Thanks to a potent blend of local pride, Southern hospitality, elbow grease and charm, there’s no stopping the world-class restaurant scene in Charleston. And over the last five years or so, the city has attracted a bevy of national accolades as well as droves of young culinary talent flocking to the Holy City to be a part of its big moment. Accordingly, it’s high time we honored some of the young folks making the food scene in Charleston so exciting. From rice planters to sommeliers to oyster shuckers, the honorees of our first-ever Charleston 30 under 30 list have the passion, the skill and the dedication to make an already robust culinary culture even better.
—Story by Stephanie Burt, photos by Stacy Howell
Brianna Berry, 26Coffee Director, Harold’s Cabin
Although neighborhood restaurant and mini-market Harold’s Cabin has been open less than a year, it’s making a name for itself as nontraditional and fun, and Berry’s coffee program follows that m.o. She always had an interest in coffee, but it was a College of Charleston trip to Honduras where she really caught the coffee bug. Through her microfinance study abroad, she saw the work and effort it takes to grow coffee sustainably, and in 2011, she began her barista training at Starbucks where she learned the basics, moved on to the Grand Bohemian (an Intelligentsia Coffee program) and now works to incorporate the Cabin’s rooftop garden ingredients — especially the herbs — into her list of specialty coffee concoctions, such as the Jackelope, made with espresso, basil and ginger beer.
Amanda Black, 23Sous Chef, Zero Restaurant + Bar
It’s only Black’s second job out of the Trident Tech culinary program, but her first gig prepared her for the challenges of excelling in a high-pressure kitchen. After three years at Charleston institution, Hamby Catering, she was used to cooking in unusual spaces, so when she saw the small open kitchen at Zero George, she wasn’t fazed. She works side-by-side with Top Chef alum Vinson Petrillo, who is known for his commitment to detail and beautifully constructed plates. Petrillo praises her hard work, knowledge of ingredients and enthusiasm for the food served to a clientele that often includes movie stars and dignitaries.
Mark Bolchoz, 23Butcher/Charcutier, The Grocery
A native of Mt. Pleasant, SC, Bolchoz has been working at least a 40-hour week in a restaurant since he was 15. As a teenager, he would complete his home-school studies in the morning and clock into a full restaurant shift by late afternoon each day. In fact, he attended his high school graduation while on a session break from the CIA in Hyde Park. After a tenure as executive chef of Trattoria San Giorgio in Millwood, NY, he moved back to the Lowcountry and worked at Indaco before coming to The Grocery, a restaurant with a James Beard–nominated chef and a menu of local and seasonal ingredients, where he focuses on maintaining the high standard of the restaurant’s classic charcuterie while introducing new interpretations of his own.
Cappie Peete Chapman, 29Director of Beverage & Education, Neighborhood Dining Group
Born in Greensboro, NC, Chapman first considered becoming a sommelier when she met — and was inspired by — advanced sommelier Julia Hunt in her hometown. Once she moved to Charleston, she began working toward that goal, and through laser focus, passed the intro exam at 21, became certified at 22 and was 26 when she received her advanced Court of Master Sommeliers certification. By then she was the wine director at McCrady’s and is now beverage director for the whole group, including Husk in Nashville and Charleston and multiple Minero restaurants. Multi-talented, she’s also built an impressive madeira and mezcal collection for the company. Her newest study is beer, where she is taking a class with a certified cicerone to possibly become one herself.
Chelsey Conrad, 29Executive Chef, Butcher & Bee
With a grandmother who cooked professionally at one point and a grandfather who was a butcher, working in the kitchen seemed to come naturally to Conrad. She moved from Charlotte, NC to Charleston at 17 to attend culinary school at Trident Technical College and never looked back, doing at five-year stint under chef Frank Lee at SNOB before moving to the Bee, the game-changing Upper King restaurant known for its gourmet sandwiches at lunch and Mediterranean plates at dinner. Known for her deft treatment of vegetables and life-altering hummus, she gains inspiration examining the similarities between Middle Eastern and Southern cuisines, from eggplant dishes, to a butterbean dish with dill, all served with her simple yet elegant approach.
