Like Father, Like Son

Linton Hopkins ‘the Younger’ follows in the footsteps of his famed Atlanta chef dad
Chef Linton Hopkins and son Linton Hopkins Jr. chop cabbage for sauerkraut at Restaurant Eugene. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

Chef Linton Hopkins and son Linton Hopkins Jr. chop cabbage for sauerkraut at Restaurant Eugene. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

“At home, I see him as Dad. When people call him ‘Chef’ it’s so strange to see him as Chef Linton Hopkins.”

Linton Hopkins Jr. is sitting in the corner booth at Restaurant Eugene, discussing what it’s like to be the son of one of Atlanta’s preeminent chefs and restaurateurs. The 18-year-old has grown up watching his father and mother, Gina, build a restaurant empire. Besides their flagship Restaurant Eugene, there is Holeman & Finch, H&F Burger, Hop’s Chicken, Holeman & Finch Bottle Shop and forthcoming steakhouse C. Ellet’s at The Battery adjacent to SunTrust Park.

Ligaya Figueras is the AJC’s food and dining editor and lead restaurant critic. (KENT D. JOHNSON/AJC)

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And now, Junior, as he is often referred to, is about to follow in his father’s footsteps in pursuit of a culinary career. This fall, the recent graduate of The New School will head north to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, the same prestigious culinary school that his father attended in the early 1990s.

Junior said he knew early in life that he wanted to be a chef. “I was about 8 years old when I decided this is going to be the path I am taking. There was never a moment in my mind I wasn’t going to do this,” he said.

Even when his father tried to talk him out of it. "He steered me away from it. He was like, 'You can be a lot lazier and make a lot more money by not being in the kitchen.'"

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Junior is set on making the kitchen his professional workplace. After all, some of his fondest memories are of food. Like that of his father coming to his elementary school and serving his classmates butternut squash soup in Dixie cups, or of accompanying his father on chef demonstrations, or of bagging H&F bread at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market, which his father co-founded in 2007.

Junior knows his way around a restaurant. He recalls helping out with Saturday night service at Restaurant Eugene when he was about 11. He’d drop eggs into the immersion circulator for the restaurant’s l’Arpege Egg dish as he watched his father shout orders. Now, it’s the younger Linton relaying orders in his position as aboyeur, as he expedites and checks plates before they leave the kitchen. He has officially been on the books at Restaurant Eugene for the past two years, having worked his way up from dishwasher.

At home, Junior is an inquisitive learner in the kitchen. Compared to his father, who calls himself a “mood cook” who might fixate over a certain ingredient (currently, that would be salt), Junior enjoys working his way through cookbooks.

“I made sushi rice last night. It was my first time making it by myself,” says Junior. “You need so much time to perfect something.”

Father and son spend a few moments conducting a post-rice analysis. How sticky was it? Did he use too much vinegar?

Finally, Dad asks, “What cookbook were you using?”

“I was following Morimoto’s recipe.”

“You gotta read the ‘Japanese Cooking’ by Shizuo Tsuji.”

Restaurant Eugene’s Chef Linton Hopkins and son Linton Hopkins Jr. in the kitchen. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

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Yet, as Junior heads to the Culinary Institute this fall, he’ll take with him other, more important life lessons largely learned from his father. Tops among them: “You have to be team-forward,” says his father. “If you show that, you get to walk with your heroes.”

Another: “Work hard.” His father calls kitchens “the most beautiful meritocracy,” places where having a sense of entitlement doesn’t pay off. As an example, he notes that Junior couldn’t just assume he’d graduate from his job as a dishwasher. “He had to ‘own’ being a dishwasher. There was no promise of promotion because the team promotes. It was a big day for me when the team promoted him.”

And as Junior prepares to attend culinary school, he wants to prove he has earned the spot. “When I go up there, I really have to prove that I’m not here just because of what my dad has done,” he said. “It’s because the choices that I made in my lifetime have led up to this moment. There’s no place I would rather be.”

Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

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More advice from Dad: “You need diversity of experience.” Linton the Elder doesn’t necessarily think that one must attend culinary school to become a top toque, but he does believe in working a variety of positions, in a variety of venues, and being exposed to a variety of cuisines.

As his son spreads his own wings, it is thought that perhaps one day Junior will fly back and join his parents in some capacity with their restaurant company, Resurgens Hospitality Group. But, notes his father, that decision can’t be forced. “It is really important that the next generation go away and find themselves and come back of their own volition.”

More advice still: Advocate for a more sustainable food world. "I see myself as a Department of Agricultural extension agent," says Linton the Elder, who, as a consulting chef for Delta Air Lines, brings enormous exposure to artisan producers by selecting their products for in-flight menus. "The choices of chefs are so impactful right now. They have real and lasting value. That community activism — we can change the world with our food choices."

He continues, "Every business is ancillary to the food business. This is the business. If this falls apart — not just the restaurant business, but all of food — there is no humanity. There is no society. "

His son nods in agreement.

While both father and son view being a chef as a role that bears serious responsibility, they do take time for fun. This Father’s Day, the Hopkins family — father, son, wife Gina and 16-year-old daughter Avery — will relax on the beach at St. George Island in Florida.

“I bought a pair of flip-flops,” said Linton the Elder, laughing.

Some fathers don’t cook on their big day, but this one will.

“His break is cooking in the kitchen,” said Junior.

Dad ticks off the menu: “We’re going to cook seafood, rice, vegetables … and drink Hemingway daiquiris. I love those. That’s my beach obsession.”