South Carolina’s four chef ambassadors are used to the pressures of running a kitchen.
But later this month, they’re about to kick it up a notch.
The four – home-grown chefs from South Carolina – will head to the James Beard House in New York City, where they will be tasked with preparing a menu that reflects the state’s 200-plus years of culinary history.
That menu will be shared with as many as 200 diners in two seatings for lunch and dinner.
The four chefs are the latest in the S.C. Chef Ambassadors program, launched two years ago by Gov. Nikki Haley to celebrate the state’s culinary heritage while promoting tourism. Chefs are nominated by peers, members and constituents of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and S.C. Department of Agriculture, with consideration given to regional diversity.
The program highlights chefs and foods in some of the lesser-known parts of South Carolina.
“This gives visitors to the state an opportunity to get off the beaten path and explore some of the hidden gems throughout the entire state,” said Kim Jamieson, S.C. PRT’s public relations manager. “On the culinary side, as a partnership between PRT and the S.C. Department of Agriculture, the program is able to highlight a number of fantastic food products and produce from around the state.”
The chef ambassadors, who serve one year in the position, take part in food festivals throughout the South, such as Charleston Wine + Food and Atlanta Food & Wine, as well as prepare or demonstrate dishes, lead discussions, and promote the state. The chefs are nominated by their peers, former Chef Ambassadors, tourism partners and SC Department of Agriculture constituents. “We want to make sure we’re bringing together the people who are really doing profound things with food throughout South Carolina,” says Jamieson.
The opportunity to cook at the James Beard House came by way of PRT as a means to connect with New York-based media outlets and share South Carolina’s tourism stories. The chefs’ selection was based on the rich history of South Carolina’s cuisine and the story that it can tell.
The menu for the Aug. 23 event is still in the planning stages. It was submitted for approval to the James Beard House in early June.
We interviewed the four chef ambassadors over two months, visiting their kitchens and learning what inspires them. They talked about their backgrounds, influences and how they reacted when they heard they were heading to New York.
Ramone Dickerson, 2Fat 2Fly2Fat 2Fly in Columbia
What’s it like to be chosen as a chef ambassador? It’s crazy. You know I’m not that great playing basketball but I imagine that it’s like being drafted in the NBA. I’m honored to be in the presence of three other great chefs. As we say, ‘Live slow, cook big in the South.’ ”
Who did you tell first about cooking at the James Beard House? My staff. My mom and dad were like “Who?” “Where?” But the guys on staff that are really into food ... that was like a crack in the atmosphere. They were really impressed.
Working on a menu? Submitted ideas, nothing set in stone. The focus will be on greens and proteins being revived in the South, like Ossabaw pork and grains from Anson Mills. It’s another aspect, rather than fried chicken and cobblers that everyone seems to expect. I’ve always prided myself on food that is fun, fresh and familiar, so my food will do that – embracing originality, using heirloom products and revived grains.
What do yo like to eat (not necessarily cook) when you are away from your restaurant? Like “if you had a final three course meal, what would it be”? Right now, I’d say fried chicken, with a side of spicy Thai noodles with coconut curry and finish it off with a fudge brownie from Silver Spoon Bakery.
Forrest Parker, Old Village Post House
A self-described “boot-strapper,” he absorbed as much as he could cooking his way through a linguistics and art history degree at the College of Charleston. “Learning how to save a sauce from breaking ended up being more gratifying to me than trying to grave-rob a report from an esoteric professor. I still have a love of academics that translates sometimes in my work for the Post House. I’m driven by and inspired by my love of Southern history, food and cuisine, specifically of South Carolina and the Lowcountry.”
Parker worked as a tour guide through college and says his role as a guide continues, although “now it’s different because I’m telling stories through the food I’m putting on the plate.”
What’s is it like to be chosen as a chef ambassador? In a sense, I’m not really doing anything differently than before. I continue to evangelize South Carolina and the South Carolina Lowcountry.
How about cooking at the James Beard House? I’m excited. I’m nervous. I grew up reading about James Beard, hearing stories about James Beard and his impact on the culinary culture of the United States. His favorite was an onion sandwich, smeared with mayonnaise and rolled in chives. My first thought was to use Wadmalaw sweet onions from Ambrose Farms and take those up there.
How did you approach menu planning for the James Beard House? There’s something very specific that’s going on here in South Carolina in terms of the research and repatriation of lost heirloom landrace grains. There’s all this research going on here that is focused on restoring this agricultural history of crops that have been lost. If there was an opportunity to fold (the research) in to tell the story about our past and products that folks were eating 200 years ago that folks haven’t really eaten since then, but do it through the lens of how we cook today. I thought that would be exciting and compelling.