Andres A. Contreras, 28Manager/Assistant Director of Wine, 39 Rue de Jean
Contreras started serving at modern French brasserie 39 Rue de Jean while studying for the MCAT, and soon realized he didn’t know that much about French food and wine and couldn’t easily answer guest questions. “And I don’t like not knowing,” he says. So on Sunday evenings, he and then-server Bobby Young (now operating partner of The Darling) started having “wine sessions.” Contreras purchased Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course and got a job in Southern Season’s wine department while still working at Rue. Known for his outgoing personality in the front of house, he has developed relationships with many regulars. As for wine, he plans to take the second level sommelier certification in the spring, skipping level one.
Kyle DeGolyer, 27Bartender, Bar Mash
Partially inspired by a USBG meeting and Hey, Bartender on Netflix, DeGolyer worked his way up in the ranks at Poogan’s Hospitality Group from a server assistant to the beverage director for both restaurants. He credits a mix of on-the-job training and as he puts it, “Google University.” He became a favorite with the Poogan’s crowd because he created approachable cocktails that helped guests ease into trying something new. DeGolyer recently migrated to Bar Mash, a whiskey-focused bar located in the Cigar Factory, where he continues his focus on housemade bitters (he’s been using a sous vide to speed up the process) but still hasn’t forgotten how to make you a whiskey and ginger with a smile.
Megan Deschaine, 29Bar Manager, 492
Deschaine’s drinks are so unique that some have even garnered national praise — her popular Disco Sour was recently featured in the New York Times. For Deschaine, craft cocktail making isn’t just about old-school techniques and esoteric ingredients, it’s about entertaining the guest as well (read color-changing ice cubes). She began bartending in Baltimore at Mr. Rain’s Fun House, but since arriving in Charleston has become a fixture on the cocktail scene, from winning the Charleston Wine + Food Iron Mixologist in 2014 to serving as vice president for the local USBG chapter. At 492, an inventive restaurant focused on elegantly presented local fare, she employs fresh herbs from the rooftop garden and loves a good kitschy cocktail name.
Joe DiMaio, 27Executive Chef, The Darling Oyster Bar
DiMaio’s chef trajectory has been swift: first training at The Art Institute of Charleston, then a position at the Old Village Post House, tenures at The Ocean Room then Stars Restaurant under chef Nathan Thurston. At Stars, he also served as executive chef when Thurston moved on to other projects, so it made sense when one of those was The Darling Oyster Bar (a seafood-centered restaurant located in the former Union Provisions space) that Thurston tapped his protégé as executive chef. An Ocean Isle Beach, NC native, cooking seafood is instinctual for DiMaio, and he excels at keeping the raw-bar choices varied and at peak season, while offering contrasting items such as hushpuppies, oyster spaghetti and a solid burger.
Christopher Garate & Keila Viera, 28 and 27Owners, BKeD and KTCHeN INC.
When Garate and Viera moved from NYC to Charleston, they knew they wanted to start a bakery and decided the best way to get a sense of the market was to rove around on a food truck. Viera had worked at Magnolia Bakery and Garate had clocked time in Chipotle corporate, so their idea for BKeD, an artisan sandwich and dessert truck, was well founded. But what’s even more extraordinary is how they’ve helped other small food businesses just like them. BKeD built a kitchen and prep center for themselves and similar vendors and in effect have created a “command center and prep kitchen” for many of the food trucks in the area. BKeD still runs its own mobile food business — which now includes a gourmet pretzel cart along with sandwiches and sweets — and now kitchen logistics and administration too.
Greg Garrison, 29Executive Chef/Partner, Prohibition Charleston, Prohibition Savannah
Garrison never thought he’d move to Charleston while working happily as sous chef at L’Espalier in Boston under CDC Matthew Delisle. Fast forward a year (and a fortuitous vacation) and he’s established as the executive chef of Prohibition, a spot on Upper King that might be more known for its innovative cocktails than its food. Garrison is changing all that. He tweaks the menu nightly and rotates items such as ash-roasted strip loin and fried okra with bee pollen and fennel — high-end food preparation and methods that are second nature from his time in Boston and his training at CIA Hyde Park.
Benjamin Harris, 29Executive Chef, Poogan’s Porch
Originally from Raleigh, NC, Harris has bounced around a lot, from opening restaurants in Hilton Head to working as a corporate chef for a retirement home, but Poogan’s Porch is the only restaurant where he’s worked twice, first as a sous and now the executive chef. Chef Daniel Doyle wooed him back to the Holy City after a stint at Midtown Grille in Raleigh, and Harris is working to secure more local producers, especially GrowFood Carolina and Joseph Fields Farms. He’s breathed new life into the 40-year-old traditionally Southern restaurant, elevating preparations and making menu additions such as farro, a vegetarian dinner plate, and a pulled pork Benedict on the brunch menu, while making sure that classics such as the she-crab soup and fried chicken maintain the standard that helped build Poogan’s into the Charleston icon it is.
