Meet OMB’s Chef

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Jeniffer Sturgis (delightfully, she goes by her last name “Sturgis”), chef at Old Mill Brewpub in Lexington is behind each phenomenally tasting dish at OMB and we were happy to catch up with her! From their long list of huge, mouthwatering burgers to seasonal beers on tap…..full menu here!

Foodie News: Where did you grow up and what influenced you to become a chef?
Sturgis: I grew up in Darlington, SC. I have always enjoyed cooking. Even as a small child, cooking shows were my go-to, over cartoons. As many children do, I learned a lot about the basics from spending time with my grandmother. I am very artistic and inquisitive and I feel that being a chef allows me to incorporate these two attributes into my daily life better than any other profession would.
Foodie News: Did you attend culinary school or learn on the job?
Sturgis: I have no formal culinary training, but I also do not feel that this is necessary in order to be a great chef.  Most of my knowledge has come from on the job training as well as reading and television shows.  We are living in a time where food/cooking is such a popular culture topic…it is exciting to be able to literally learn more about your job from simply watching TV. I actually plan my vacations around restaurants. My last vacation was in NYC, where I went to Morimoto’s and actually got to meet him – what a chef-fy thing to do!
OMB's Chocolate Stout Braised Brisket

Chocolate Stout Braised Brisket Sandwich

Foodie News: Old Mill Brewpub offers special seasonal dishes like Eggplant Parmesan Alfredo & Chocolate Stout Braised Brisket Sandwich. What goes into developing these new dishes?
Sturgis: Being an actual Brewpub, we try to incorporate as much beer into our food menu as we can.  The chocolate stout braised brisket is one of our menu items that does just that.  The brisket is braised in Holy City Pluff Mud Porter and then finished with caramelized onions, white cheddar horseradish-chive cheese, and a citrus hop mayo. We also try to make sure we have several vegetarian and/or gluten free options on our menu for our customers who may have special dietary needs.  The Eggplant Parmesan Alfredo is an example of one of these items. The eggplant is panko breaded, then beer battered and fried. It is then smothered in marinara and parmesan and baked before being placed on top of Alfredo penne and served with garlic toast.
Foodie News: What kind of cooking do you most enjoy?
Sturgis: If I had to pick a cuisine that I enjoy cooking most, it would be Northern Italian because it is very similar to southern cuisine…very much seafood, game, and vegetables.  It is easy to incorporate the things I have learned about cooking while growing up in the south with the principles involved in Northern Italian cooking.
Foodie News: What is your favorite part of your job at Old Mill Brewpub?
Sturgis: My favorite part of my job at OMB is being able to be creative when developing our weekly specials….essentially, “playing with food”.  Not only is it important for our regulars who get to enjoy something new each week, it gives all of our customers something different to try as our specials are usually a little outside of the box, so to speak.

Meet the Chef

Meet the Chef

Meet Chef JT Simms of Tombo Grille

We love Tombo Grille’s fresh take on everything they serve.  The Summer Menu stands out: Get your palate revved with an appetizer from the Small Bites section: May we suggest smoked salmon spring rolls featuring cabbage, carrots and cream cheese and served with mango chutney.  Then a delightful summertime treat –  heirloom tomato salad arugula, avocado crème, candied bacon and fried onions with white balsamic vinaigrette.  For your entree, you’ll love the Palmetto Farms Cornish hen (much larger than a traditional Cornish hen!) served with ricotta gnocchi, zucchini, fava beans, oyster mushrooms and Madeira jus. OMG!

Tombo Grille’s executive chef, JT Simms, has a food philosophy:

“I believe the key to making great food is to start with the best ingredients – fresh, as local as possible and of the highest quality… then I take those ingredients and don’t manipulate them much.  I let the foods shine on their own by cooking simply – no heavy sauces or spices that cover up the natural flavors. I just do things to enhance the natural flavors.”

Woohoo!! Tombo Grille won the Peoples Choice award at Mac Madness 2015 and will be heading to Kissimmee, Florida to compete in the World Food Championships later this year! JT and Crystal–great job, we are thrilled for you & Tombo Grille! Outstanding. Foodies, aren’t you dying to try their Mac & Cheese now?

