Female Chefs Reign Supreme in the South Carolina Chef Ambassador Program

by ELYSIAN Magazine
female chefs

Agricultural bounty makes the South Carolina culinary scene the next destination for foodies across the world.

South Carolina, from the Lowcountry to the Upstate, is a land of abundance. Anything from briny oysters to Carolina Gold rice, from responsibly raised pork to regional honey, from succulent peaches to locally brewed beers—anything and everything is produced right here in our own backyard. Synonymous with Southern comforts like shrimp n’ grits, sweet tea and pimento cheese, what better encapsulates the creative spirit of this great state than our burgeoning culinary scene?

As foodie fever and the farm-to-table craze lights up the nation, there is no better destination to experience fresh, local ingredients than South Carolina. Boasting a long culinary history, there’s definitely something to be said about the dining scene and the South Carolinian palate. Whether you’re dining on an elegant seaside patio or before a grand view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’re sure to find the perfect plate anywhere across the state.

To help promote and uplift the culinary industry, former Governor Nikki Haley initiated the South Carolina Chef Ambassador program in 2014. Designed to bolster local economies and strengthen collaboration between agriculture and culinary arts, the program names one key culinary figure in each major region of the state as Chef Ambassador—and it promotes, by extension, their restaurants, which are prime examples of how to utilize and elevate the abundance of products available at our very fingertips.  

The Chef Ambassadors themselves not only enjoy well-deserved prestige and notoriety, but they work closely with the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to attend and host public events, be it cooking demonstrations or educational discussions on how to incorporate local produce and ingredients into the everyday at-home menu for the week.

The Chef Ambassador program also notable in its recognition of female chefs in an industry where men seem to reign supreme. (Just last year, 2018’s Chef Ambassadors were all women.) This year, we see three amazing women chefs take center stage as 2019 South Carolina Chef Ambassadors: Jessica Shillato of the Spotted Salamander in Columbia; Tania Harris of the Lazy Goat in Greenville; and Kelly Vogelheim of Town Hall in Florence.

Town Hall Florence, S.C.

female chefs

Credit: SCPRT (Photo by Perry Baker)

A service industry veteran since the age of just 13, Kelly Vogelheim sharpened her culinary chops at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City, Michigan and later worked as head chef for a steamship company—to the delight of both crew and passengers. When she finally landed in sunny, historic Charleston, Vogelheim knew that she had found her perfect home state. In South Carolina, she says, “I am consistently finding new ingredients to work with, which keeps my job fresh, new and exciting year round.”

A former sous chef at Lowcountry Bistro, Vogelheim has risen through the ranks to lead the team at Town Hall as executive chef. Located in historic downtown Florence, Town Hall’s menu changes with the seasons and offers local, responsibly raised meat and pork, as well as fresh seafood, local produce and, of course, local beer and spirits. Vogelheim herself says that Carolina Heritage Farms pork is an absolute must in her kitchen—and lucky for her, the farm is only right up the road.

As of now, the menu feature veal osso bucco with Carolina plantation rice, Prince Edward Island mussels with bacon lardons and garlic-espelette aioli, and the French-inspired bouillabaisse—the latter being Vogelheim’s signature dish. Incorporating shrimp, mussels, scallops and local fish, bouillabaisse is a versatile dish that adapts to seasonal ingredients, producing a different result each time. Though labor-intensive, Vogelheim says that the dish is always rewarding: “To me, there is no better feeling than spending hours on a single dish and seeing the satisfaction on someone’s face as they take a big spoonful of your hard work—pure joy.”

Lamb stuffed artichokes

female chefs

Duck rillette

Vogelheim’s signature bouillabaisse

Visit Town Hall Florence:

101 West Evans Street
Florence, SC 29501

Monday – Thursday: 5-10 pm
Friday & Saturday: 5-11 pm
Sunday: Closed

To make reservations, call (843) 472-5203 or visit their website at http://townhallflorence.com/

Spotted Salamander • Columbia, S.C.

female chefs

Credit: SCPRT (Photo by Perry Baker)

A native of Kentucky, Jessica Shillato is a Southern girl through and through—and she’s dedicated to carrying on and elevating the culinary legacy of her family and her region. Classically trained at the former Johnson & Wales Charleston campus, she built on the love of food taught to her by her family who always treated a meal as a celebration.

In the footsteps of many restaurateurs, Shillato and her husband opened Spotted Salamander in 2008 as a “boutique” catering service. Popular demand would lead to a cafe arm of the business opening in 2014. Dedicated to local Southern cuisine, Shillato finds that South Carolina offers the best-of-the-best ingredients when crafting the perfect meal. “The food is always changing with the seasons, keeping it exciting to constantly create new dishes,” she says. “I love to share the deliciousness of South Carolina with everyone.”

Spotted Salamander Cafe serves up Southern classics—with a twist. Shillato’s signature deviled eggs change each and every day, bursting with creativity and topped with accoutrements like Adluh cornbread croutons or chicken chicharrones. The menu also features other intriguing dishes like shrimp salad stuffed avocados over greens, tomato pie mac n’ cheese and croissant french toast with macerated local blueberries. Of her culinary style, she says, “This is ever-changing—I don’t think it’s ever just one thing.”

House pimento cheese with toasted baguette (Credit: SCPRT/Photo by Perry Baker)

Buffalo Chicken Rilletts (Credit: SCPRT/Photo by Perry Baker)

Pulled brisket sandwich with broccoli salad (Credit: SCPRT/Photo by Perry Baker)

Visit Spotted Salamander:

1531 Richland St
Columbia, SC 29201

Monday – Friday: 11am – 2:30pm
Closed on Weekends

To make reservations, call (803) 556-2197.

The Lazy Goat • Greenville, S.C.

female chefs

Credit: SCPRT (Photo by Perry Baker)

Growing up in Mexico City, Tania Cienfuegos Harris learned a love of cooking and baking from a very young age. She says, “Since I was a little kid, I’ve been my grandmother’s sous chef.” Though it took some time to discover that the culinary arts were not only her career calling but also her preferred art form, she went on to study at the Colegio Superior De Gastronomía in Mexico and later was mentored by Thai chef Tong Suvanaratosot. She bounced from Texas, where she honed her baking skills as a pastry chef at a large resort, back to Mexico City, where she wrote recipes for Nestlé before finally landing in Greenville, South Carolina.

Now an accomplished pastry chef, Harris’ arrival in South Carolina triggered a newfound love for farm-to-table ingredients that would elevate and inform her pastry creations. Her favorite ingredients being Carolina Gold rice, regional honey and seasonal fruits, she has an abundance of supplies to create artisanal sweets. She says, “Desserts for me are an empty canvas, and you can express feelings and emotions.”

As pastry chef at the Lazy Goat, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant in Greenville’s West End, Harris likes to experiment and push boundaries, all while infusing her Mexican heritage into her dishes. Her current favorite on the menu is the Moroccan rice pudding, which incorporates sesame and almond shortbread cookies, caramelized pineapple and basil crystals. Other tantalizing creations include pistachio crème brûlée and local honey comb with gorgonzola madeleines, white chocolate and toasted hazelnuts.

Vanilla-honey ice cream with local honey comb

Opera cake with coffee buttercream and dark chocolate ganache

Cannoli made with Turkish coffee chocolate sauce

Visit the Lazy Goat:

171 Riverplace
Greenville, SC 29601

Monday – Thursday: 5pm – 10pm
Friday – Saturday: 11am – 11pm
Sunday: 11am – 9pm

To make a reservation, call 864-679-5299 or visit their website at https://thelazygoat.com/

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