Katy Keefe, 29Pastry Chef, McCrady’s and McCrady’s Tavern
Although Keefe isn’t playing volleyball much anymore (she played for Ole Miss), she’s translated that focus and team mentality into her current work. Since graduating from the CIA in Hyde Park in 2011, she’s found something very satisfying in the large-scale planning that pastry requires as well as the challenge of perfecting one single item at a time. So when chef Sean Brock recently transformed Charleston’s McCrady’s into two new concepts, Keefe helped develop the right approach that Brock’s visions required: for the tavern, a focus on the Gilded Age reimagined, and for the new tasting menu restaurant, a focus on experimentation. The results include her Lady Baltimore cake, which switches out raisins for poached figs with apple butter, a white chocolate mousse and a French buttercream.
Lucie Kulze, 21Farmer, Origin Acres
Kulze grew up eating healthy as the daughter of wellness coach Dr. Ann Kulze. But her attraction to farming was more than just health. “I was born with a plant thing,” she explains. When she did her high school senior thesis on school gardens, she was assigned mentor Elizabeth Beak who connected her with farmers and the esteemed Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills. Kulze is now growing heirloom Charleston Gold rice through organic methods on her family land in the ACE Basin where her dad and uncle hunt for waterfowl. Her 2015 yield was 700 pounds, which sold out in six weeks via Anson Mills, word of mouth and a farmer's market stand. This year, she is projecting a harvest of 3–5,000 pounds. Local restaurants, get in line.
Kyle Lankford, 25Shucker and Bartender, Pearlz Oyster Bar
Lankford started as a line cook at Waffle House (smothering and covering hash browns), but it was only when he began working as a barback at Morgan Creek Grill on Isle of Palms that he realized he had a misconception about himself — he wasn’t shy. He was a people-person. At the West Ashley Pearlz, an oyster bar in Avondale with a loyal local crowd, he might shuck 150-dozen oysters per night, bantering with guests as he builds countess oyster trays and oyster shooters. But it’s not all about speed; Lankford has impressive precision as well, inspecting each oyster for color, firmness and a shell full of liquid. He has exceptional knowledge of the differences in each oyster varietal and helps guide guests to find their favorites.
Michael Mai, 25Coffee Director, Mercantile and Mash, The Indigo Road
Once a behavioral therapist, Mai found himself really fascinated by coffee when he took a part-time job at The Collective to pay the bills, and like a good therapist, he paid attention. Soon he focused full time, working sales for Black Tap’s roasting operation before the Indigo Road Dining Group tapped him to open Mercantile and Mash, a coffee shop, market and breakfast and lunch spot which often boasts lines for one of Mai’s concoctions. At the “Merc,” he upgrades coffee’s essential qualities with nitro and flash chilling, yet still values the consistency of a perfectly pulled espresso shot; in fact, he’s created a system where all the baristas have to weigh the coffee for each cup.
Jayce McConnell, 28Head Bartender, Edmund’s Oast
Originally in Oxford, MS to attend Ole Miss, McConnell soon found himself enjoying the restaurant life much more than the college one. He worked as a prep cook at Snackbar, and when the restaurant started a Saturday morning brunch bar, he manned that too, and in the beginning, he had a lot of downtime to experiment and read the Mr. Boston Bartender Guide. Soon he was hooked, with trips to NOLA to research, accolades behind the bar of sister restaurant City Grocery and eventually a move to Charleston to run the impressive cocktail program at Edmund's Oast (a brewpub, restaurant and hip bar) and the BevCon beverage conference board. He’s known for bold and boozy cocktails, such as the Carpetbagger: rye, Cocchi Torino, Angostura amaro, bitters and orange oil.
Claire McPhee, 29General Manager, EVO Craft Bakery
Sure, she has a BS in marine biology, but the first day she worked customer service at Great Harvest Baking Company in Mount Pleasant, McPhee noticed it really didn’t feel like a job. That led to work at Callie’s Biscuits and a position under Claire Chapman at Peninsula Grill, where during the holidays McPhee helped make countless coconut cakes for special orders. She took another customer service position at EVO Craft Bakery at the excellent Park Circle pizzeria, and soon moved to the baking side once again, developing new items as it expanded production. She now manages the entire operation and sees the bakery “as a playground of creativity.” To wit, her savory and sweet croissant daily specials almost always sell out.