Here’s the rest of the story:

Foodie News: Where did you grow up and what influenced you to become a chef?

JT: I grew up in Columbia and Myrtle Beach.  I have a clear memory of trying to get off the school bus fast and hurry home to watch “Great Chefs” on TV.  I have no idea why I got interested in that show.  I just liked it, and I still like it.  My mom was a great baker which inspired me to pursue cooking.

Foodie News: Did you attend culinary school or learn on the job?Tombo Grille's Burger

JT: I learned on the job. I have been cooking for 17 years. I’ve worked a lot of places… my first job as a cook was at Saluda’s. I’ve also cooked in several high end resorts in Las Vegas, a small farm to table restaurant in Wisconsin, and Cyprus in Charleston.  When I moved back to Columbia I got the opportunity to be the chef at Tombo Grille.

Foodie News: Tombo Grille offers guests both daily specials and their seasonal menu.  What goes into developing your daily specials and your seasonal menus?

JT: Daily specials are designed daily – I don’t generally know what we’ll offer each day until I see what  kinds of seafood or meats are available that day.  I am always looking for the best of everything. I choose the daily specials based on finding the best cuts, the best catches, the freshest vegetables.  Our seafood suppliers deal directly with the fishermen… and they know I am picky.  So they only present me with really great catches.  Same thing with meats. And I go to the Farmers Market and pick produce myself.  As far as the seasonal menus, obviously I am thinking in terms of lighter, cooler foods in the summer and warmer, filling foods in the fall and winter. 

Sea Bass dish at Tombo Grille

Miso marinated sea bass with jasmine rice, shiitake mushroom broth and quick pickled Asian salad.

Foodie News: What kind of cooking do you most enjoy?

JT: I really like cooking anything.  I find cooking to be kind of therapeutic.  I like spending 2 or 3 hours on a pot of soup.  And, since I grew up in Myrtle Beach, I love fish.  I like grilling a really great fish, and coming up with an Asian or Hispanic sauce to complement it.

Foodie News: What is most rewarding about your job at Tombo Grille?

JT: Knowing that our customers love our food!  We have clientele who dine with us weekly and some with us daily.  I have come to know some of our customers so well that I can tell you who is in the dining room from the food they have ordered! 

Black Sea Bass Dish at Tombo Grille

Whole Roasted N.C. Black Sea Bass topped with a peach pico de gallo served with saffron rice, local greens and grilled yellow watermelon

I also really appreciate the freedom that Len and Gini, the owners, have given me.  I really feel I am able to cook without limitations.  So many times chefs have limitations put on them, but that doesn’t happen here.  I have worked at very fine restaurants in Vegas and Charleston, but I didn’t have the creative freedom I have here.  I really like that freedom. 

Thanks JT and Tombo Grille for creating food that we all love and congratulations again on winning BEST Mac & Cheese Peoples Choice! *Foodies, if you have not been to Tombo Grille it is a must try—savor every moment + bite.

Meet the Chef

Meet the Chef

Meet Pastry Chef, Hayley Miller of Kaminsky’s Dessert CafeHayley Miller of Kaminsksys

Interview by Miriam Cattell, Foodie News Correspondent for Gardener Guides

Welcome to the sweet side of Gervais!  Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe recently opened next door to its big brother, Pearlz Oyster Bar, on Gervais St. in the Vista.  In addition to freshly made desserts, they have an extensive coffee/espresso collection, dessert martini offerings and small savory dishes. Click here for menu.  We recently sat down with Pastry Chef Hayley Miller, to find out who is behind all these delicious desserts.

Foodie News: How did you become interested in becoming a pastry chef?

Hayley Miller: Well growing up, my grandmother used to work at the church kitchen at Shandon United Methodist down off Devine Street, and, before I was born, she managed several grocery store bakeries. So every time I would go to her house, which was normally every single day, I would be in the kitchen with her. She would always pull me into the kitchen and we would bake stuff…that’s kind of how I got started. My career is pretty much because of my grandmother! When I went to her house it was just like, “have at it!” “Wanna do this?…we will do this!” She would go sit down and leave me in the kitchen.  Later on,  a culinary arts program was offered at my high school and I enrolled in it. I stuck with it and that’s how I’ve ended up here.  I had always been more of an artsy student – I always did art camps and stuff like that. This job is like a fusion…the food part which I love, but it is also super artsy. 

