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A look at the servers, sous chefs, bartenders and restaurants that make Atlanta delicious

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In 1998, as I perched on the edge of my mother's bed, she declared that I was lost. That I had no direction. That all I did was wait tables.

I was 22, living in Chapel Hill, N.C., immersed in the restaurant life. I had not yet been to college, and I had no plans to go (although eventually I did).

"You waited tables in your 20s, too," I protested.

"Yes," she said, "but I did other things. I was always involved in something. Politics. Art. I always had a passion. I was always interested in something."

"I am interested," I said, "in waitresses. I am interested in cooks."

Thirteen years later, I am still interested in waitresses and cooks.

Today, I review restaurants, but I never stopped being in love with the industry and its people. I stand for the customer, yes, but I also stand for the industry, for all the chefs who sweat 80 hours a week then go out to eat and wish every restaurant had the guts and soul they try to imbue in their own food. Ever eat out with a cook? You will never find a tougher critic.

That's why this year's Food Issue is all about that industry — not about the eating so much as the working. It's dedicated to the folks who make this thing run rather than the pretty food we get as consumers. I love that food, but we have 51 food sections a year discussing it. This issue is about the cooks and bartenders and waiters who make it happen. Appropriately, the issue was partially inspired by a waitress, and much of it is written by her: Stephanie Dazey, my intern this semester, who came up with so many good industry-themed story ideas that I decided to have her write a few and build this issue around them.

If it weren't for these folks — the cooks, the waitresses, the bartenders, the chefs — we wouldn't have anything to rhapsodize and write about. This one's for them. — Besha Rodell

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