Catching up with James Beard Award finalists, chefs Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter

Talat Market owners discuss the big news

Talat Market chefs/owners Rod Lassiter and Parnass Savang

Photo by Bailey Garrot

Chefs Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter, the co-owners of Talat Market in Summerhill, were recently named Best Chef: Southeast finalists by James Beard Foundation. The awards, known as the Oscars of the culinary world, will be announced on June 10 in Chicago. Though there were five semifinalists from the Peach State (Arnaldo Castillo of Tio Lucho’s, Erika Council of Bomb Biscuit, Duane Nutter of Southern National, and Pete Amadhanirundr of Puma Yu’s in Athens), Savang and Lassiter will now represent Georgia on their own. They’re up against Paul Smith of 1010 Bridge in Charleston, West Virginia; Robbie Robinson of City Limits Barbeque in West Columbia, South Carolina; Jamie Davis of the Hackney in Washington, North Carolina; and James London of Chubby Fish in Charleston, South Carolina.

Savang and Lassiter have big shoes to fill. Last year, the Deer and the Dove chef Terry Koval—who Lassiter once worked for—was named Best Chef: Southeast. But the duo are no stranger to recognition. Atlanta’s inaugural Michelin Guide named Talat Market a “recommended restaurant,” Atlanta included it in our Best New Restaurants in 2021, Bon Appetit listed the innovative Thai spot as one of its top 50 new restaurants in 2018. And Savang, who got his start at his parents’ Lawrenceville restaurant, Danthai, was a James Beard Rising Star Chef semifinalist in 2018. Atlanta named both him and Lassiter Best New Chefs in 2020. Can we say “called it”?

Savang and Lassiter met in the Kimball House kitchen, where they earned their chops, and later, dreamed of a Thai restaurant utilizing local Georgia produce. What began as a weekend pop-up at Gato Bizco (now Gigi’s) has transformed into a point of pride for Atlantans, who can say they, too, secured a table at Talat. As we prepare to root for this homegrown team, we chatted with the chefs about making it to the culinary finals.

Congratulations! What was your initial reaction to the news?

Savang: I’m really surprised and grateful. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s crazy. We’re on NPR and the news channels I grew up watching. Everyone is talking about us right now. I feel like it’s well-earned but it’s still very weird to walk around the grocery store thinking people might know who you are.

Lassiter: I’m growing my beard out right now so it’s perfect timing. It’s a backup plan; we’ll walk away with a beard no matter what. [laughs] We have worked really hard. I was honored to be in the running regardless. I worked for Terry Koval for years. It’s strange company to be in. He always says, “get ready to be busy.” People have been calling, congratulating us, and asking if they can walk in.

How does it feel to be the only ones from Georgia who made it through this last round?

Savang: It feels good. It’s really cool to represent the whole city of Atlanta and all of Georgia. We’re going to keep being our true selves to the fullest because that’s what got us here.

Lassiter: Atlanta has a huge food scene. It’s coming to the surface more the past couple years. I’m honored to be in the group. Atlanta is rising to the occasion across the board. 

What’s new at Talat?

Lassiter: We started taking reservations last year and have seen growth and consistency. We’re growing our staff a little, too. We are still a small, 1,700-square-foot restaurant. We have to take baby steps. We’re adding a few patio tables and may add hours to the restaurant down the road. We don’t want to change the dynamic of what got us here in the first place. We’re trying to be better every day.

How will the award change what you’re doing?

Savang: It’s going to be a test of our systems and the people we have in place. We’ve made really good progress on those fronts the past four years. We’re here to have fun and hope the guests will have fun too.

Lassiter: We have a really good crew right now. It gives everyone a bigger sense of pride to hit these marks, and even if we are busier, everyone is riding a high note.

I’ve heard that you can focus on awards or running a successful restaurant, not both. Do you agree?

Savang: It’s important to keep the [Talat Market] name out there, but why we are where we are is because of the restaurant, food, hospitality, and drinks. If we take our eyes off that part, everything starts to crumble.

Lassiter: Even with the pop-up, it was very exciting to get some notoriety. The uptick of guests opens the flood gates a bit. If you’re not prepared for that, it could be a bad situation. We’re prepared. Now we can step back from the day-to-day grind and be a little more flexible and do a little bit of the work for this award. We have the right people in place to keep the food aspect up. The guest experience is number one.

We don’t have a PR firm. We are working at the restaurant and being PR people, thinking about whether this opportunity will better the restaurant—is it going to make money for us? Is it fun for us to connect with this chef?

Any celebration plans?

Savang: In 2011, I volunteered at the James Beard Awards at Lincoln Center in New York. It was crazy to see [French Laundry chef] Thomas Keller and [Daniel NYC chef] Daniel Boulud at the afterparty and to think we’ll be there . . .

Lassiter: We’re celebrating [our nominations] with Talat’s four-year anniversary on April 21 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s a block party and everyone’s invited. We’ll have street food and a mobile bar outside, a DJ, and free Topo Chico.