Foodie News: Did you go to school to become a pastry chef or did you learn on the job? Kaminskys Dessert Cafe Milkshake

Hayley: A little bit on the job. Here and there, but I did go to school – I went to Greenville Tech. I got my associates in culinary arts/ baking & pastry. I know a lot of culinary stuff too. I enjoy the culinary part of things because it is more relaxed. I love doing culinary work sometimes because it’s different from baking – baking is so precise. With culinary you can just throw things together, but with baking you can’t just throw things together, you have to follow a recipe. So, culinary is definitely my fun side when I get to do that.

Foodie News: Where have you worked prior to Kaminsky’s?

Hayley: I worked at Two Chefs To Go and that is in Greenville, SC.

Foodie News: On average how many desserts do you create in a day?Cake at Kaminskys Dessert Cafe

Hayley: Here at Kaminsky’s we do cakes, pies, cheesecakes, cookies, and brownies and I mean normally probably a couple dozen a day. Sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays I will come in and decorate like 20 cakes and we will do a bunch of pies, and a ton of cookies and brownies. So, a lot!

Kaminskys Dessert Cafe Cookie PieFoodie News: What is your most favorite dish to prepare at Kaminsky’s?

HayleyI really like to prepare cheesecakes as they are fun and I like doing cookies. I’m big about our cookies. I am very funny about what temperature the cookies go in at, how they form, how they are scooped, and how they are made. I mean you have to have the perfect cookie, so I am very particular about those, like super particular. So, that’s probably my favorite to make because I am so funny…like that’s the one I care about, which is probably like the smallest thing, I mean it isn’t what we are known for, but it’s like that one thing that I have to have.

Foodie News: What is your most favorite dish to eat at Kaminsky’s? Kaminskys Red Velvet Cake

Hayley: Probably Red Velvet cake!

Foodie News: What do you consider to be the most essential item in your kitchen?

Hayley: Essential item would probably be the mixer, the oven, and the walk-in cooler. As far as ingredients go I would have to say eggs because eggs are pretty much in everything. Got to have those! Probably measuring cups and measuring spoons too.

Foodie News: What is the most popular signature dessert at Kaminsky’s Dessert Café?

Hayley: Red Velvet Cake and Tollhouse Pie. Tollhouse Pie is kind of like Charleston’s signature. Like if you are in Charleston and they tell you to visit Kaminsky’s, then they are going to tell you to try Tollhouse Pie.

Foodie News: Do you bake a lot at home as well? If so, what is your favorite dessert to make at home?

Hayley: No I don’t bake at home. (laughing) because I am always doing it here, but if I am doing it at home I like to use real French butter cream, like the old school, traditional kind. It is a lot different than what most people think of as butter cream. It has like eggs and really hot sugar. There is no powdered sugar in it at all, so it is really silky and fluffy and when most people taste it they are like, “Oh my gosh! What is this? I have never had this before. This doesn’t taste like normal icing!” I love making cakes with that. I make pound cake at home too because it is easy….a pound of this. Pound of that. Pound of that.

Foodie News: Kaminsky’s is also known in Columbia as the first draft wine bar. Do you see a lot of people coming in hoping to pair a good drink with a delicious bite of dessert? Kaminskys Dessert Pairings

Hayley: Yeah and I enjoy coming in and drinking wine as well, like when I am not working. They have a very good selection. Not only do we have 4 reds and 4 whites on tap, but we have a lot of bottled wine as well. We do a fun fetti cake, so a lot of people will get like birthday batter martini or some people get something coffee related and pair it with a chocolate cake. You see a lot of people pair things together. I have more of a fruity pallet, I mean I like chocolate, but I love fruit and as far as drinks go I wouldn’t probably get a chocolate martini, but something more citrusy or fruity.

Foodie News: What is the most complicated dessert dish that you make at Kaminsky’s? and how long does it typically take you?

