The Best of Savannah

  • BEST LOCAL CHEF: Sean Freeman
    “Winning this is really cool, but the proof is in the pudding, putting in the work.”

    Despite what has been a meteoric rise in Savannah’s food scene over the last decade, Sean Freeman remains grounded by genuine humility. After being told by his boss Michael Vaudrin that he had won Connect Savannah’s Best Local Chef title, Freeman’s celebration was understated.

    “I had a couple extra shots of bourbon that night,” said The Ordinary Pub’s executive chef with his signature smile.

    “I came into work, and Mike pulled me to the side and let me know that I had won,” Freeman shared. “I started gradually telling people, but it’s something that I really don’t talk about a lot.”

    Spend just a few minutes with the Savannah native and you will plainly see that he is not a chef who cares one crumb about celebrity.

    “Winning it is really cool, but the proof is in the pudding, putting in the work,” he said. “I just enjoy and engulf myself in the work.”

    “I get blessed, and it happens.”

    WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

    Now wearing the top toque, Freeman has been back at The Ordinary for a little over four months, returning to where he cooked on the line under mentor Justin ‘Grizz’ Grizzard starting in 2016, though their food friendship began even before that.

    Back in 2012, Freeman’s first fine-dining post was working the cold side alongside Chef Grizz at Rocks on the River (The Bohemian Hotel) before the former headed out to Tybee.

    “He went to North Beach (Bar and Grill) and called me out there, and I went out to North Beach, where I was for about two years,” Freeman recalled, “and then he called me once he took the job down here.”

    The Savannah High grad stayed below Broughton Street, if you will, for five years during which time South Magazine took note of his talents in its October 2020 cover feature “Dope Black Chef.”

    A year later, Freeman “took [his] talents on the road” and moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, “the home of Louisiana food,” cheffing at Scratch Farm Kitchen, but then several factors called him back home.

    “All my family’s here, and I just really enjoy working for Mike and Brandi,” he said. “They’re really honest people, they’re straightforward, and that’s what I love about them.”

    “I missed the people. I missed the Southern hospitality here,” he added about returning to his personal and professional roots. “Just Savannah and how eclectic it is.”

    Away only two years, Freeman acknowledged how the Hostess City’s cuisine scene developed during his absence, saying, “Restaurants that have been around revamped their old menus and got with the times of what’s happening around them.”

    “I feel like Common and The Pub were at the forefront,” he said proudly, the latter having opened in 2015.

    FROM CHEF DAD TO EXECUTIVE CHEF

    “To be completely honest, it’s just something that I was gifted with,” Freeman said of his food flair, though still humble and easygoing as ever.”

    “My grandmother and my godmother and a lot of the older folks in my family have always cooked, and I’ve always been right there next to them, watching them, seeing them mix up all the great stuff that they make,” he continued, noting the sweet cornbread at The Ordinary, his take on his godmother’s cakey recipe.

    “It came with my blood. My family knows how to cook, and I just picked it up,” said Freeman. “I had two kids, and I had to learn how to cook for them.”

    Thus began the familiar tale from dishwasher to fry cook to grill chef and up the professional kitchen ladder.

    “Next thing I knew,” Freeman said, “I was working at The Bohemian in fine dining.”

    In his stint at the boutique Savannah Riverfront hotel, he rose “through the ranks” to corporate trainer, “right under sous chef,” but chose to forego the culinary school route in order to stay in a kitchen full-time.

    “I got all of my schooling working under really cool chefs,” said Freeman. “Seeing happy people enjoy the food was a rush for me.”

    THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

    When he returned to Savannah almost a year ago now, Freeman came back to Michael and Brandi Vaudrin’s pair of Broughton Street restos and has served in a variety of roles since. This past June, he became executive chef at Common when Chef Grizz moved on while also holding “more like a development executive role for both of the restaurants.”

    Before the end of 2023, Freeman moved back down the street and headed back downstairs, where he sees himself heading up operations “for the foreseeable future” as the Vaudrins and their chefs work toward “running the restaurants in tandem,” per Freeman.

    “There is some R&D going on right now,” he said of The Ordinary’s menus, his eyes gleaming with what he has cooking (literally).

    Recent additions have been the Gator Bangers & Mash, the Low Country Crab Cakes, and the Short Rib Hot Plate, which came down the street from Common.

    Freeman just bought a sausage maker, so the bangers and mash starring component will soon be scratch-made, a “not super-gamey” blend of alligator and pork slathered in a Guinness gravy. Creamed collards and topped by the whisky-glazed short rib served with red wine jam and that house-made cornbread, and the crab cake, seared with southern spices, comes with a roasted tomato gravy.

    “I’m just trying to elevate our menu, trying to make us better, trying to win more for The Pub,” Freeman said determinedly of ‘what’s next’. “I want to try to get a Michelin Star. I want to push.”

    “Mike and I talk about this all the time: being great is not a thing anymore. That’s almost mediocrity. You got to be better than that.”

    The heralded humble chef shared that his folks are “super-happy” with his winning the award.

    “We’ll probably go out to dinner at some point,” he said.

    Hopefully, some other truly talented chef in town will cook for him that night.

    The Ordinary Pub (217 ½ West Broughton Street) is open Monday through Thursday (4 pm to 10 pm), Friday and Saturday (10 am to 10:30 pm) and Sunday (10 am to 9:30 pm).

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