Chef Rusty was born Richard Ryan Hamlin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1974. His introduction to the kitchen came from his mother, who would place her four-year-old son on the counter and provide him with a spoonful of homemade goodness fresh off the stove, offering the blossoming chef a nickel for each ingredient he could pick out. Soon little Rusty was identifying the nuances of his mother's diverse dinner creations—salt & pepper were often staples to start off the evening's earnings—sparking an interest in the subtle art of traditional family cuisine. Years later, Rusty's teenage days were spent employed at the local Kroger Grocery, where his zeal for food and the spotlight took hold in his discovery of the store wide intercom system. Customers were treated to the sounds of a young but eager seafood manager, corralling them over to the seafood counter to take advantage of the latest hot boiled crawfish and fish specials.
Following a brief four-month stint after high school shadowing his father's career at an oil refinery near St. Tammany Parish, Rusty quickly shifted gears to pursue his true calling. He immediately enrolled in the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana, where he received a two year crash course in the fine art of cuisine. At the same time, he received his real world experience washing dishes at Trinity's (a religious restaurant not far from Jimmy Swaggart's compound) and eventually cooking at the Belle of Baton Rouge river boat casino, anchored on the banks of the Mississippi River. Here he quickly moved from line cook to head line cook, tournant, sous chef, and eventually executive chef, overseeing all of the restaurants at the casino.
After earning his degree in Nutrition, Gourmet Chef, Restaurant Management & Sanitation, Rusty made his way to the flourishing restaurant scene in Atlanta. His Cajun and Creole infused style—echoing his heroes Justin Wilson and Paul Prudhomme—began to take shape in the diverse opportunities the city had to offer. Stints as sous chef at the 1848 House in Marietta and The Phoenix Brewing Company eventually led Rusty to the historic Atkins Park restaurant in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood. It was here that owners Kevin Drawe and Sandra & Warren Bruno gave Rusty the opportunity to reach his full potential, tripling food sales and raising the quality and notoriety of the establishment within several months.
Today, Rusty travels throughout the country with the Zac Brown Band, preparing and cooking meals out of a customized semi-trailer, serving his signature dishes for fans at their famous pre-show "Eat & Greets." Attendees are treated to pork and beef tenderloin, grilled with Zac's signature Love Sauce and Georgia Clay Rub, along with local fruits, vegetables and other farm products from the tour's destinations, prepared in Rusty's signature style. Chef Rusty's hard work and infectious personality—as well as his passion for delivering the finest meals with the freshest ingredients—comes through in every meal he makes. And his growing number of fans proves that he earned every nickel he made so long ago in his mother's kitchen.