Hayley: Probably are Gluten free dessert called the Double Dare Cake, because it just takes a long time, well because it is gluten free. You have to really watch your ingredients its just butter, sugar, and chocolate. That is pretty much it, so you really have to know what you are doing with it. The ingredients have to sit in a water bath in the oven and it has to hit a certain temperature, so it is kind of tricky for it to set up and still be like a cake. 

Foodie News: What made you want to work as a chef at Kaminsky’s?

Hayley: Well, because it was a new kitchen and it was a new opportunity. I didn’t have to follow behind somebody… it was kind of already structured from the one in Charleston… I was kind of already doing my own thing here.  I am the one in charge. It was a new kitchen and a new location. It just seemed like a good opportunity for someone who is really young.

Kaminskys Dessert Cafe CakeFoodie News: Lastly, what do you love most about being a pastry chef at Kaminsky’s Dessert Café? Favorite part?

Hayley: Everybody I work with. I love being in the kitchen and having free range to be creative. I really like the people I work with here at Kaminsky’s and at Pearlz. We have a really good group of people. I mean you don’t want to go to work if it’s not with people you like. So, we have a really good manager and all of our managers are awesome. I think everyone I work with helps being here every day!

930 Gervais Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Directly Beside Pearlz Oyster Bar
803-550-9979

Monday-Friday: 5:00pm – Midnight
Saturday-Sunday: Noon – Midnight


Meet Chef Champ McGee of Little Pigs Barbecue

Yum. Wood-smoked pork.  It smells great and tastes even better.  Smoky pork sandwiches, pulled pork suppers and fall-off-the-bone ribs.  3 sauces – vinegar, mustard and red.   Here in Columbia, located dead center in South Carolina, barbecue capital of the world, there is a whole lot of competition for Q-lovers’ business.  Barbecue joints are everywhere, from roadside shacks and trailers to sit-down restaurants where Q is served off the menu or buffet-style with country vegetables, cornbread and banana pudding.   Barbecue is offered by roving Q trucks that show up at craft breweries, festivals and downtown parking lots at lunch time. Barbecue cook-offs are center stage at local festivals each spring and summer.  So where do you go for the best?  One of our all-time favorites is Little Pigs Barbecue on Alpine Road in northeast Columbia.  We aren’t the only ones who rate it high.  Little Pigs Barbecue was chosen Best Barbecue in the South bySouthern Living magazine.  Hard to quibble with their pick.  We recently sat down with Champ McGee, master barbecuer.

You started off working at Little Pigs when you were young and worked your way up. How did all of that happen?

The guy who owned Little Pigs, Lawrence Britton, was my neighbor and when I was 11 years old,  he asked if I wanted to help out (at his restaurant). I started out washing dishes and whatever else I could do. Over the years, I learned to do everything. In fact by the time  I was in high school, when I got off from school, I went to work and everyone else  who worked there went home. I ran the place totally by myself until supper time when Lawrence came in to help with the supper rush.  I have been at Little Pigs almost all my life.

How did Little Pigs start out?

Little Pigs has been in business for 45 years. The one on Rosewood Drive, before we moved here, was the 38th franchise out of Memphis. It had 36 seats and it was a small restaurant. People walked up to the counter and we chopped the BBQ in front of our customers. There were two wooden chopping blocks in front and behind us was a great big pit where we smoked the meat… and we’d cut the meat up and make sandwiches or plates right there. There was no buffet back then.

Best BuffetHow did you make the transition between having a pit you served from and a buffet and how has the buffet grown over the years?

In the 1962, we decided we would start a small buffet at the Rosewood Drive store. It progressed fast and the buffet was quickly becoming a larger part of the business. When we opened up on Alpine in ’78, we went totally buffet. You can still get a BBQ sandwich, you can still buy a BBQ basket, but it’s 99% buffet. You know, it’s over the last 10 years that we’ve expanded the buffet. We still had pretty traditional BBQ stuff when we first put the buffet out here. It was about half the size of what it is now. You had your coleslaw, and your barbecue beans, rice and hash, the different kinds of pork, and fried chicken with rolls and pickles and banana pudding. It’s grown from there. We have a lot of variety on this buffet today. I make jambalaya and we make chicken pot pie – both from scratch.  We added tomato pie. Everything we try and the customers like, we keep. I think there are over 40 items on there and we rotate things out every once in a while.  Mac and cheese is our most popular side.

