Neal had a thing against cooking-school kids; when the Culinary Institute of America grads Ben and Karen Barker, now the chef-owners of Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina, applied for a job with Neal, he turned them away; Moreton later hired them at "La Res". His staff was untrained: people like Robert Stehling, who spent six years with Neal before founding the Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina; and John Currence, who opened the now landmark City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1991. In Neal's kitchen, talent trumped hierarchy. "I started at Crook's as a dishwasher," Currence told me recently. "It seemed like a week later, I was the pastry chef." Since Neal's death, in 1992, many of his students have spread the gospel of regional Southern cooking far and wide. But others (like Bill Smith, who now runs the Crook's kitchen) have stayed on in Chapel Hill, helping transform the area into one of the nation's most exciting places to eat.