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Atlanta chefs reflect on AJC food writer John Kessler’s legacy

AJC's chief food writer and critic John Kessler cleans out his kitchen since he is moving to Chicago with his family on Saturday, July 18, 2015. As John Kessler prepares to sign off as the AJC's chief food writer and critic, he looks back at the great meals, good times and unforgetable people he met along the way. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

AJC’s chief food writer and critic John Kessler cleans out his kitchen since he is moving to Chicago with his family on Saturday, July 18, 2015.  HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Chefs and food critics often have a love-hate relationship, but several local culinary stars who have worked with — and been reviewed by — AJC food writer John Kessler are feeling nothing but love for the man, who leaves behind a lasting legacy after 18 years with the paper. Kessler, whose last column appears in the AJC this weekend, was remembered fondly as he moves on to the Windy City:


“Great writer, great palate, great food knowledge & a great all around guy.  We wish he and his family well in Chicago.  Thanks for making Atlanta a better place.” — Chef Billy Allin, Cakes & Ale



“John is more than a food writer; his words take you to the table next to him. I will greatly look forward to his future musings. His best work is in front of him.” — Gerry Klaskala, Atlas, Aria and Canoe


“This is difficult due to the love/hate relationship all chefs and restaurateurs share with their local critics. That being said, I always felt that John tried to overcome any personal bias that he may have had for an individual and focus simply on providing the reader with an accurate portrayal of his experience. We have not always agreed or seen eye to eye, but I nevertheless respected him as a professional and many of his harshest words were said not to demean or belittle, but to challenge us all to always focus on greatness. He is one of the few out there who knows what Atlanta can become, and my biggest hope is that he does not forget that once he is gone.” — Chef Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow and Revival



“I have a lot of great memories – but here are a few: 20 years ago, John and his family came into Roman Lily Café and gave me one of my reviews. The way he described my banana bread dessert led to lines down the street. Years later, he reviewed my next restaurant and said that my vegetarian food made him not miss meat – even though he was not a vegetarian. And finally, when we opened Urban Cannibals East Atlanta, Doria (Roberts) had never cooked for the public before, but when he tried her House made Mexican Chocolate Sour Cherry Biscuits with Crème Fraîche, he said he would stand at the door waiting for them if she promised to make them every day. He will be very missed.” — Chef Calavino Donati, Urban Cannibals


dinnerdareanne.0918“John Kessler has claimed to be a “readers advocate” in his writings but his actions outside of our previously insular city reveals John Kessler as a champion of Atlanta’s food and her chefs.  I know that John has challenged us (our culinary and service teams) to reach further and pushed us to be better restaurants, for this I am grateful.  I will miss John’s voice and his humor….as a food critic, but I look forward to reading his future contributions to food writing and hope our paths cross frequently.” — Chef Anne Quatrano, Bacchanalia, Little Bach, Floataway Cafe and Star Provisions




“John will be deeply missed in the restaurant community. He has been our voice to the public for so many years; it wasn’t always what we wanted to hear, but always honest and heartfelt. He is a true gem, one that will be hard to replace. I wish him the best of luck in Chicago (best city ever). We are definitely losing a good one!” — Chef Robert Phalen, One Eared Stag



“John Kessler was a fixture in the Atlanta culinary scene, and he will be missed.  I will especially miss how John encouraged people to find interesting and extraordinary cuisine that was outside the box and off the beaten path.” — Chef Linda Harrell, Cibo e Beve


“John Kessler was not only a food critic for The AJC, but a champion for the cause; he was honest, which is, for me, the difference between him and his counterparts.” — Chef Todd Richards, White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails


080114 communal_1“John Kessler will be missed greatly. He was a fair and honest critic, with a superb palate! He informed millions where to get the biggest bang for your buck.” — Chef Luca Varuni, Varuni Napoli


“Although I didn’t have much interaction with John, I did respect his approach as a food writer. He was always very genuine and even in his critiques, was pushing for the chefs and cooks of Atlanta to really cook from their heart and not from what they were reading was going on in other cities.” — Chef Nick Melvin, Venkman’s and Doux South Pickles


051913 taqueria 3“John was the best food critic the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ever had. He was fair and respectful, and that is hard to find. We will miss him!” — Chef Eddie Hernandez, Taqueria del Sol



“I’m still in a state of shock; the dude has been a critic longer than I’ve been running restaurants. He is an iconic figure in the culinary field in the Atlanta area.” — Chef Jordan Wakefield, Smoke Ring

drew“A legend lost. John Kessler’s views, positive or otherwise, on Atlanta’s dining scene helped provoke us in the industry to think on a higher level, to keep pushing in order to gain the respect that Atlanta has achieved as a whole.” — Drew Van Leuvan, Seven Lamps and Tavernpointe





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