Where is the pit located?

I have a pit in the back and three cookers outside. We do a lot of the chicken and ribs outside.

Is that all wood smoked? What kind of wood do you use?

It’s all wood smoked on hickory. Definitely hickory. I’ve got a chicken breast on my menu that’s a mesquite, but everything else is hickory.

How long does it take to cook something like a shoulder?Best Shoulder

18 hours. We cook the meat for 18 hours at about 225 to 235 degrees. We cook the BBQ overnight, and it’s smoked on hickory wood the whole time. Then we take it out, sauce it, let it marinate in the sauce until the next day, a full 24 hours, put it back in the smoker and bring it back to temperature and let it smoke. Not only is the meat smoked, but the sauce actually gets smoked into the meat. I don’t think anybody else in town does that and it makes a difference in the flavor.

You use three different sauces for your BBQ, right?

Yes, plus out here in the buffet area, we also offer meat with no sauce. We have shoulders that are cooked over hickory wood and we put it out on the pig pull, without sauce. Fridays and Saturdays, we use between 12 and 15 shoulders on the pig pull, which is the front leg. The ham dries out more, but the shoulder stays moist out here under the light.

What seems to be the favorite dish that people like to get off of the buffet?

Mustard BBQ. In this area, that’s going to be the biggest hit. I don’t keep up with the weights, but we probably use about 3,000 pounds of ribs a week. No other BBQ restaurant in town gives you all you can eat ribs on the buffet.

What about favorite side dishes?

Macaroni and cheese, number one. Hash is number two. Our hash is different from any other hash. It’s the Little Pigs of America’s hash. It has no heads, no feet, no livers, no junk. Typically, when you think about hash, BBQ people use hash to get rid of what they couldn’t make BBQ out of. We don’t do that at all. It’s pork ham and chuck roast. All meat. Period.

What’s your favorite dish to prepare?

I really love making the chicken pot pie. It’s a lot of fun. You’re using fresh carrots and celery. You caramelize the onions and add flour and milk and you make the roue to just the right thickness. I use pie crust on top and bottom. We serve probably 50 gallons a week – it’s really good.

What’s in tomato pie? A lot of people have never had tomato pie. I’ve always wondered what goes into it.

It’s tomatoes and basil, caramelized onions, sour cream, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese. Fresh basil is what makes it.

Did you ever think about owning Little Pigs when you were younger?

I bought in early on, and then when Lawrence died, I bought his wife out.  I did have another career –  I ran the dining room, dormitory, mail room and reservation section for the Police Academy for 32 years, 5 months, and 17 days, but I never quit Little Pigs. I worked at the Police Academy from 4:30am until noon, and I was at Little Pigs starting at 12:30pm every day.

Do you have any good food combinations that you’ve tried over the years that people wouldn’t necessarily think about?

Not really, other than things I like to eat. I like french fries on my BBQ sandwich. And skins on my BBQ sandwich. That’s really good.

When you’re catering, is there a set menu?

We have nine different menus on the website. We don’t just do BBQ. We do weddings, and I can make foods from any custom menu. Matter of fact, right now I’ve got a wedding I’m doing and they want bruschetta fig gorgonzola, and I’ve never made that before but we’re going to figure out how to do it. We do anything. Any custom menu you want for catering.

4927 Alpine Road Columbia, SC 29223 | 803.788.8238

Wednesday: 11am-2pm
Thursday: 11am-8:30pm
Friday & Saturday: 11am-9pm
Sunday: 11am-3pm

Little Pigs BBQ Bulk Menu

Meet Michelle Wang of M Gourmet Group

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Michelle Wang and Rui ("Ray") Cao of M Gourmet Group

Michelle Wang and Rui (“Ray”) Cao of M Gourmet Group

As owner and chef behind the Miyo’s, M Grille and M Fresh restaurants in the Greater Columbia area, Michelle Wang takes her role as a prominent food provider very seriously.  She thinks of herself as a health influencer when it comes to food, and wants to pass on her love of healthful, delicious food and healthy eating to her customers.  We sat down with Michelle recently, and asked her to share her philosophy about food and how she puts those ideas into her cooking, recipes and restaurants.