Femi Oyediran, 29Server, Charleston Grill
When Oyediran started at Charleston Grill eight years ago, it was a “clock in/clock out” job while he pursued his passion — being a DJ. That all changed one evening when he came into the restaurant with some friends and tasted a 2004 Elderton Command Shiraz. “Suddenly, I knew wine could be for real,” he says. Inspired by Grill sommelier Rick Rubel, Oyediran started studying wine instead of music. Soon Rubel started mentoring him, Oyediran buckled down, and he passed the intro, certified and advanced courses of Court of Master Sommeliers in two years. To him, matching a wine with a guest is like matching a DJ selection to a crowd. He plans to follow in Rubel’s footsteps and own and operate his own wine program in the near future.
Rachel Pearce, 24Sous Chef, Henrietta’s
Originally from New York’s Hudson Valley, Pearce moved to Charleston on a whim after training at CIA and landed a line cook position at FIG. Ambitious, gregarious and with an intense attention to detail, she excelled at the work, and so when a management position at the newly opened Henrietta’s in The Dewberry Hotel opened up, chef Jason Stanhope supported the move. As sous chef, she embraces the new challenges of managing staff and the rigors of running a restaurant that serves three meals a day, which means less prep and different staffing and sourcing needs. The classic brasserie menu — everything from steak and eggs to Bourride Provençal — keeps her hopping, and on her rare days off, she’s developing a cookbook.
Thai Phi, 28Owner & Chef, Pink Bellies
When Thai Phi moved to Charleston to attend COFC, he wanted to learn the frozen food business (to sell his family recipes) but couldn’t land a job. So after he received his MBA, he purchased a truck and decided to cook instead. Pink Bellies is his Vietnamese food truck, and he recreates his family recipes using local ingredients as much as possible. Applying his business acumen to everything from securing a prime spot at St. Phillip and Calhoun Streets to learning how to service the generator, he is a master of customer service and remembers many of the regulars’ orders. “Everyday, this truck tests my conviction for what I want to do,” he says. The lines for his banh mi with charcuterie, pork pate, daikons and cucumbers are proof that he’s driving in the right direction.
Philip Powers, 29Director of Culinary Operations, Lewis Barbecue
Powers began washing dishes at a restaurant when he was a teenager and needed money to restore a '67 Mustang. Soon he was training on prep. Then came an apprenticeship at The Army-Navy Club and Brabo, school at CIA and some impressive stages, including Eleven Madison Park in New York. He was also part of the opening staff of the NoMad, but after a while, he grew weary of fine dining and took a job at Delaney Barbecue. Looking to the future and away from the city, he connected with famed Texas pit master John Lewis in Charleston, working some pop-ups with him before moving to a full-time role at the Texas-inspired BBQ spot. He’s now an essential part of the operation at Lewis Barbecue, where he serves as chef and “air traffic control” for all moving parts.
Jesse Sandole and Kyle Norton, 29 and 28CEO and Operating Partner/Beverage Director, 167 Raw
Sandole grew up in his father’s gourmet seafood market on Nantucket and was used to the ebb and flow of the tourism season. He came south to attend COFC and noticed that Charleston, on the other hand, had a steady flow of tourists and a robust local community. When he connected with a family friend — Kyle Norton — who was working locally as well at Red Drum in Mount Pleasant, the duo opened 167 Raw in July 2014 first as a catering business and then a petite brick-and-mortar on East Bay Street. The restaurant has garnered substantive press for its superbly fresh raw bar, cool vibe and perfectly paired beverage list. And there’s usually a wait.
Jeremiah Schenzel, 29Beverage Director, Indigo Road Dining Group
Born in Carson City, NV, Schenzel moved east to train as a chef then to Charleston on a whim, landing on the line at The Macintosh. The next move was upstairs to design and cook a snacks menu for The Cocktail Club, but he naturally had a lot of questions about cocktails. He began coming up with answers and realized he could build flavors in cocktails just as he could in cooking. Now he oversees the cocktail programs of the restaurant group’s rapidly expanding regional footprint, from O-Ku in Charleston, Atlanta and Charlotte, to Indaco with its amaro selection and Negronis on tap. If you’d like to say hi, the first place to look for him is usually Bar Mash.
