Photos: Beth Kirby

Photos: Beth Kirby

I first met Chef Erik Niel one night in Chattanooga a few years ago when he visited our table at Easy Bistro and Bar. We’d just enjoyed perfectly pristine oysters on the half shell, and I was confused as we were in the heart of the Tennessee mountains. Who was this guy who was so passionate about seafood he built a restaurant around it, a restaurant a very long drive away from any ocean waves? What I discovered is a man passionate about the food of his childhood, a chef passionate about sourcing and staff education, and a Louisiana boy who has found a home in an up and coming Tennessee town. Other people are discovering his cooking too; he’s just been nominated for Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation.

We chat live from the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, and he enjoys a glass of bourbon (listen for the ice cubes clinking in the glass) and I pick his brain about building a better palate, oysters, and all things Chattanooga food.