Were you influenced by the people around you growing up to live a healthy lifestyle?
I grew up in Shanghai, China and my grandparents raised me. We had no refrigerator, so we would go to the supermarket to get fresh food. I was accustomed to fresh food because we had no chemicals in our food, no processed food at all. My grandparents were very sophisticated eaters and believed in getting a diversity of everything. For instance, in summertime, it was very hot so we ate a lot of mung beans, cucumbers, and other vegetables with light fish and chicken. In the winter time when it was cold we would have lamb and potatoes more than vegetables. They would cook a lot of soups, like tomato based soups, and a lot of cabbage. My grandfather studied abroad in England so he was also had a habit of having an afternoon tea and that’s what is behind the M Fresh concept.

Since your ingredients always need to be fresh, how do you decide where to get your ingredients from?  We work with local producers and local farmers. I’ve been working with Senn Bros since I’ve been in business. They are a wonderful company and I visit their warehouse and understand where everything is from. They are very conscious of picking the best things for our restaurants. They know that we want to use local and natural grown ingredients. I work with City Roots in Rosewood as well. We buy their micro-greens to put in the smoothies and in our dishes.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve been faced with when cooking with fresh ingredients?
It’s really not difficult, you just have to put your heart into it. You have to monitor how much is being used, so you make an order every day. We have a certain routine. In the evening or late afternoon we count what’s been sold.  It take effort in counting what’s been sold and what’s good. We place our order daily – most important, you have to put your heart into cooking fresh.

King salmon with mesclum, arugula & spinach, mandarin oranges, cucumbers,  tomatoes, almonds . dijon

M Grille’s salmon salad with mesclum, arugula & spinach, mandarin oranges, cucumbers, tomatoes, almonds . dijon

See the M Grille lunch menu by clicking here.

When I was reading up on M Grille, I saw that you use fresh, wild ingredients. Can you tell me a little about what using “wild ingredients” means?
For M Grille we try to buy wild cod, shrimp, and salmon. A lot of seafood now is farm raised and that seafood contains hormones. People are now more conscious of how chicken is raised, how the duck is grown, how the fish is being harvested. We try to get wild because it means the animals are not fed any chemicals while they grow. The majority of producers are trying to raise more pounds of meat, but we are trying to get a natural grown food.

See the M Grille dinner menu by clicking here.

Amazing Tuna Pizza from M Grille M Grille's Tuna Pizza (6 inch) grape tomatoes . onion . jalapeno . microgreens . purple onion . light white cream

M Grille’s Tuna Pizza (6 inch) tuna . grape tomatoes . onion . jalapeno . microgreens . purple onion . light white cream

What is a popular food dish at M Grille?
Some of our most popular dishes are the Crispy Flounder with Sweet and Sour Sauce and our Sweet and Sour Chicken. I use different vinegar, different sugar, and we caramelize fresh pineapples to make the sauce. I love pineapples. I think the flavor is really amazing. You have a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. When you put it in your cooking, it’s amazing.

See the M Grille Sunday Brunch menu by clicking here.

At M Fresh, you offer a wide variety of healthy drinks, including different types of smoothies, teas, and juices. Where do you come up with ideas for these healthy drinks?
Healthy ingredients in my diet are indispensable. Fresh berries, good fresh squeezed juice, pomegranate juice, avocado, mung bean and adzuki bean. I want to promote healthy living. These ingredients are costly. When you go to M Fresh, you get your money’s worth. If you are paying $8,  you are getting a $6-$7 in food cost. It’s almost like a nonprofit business, but I do it because I want people to be aware of what they eat and what they drink and to incorporate good into their daily lives. I think people think that M Fresh is expensive, but you’ve got to think about the berries and the fresh ingredients. These ingredients are expensive. You get your money’s worth.

 See more at the M Fresh website by clicking here.