We coordinated with members of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation to have crops grown specifically for us ... so the menu will feature items such as the African runner peanut – the great-great-great grandfather of all Southern peanuts – small in size but the most “peanutty” peanut that you will ever have; the Bradford watermelon, the great-grandfather to heirloom watermelons such as the Charleston gray or the Moon and Stars; purple ribbon sugarcane from Sapelo Island, which was the mainstay of sugar production in the Lowcountry; and purple straw wheat, which was the preferred pastry wheat as far back as Colonial Charleston all the way through the early 19th century. These are very direct links to our culinary past, and this is a rare opportunity for guests to sample these flavors that in some cases haven’t been tasted in 200 years. As chefs it’s exciting, because no one has cooked with these ingredients for 200 years. I hope we don’t mess it up.
What do you like to eat (not necessarily cook) when you are away from your restaurant? Any opportunity to fire up the grill and spend time with the family. I like to cook fish and rice.
Orchid Paulmeier, One Hot Mama’s
One Hot Mama’s opened in 2003. It is a Southern-driven barbecue restaurant specializing in pork barbecue and brisket. Oh, and the wings.
“Mama’s wasn’t meant to be a wing place, by any means,” said Paulmeier. “But I came up with some good flavors. Everything here is made from scratch – the sauces, the dressings, the rubs, everything.”
Some weekends, the Southern Pride smoker nestled inside the restaurant is filled with pork ribs, brisket and chicken that Paulmeier and her staff are preparing for cook-off competitions. The chef is a fierce competitor, as evidenced during a recent interview, when she was preparing pork, brisket and chicken for the Hilton Head Kiwanis Rib-Off. With an expected crowd at the event of about 4,000, she was bringing eight cases of ribs, 10 pork butts, four whole briskets and three cases of chicken wings – and, she noted, “usually we don’t bring anything back.”
(For the record, out of the Rib-Off’s four categories, Paulmeier and the One Hot Mama’s crew took home three first place trophies).
What’s is it like to be chosen as a chef ambassador? It was such an honor. I had actually competed against Ramone. I was on their pilot show (“Wing Men”).
Looking forward to cooking at the James Beard House? I didn’t even understand at first. Were we ready to do this? In February Kim (Jameson) told us to put a menu together, nothing was (at the time) set in stone. We were all together at Charleston Food + Wine ... and we had only worked together, maybe, three times before this. Forrest and I talked about what would make it so important for us to be there, what makes us different. Anybody can make good shrimp and grits but we’re from South Carolina and we have to tell our story of why we think it’s so important for our food to be showcased in front of foodies who really understand the process.
Working on a menu? I put a little bit of my Asian background in it too, and I work with a lot of Hispanics in my kitchen and they have taught me a lot about their food and how to make it. So for an appetizer I’m doing a Jimmy Red Corn sope (like a corn cake or johnny cake) with Sea Island peas and a Korean shortrib. Traditionally, if you had a sope, you would have the corn cake with refried beans and a meat on top. The peas will take the place of beans.
For my entree, I’m going to do a MiBek oxtail that I’m going to braise with a kare kare sauce. That is a Filipino dish that uses peanuts. We’re going to use the African Runner peanuts that Clemson University has revived so I’m going to make the sauce out of that. And I am going to do some grilled okra over some Carolina rice. That dish is something I grew up on and I just took the aspects of Carolina and put them in place. I’m so excited.
What inspires you to compete? I was working at Do Se Do (her first restaurant in Hilton Head) that specialized in ribs and steaks, and I learned the process and learned a bit more about barbecue and a little bit more about Southern food because of the people that worked in the kitchen. I was the general manager and opportunities came up to compete in things and I was like yeah, let’s do this. And that’s how that started and that eventually led me to compete in (Food Network’s) “Next TV Star.” That opened up the flood gates for sure. ... I liked being in an atmosphere where people were interested in what I had to say about food.
Teryi Youngblood, Passerelle Bistro
“They were my culinary education, if you will,” she said. “And my nanny and I used to trade off ... if I watched Bob Ross and his fluffy little trees, she would watch Julia Child or Jacques Pepin with me or something like ‘Great Chefs.’ I had not realized that culinary could be a career at that point.”
Youngblood started as a pharmacy assistant but became disenchanted with the work. A good friend convinced her to start work as a prep cook in a restaurant on Main Street in Greenville. “After the owners fired the chef, about less than a month into it, I was pretty much forced to learn everything there was to do in the restaurant. I’ll never forget the first day. The manager had ordered a whole, entire salmon, so ... the first time I’m faced with a whole salmon, I pretty much had to just do it. My dad had shown me how to break down a little bass or bream when I was younger but to approach this giant fish was daunting.”
