Nick credits Savannah’s restaurant community for helping him meet the right people as quickly as possible. The first name he mentions is Mashama Bailey at The Grey, who’s restaurant is a pitching wedge away on MLK Blvd.
“She called me very early on to tell me about the different resources we had for seafood here,” he said. “There was one supplier who didn’t have enough business to make a trip to Savannah more than once a week. So she said ‘if we use this guy, we can get him here more often.’”
Others he credits with huge assists in helping him feel comfortable right away were Jason Restivo, John Benhase and Brandon Carter of Common Thread.
“There’s no competition among chefs,” he said, referring to the fact that he’s appreciative of the help knowing full well that a high tide will only help the scene as a whole.
Some old timers will tell you that wasn’t always the case in Savannah, but it is certainly great to see that it is now.
Nick’s summer menu includes one of my favorite dishes in the city right now: Cocktel de Camaron. Literally translated to Shrimp Cocktail, but it is more of ceviche. The flavors clearly influenced by his time in Southern California.- Jesse Blanco, Eat It and Like It
A month or so ago, I think I tried it all - most of it anyway. The only thing I didn’t love was the grilled cheese sandwich. But then, when you go to The Fat Radish, why are you eating a grilled cheese sandwich?
The kids have to eat too, right?
Nick and The Fat Radish will be participating in Savannah Restaurant Week Aug. 20 through 29. But no need to wait that long, if you haven’t tried them out already, now might be a good time to eat it and like it.