Bea Shaffer, 28Regional Manager, Callie's Hot Little Biscuit
Biscuits were perhaps always Shaffer’s destiny. On the first day of her Charleston internship with the esteemed Nathalie Dupree, the two drove to Savannah to host a biscuit-making demonstration in support of Dupree’s book Southern Biscuits. Shaffer was finishing a degree at Johnson & Wales’ Charlotte campus in pursuit of food writing, but after working with Dupree she worked a year as a pantry cook at Circa 1886 and then had an internship with the James Beard Foundation in New York before returning to Charleston. Soon biscuits were here life, this time at Callie’s Biscuits, where she can do anything but excels at managing Callie’s growing HLB franchise. She currently splits her time between Charleston and Atlanta.
Braydon Sutherland, 26Sous Chef, FIG Restaurant
Born in Lake Wylie, SC Sutherland began working in kitchens at 19. But it wasn’t until he worked under chef Frank Lee at SNOB that he really began to excel. Lee ran a brigade system kitchen and Sutherland took to the structure, the consistency and the discipline. After staging in NYC, he returned but was close enough to Lee to share his next goal — FIG. Lee made a phone call, Sutherland got a stage and at the end of one shift chef Jason Stanhope offered him a job. He has quickly moved through the ranks to second in command. He also has a Japanese knife obsession, and he uses those knives to further hone his seafood skills, deftly creating elegant crudos and showcasing the beauty of local catch from snowy grouper to vermillion snapper.
Shuai Wang, 29Co-Owner/Chef, Short Grain Food Truck
Cooking and eating has always been a huge family affair for Wang. So when he was a senior in high school and had the choice of a computer programming class or a cooking class, it was a no-brainer. Then he enrolled at the Art Institute of NYC, read Kitchen Confidential, volunteered at the Beard House and basically went all-in with kitchen work. Burnout ensued, and when a friend invited him to Charleston, he decided to work for himself and roll out his love and expertise of Japanese cooking the low-risk way — a food truck. It paid off, including being listed as one of this year’s Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America. Wang labels everything out of the Short Grain window as “untraditional Japanese,” and that includes rice bowls, noodle bowls, salads and sides.
Chris Wilkins, 29Co-Founder & Head Baker, Root Baking Co.
Wilkins first took up bakery work as a way to raise funds to visit his future wife while they were dating long distance. He became enamored with the “honesty of bread” and was recruited to help open Independent Baking Company in Athens, GA, a spot that just happened to be doors down from Hugh Acheson’s Five and Ten. The two struck up a friendship, Wilkins moved to The Florence in Savannah and finally migrated to Charleston where he opened Root Baking Co. with his wife Nicole. There, his focus on chasing flavors through house fermentation and heirloom grains has created an intense cult following.
Brandon Wogamon, 28Co-Founder, Cannonborough Beverage Company
In 2012, Wogamon was living in a house on Cannon Street with Matt Fendley and Mick Matricciano who, at the time, both bartended at local craft cocktail mecca, The Gin Joint. The trio began experimenting with unusual soda flavors that could stand alone or be a high-end cocktail addition and soon, Cannonborough Beverage Company was born. The fresh fruit soda company which started as a farmer's market stand now bottles popular flavors (i.e. honey basil, grapefruit elderflower or ginger beer) and appears on tap at some of the area’s best restaurants, including Edmund’s Oast and Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen. Their concoctions have garnered all kinds of praise and were a 2015 recipient of Garden & Gun’s Made in the South award.
Matt Zeleniak, 29Head Brewer, Freehouse Brewery
Zeleniak professes that he never thought that organic ingredients would make a difference in brewing until he came to Freehouse Brewery. He graduated from COFC and had always been a home brewer, working at Southend Brewery before taking a taproom manager job just to get in the door at Freehouse. Soon he was crushing blueberries and talking beer with owner Arthur Lucas. Zeleniak and Lucas work closely together developing a variety of styles for this 100% organic brewery, including a Sour Wild series. They're slated to produce 1,300 barrels in 2016, many of which include local fruits, such as the Blueberry Peche Sourlina, and served from casual spots like Bohemian Bull to Commune pop-up events and fine-dining restaurants such as 492.