Moving on, she was the assistant pastry chef at Soby’s on the Side about seven years before being promoted to pastry chef at Soby’s for five years. “After telling them I was becoming bored with pastry ... I asked for an office job,” she said, laughing. “They said, ‘Well why don’t you just take that restaurant (what would become Passerelle Bistro), because we just took that over. I couldn’t say no. It was a golden opportunity in an incredible space (at the top of Falls Park on the Reedy River). One of the executive chefs at Table 301 (a restaurant group including Soby’s and Passerelle Bistro, among others) said ‘figure out what you’re gonna be passionate about and have a concept or two of your own.’ That’s when I chose a French-inspired bistro, because this space is perfect for it, and I ran with it.”
What’s is it like to be chosen as a chef ambassador? That was incredibly humbling. And exciting. I was pretty much blown away that a group of my peers thought that I could represent them.
As an ambassador, we’ve had the opportunity to cook at the Charleston Wine + Food, S.C. AgriBiz & Farm Expo, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, and lots of local and national exposure.
Looking forward to cooking at the James Beard House? I have had the pleasure of cooking at the James Beard House once before as part of the Soby’s restaurant group. (The group) went years ago and have since grown into seven different restaurant concepts (in Greenville). We went last year as a group and all of the chefs made food that is quintessentially South Carolina and all of Greenville and everything that we are about. So it was really cool to have that experience and to be able to go again is really mind boggling. You just don’t realize the magnitude of it until you get in there and then it’s like “Wow! We’re here.”
When you think of all the people who have been there before you ... it’s really quite an honor.
What are you cooking? We (the ambassadors) all took everything that we could think of that is heritage South Carolina. I’m making Limping’ Susan – which is like Hoppin’ John except it has okra instead of beans – with benne and brown oyster stew and sheepshead paillard. I’m doing a High Valley trout crouquetta with South Carolina trout roe from right here in Pickens. Then we collaborated on dessert so we’re all doing little different portions and making a sampler out of all the cool ingredients that we have. It’s going to be stellar, actually.
Also joining the Chef Ambassadors will be Chef Brandon Velie of Juniper in Ridge Spring, a former S.C. chef ambassador who will prepare a dessert of Palmetto Pecan Pie for lunch; and Kristian Niemi of Bourbon in Columbia, who has created four specialty cocktails for lunch and dinner (Bradford Bramble and Battery Punch for lunch, and Sumter 75 and Carolina Fashioned for dinner).
If you go
South Carolina Heritage: SC Chef Ambassadors at The James Beard House
WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 23
WHERE: 167 West 12th St., New York
TICKETS: $130 for James Beard Foundation members, $170 for general public.
INFO: (212) 627-2308, www.jamesbeard.org
Who was James Beard?
James Beard (1903-1985) was a cookbook author, teacher and champion of American cuisine. His first cookbook, “Hors d’Oeurve and Canapes,” was a compilation of his catering recipes published in 1940. Beard’s interests and subject matter of later cookbooks ranged from fowl and game, cooking on a budget, crock pots and outdoor cooking to pasta, bread and fish. Collections of his recipes have been published with titles such as James Beard’s American Cookery, The James Beard Cookbook and The Essential James Beard.
In 1946, Beard appeared on “I Love to Eat,” a cooking show on NBC. That show launched his reputation of being an American food authority.
In 1955, he established the James Beard Cooking School in New York, and later in Seattle, and continued teaching classes through the 1980s. Julia Child is on record as having described him as “the quintessential American cook” and “the Dean of American Cuisine.”
After his death, the James Beard Foundation was established to provide scholarships to aspiring food professionals and champion American culinary traditions. The annual James Beard Awards honor and recognize the best chefs, restaurants, journalists, cookbook authors, restaurant designers, and other culinary professionals in the United States.
About this series
We will follow the four S.C. chef ambassadors – in print and in videos – as they prepare to cook later this month at the prestigious James Beard House in New York.
Today: Meet the chefs
Aug. 10: Glenn Roberts, of Anson Mills and the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, and Eufren Ninancuro operate a seed farm in Lower Richland and will be among S.C. farmers supplying the food that will be prepared.
Aug. 17: A closer look at the dishes that will be served at the James Beard House lunch and dinner
Aug. 24: By the numbers: The grocery list, plus live video from James Beard House.
TODAY AT THESTATE.COM
VIDEO: The four S.C. chefs talk about food and their plans at the James Beard House.