You cook your dishes in grape seed oil and olive oil, right? What made you decide to use these two oils as your base for cooking?
When we sautee food, we use grape seed and olive oil. We do a very good Asian slaw where we use olive oil and sesame oil. The oil is essential. We use butter too, because I think that butter is a good oil for cooking and it adds a lot of flavor. Every cell in our body needs fat, and taking in the right fats is very important to achieving good health. Our brains, our immune system, our skin, our hair, hormones, digestive system – they all rely on fat to function. And fats in foods give us the feeling of satisfaction after a meal. With modern technology and agriculture, we try to be creative, but it goes against God’s law, the natural law. In trying to control everything ourselves, we often create more cancers and problems. I have seen a lot of my customers deal with cancer. Some of them I think it’s the stress, but many of them – I think it’s the diet.

How do you keep your food healthy while not skimping on the delicious taste?
I think healthy food actually tastes better because you can really taste the natural flavor because it’s the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t know where people get the idea that healthy food tastes bad. To make food tasty, I use

M Fresh offers teas, juices, smoothies, soups, salads, wraps, paninis, sandwiches and special entrees.

M Fresh offers teas, juices, smoothies, soups, salads, wraps, paninis, sandwiches and special entrees.

natural herbs and spices to flavor it. You need to use the correct cooking method to bring the flavor. Seasoning is very important.

During your recent trip to China, did you notice any changes in the way people eat there?
China’s changed a lot and the food scene has changed a lot. There are a lot of fancy restaurants and there are a lot of fast food restaurants. I stayed there for four months and I believe that our  (M Gourmet Group) menu items could be very successful over there because people now are eating in fast food restaurants that use processed food. People are supporting KFC and McDonalds because they want to experience America. Most Chinese admire the American dream and the American free spirit. When they go into these fast food places, they are buying a piece of culture rather than a food. I would like to open an M Kitchen there and bring the menu items from M Fresh and M Grille over there.

So you want to open an M Kitchen in China? Where did you get the name?
M means Magic in China. I think what a lot of Chinese people have is dedication and discipline. What they lack is the boldness. They don’t believe that they can achieve something. A lot of people think that they can’t do anything in their generation, but feel maybe their children can. They don’t think they can make a difference, you know? I want to use the business as a platform to share the Gospel message, to have a Biblical center to bring people together.

Do you cook with fresh ingredients at home? What’s your favorite healthy dish to prepare at home?   I love cooking rice cakes at home. I saute the rice cakes with cabbage and mushrooms and put some sea salt on it. It’s such a great meal and the kids love it.

If you could only eat one healthy food for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
It’s very hard to say because I love so many things. I love avocado, strawberries, figs. I love figs. I love so many things. I’m not a one type of food kind of person. I love fresh fruits and salads the best.

Where do you see M Fresh and M Grille in 5-10 years?

I hope to see M Fresh and M Grille everywhere in the United States. That’s my biggest dream. People often ask me, “Michelle, why do you name your restaurants different names – what is M Fresh and M Grille?” I feel like building a new restaurant is like when you have a new child in your family – you don’t know its personality and how its going to embrace and interact the world until it grows up. I hope we can see it mature and grow in its popularity.

 

Meet Nick Piotrowski, Executive Chef at Ruth’s Chris!

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Nick Chef at Ruth's Chris

Nicholas Piotrowski, Executive Chef Ruth’s Chris Columbia SC

Did you always want to be a chef, or did you want to follow a different career path at first?

Honestly, growing up I always wanted to be a garbage man. I was intrigued by the thought of being able to hang off the back of a truck all day.  But now I can’t think of anything I’d rather be than a chef!

How did you become interested in being a chef?

I would have to say the three main things that caught my attention about being a chef early on were my obsession with fire, my endless appetite and my attention to detail while working with my hands.

What is your earliest cooking memory?

My earliest cooking memories would have to be family dinner at my grandparents house. A huge table full of family and food, everyone always helping out to make the holiday meal come together.

If you could choose anything in the world to cook, what would it be and why?

Baked spaghetti or Sheppard’s Pie would be my choice mostly because they are the best comfort foods in my opinion.

You recently stepped up into the Executive Chef position at Ruth’s Chris, right? What’s it like taking on more responsibility in the kitchen? What new roles did you have to take on?

Being an Executive chef has so many aspects to it, I don’t think people realize that the cooking is just one part. It involves everything from accounting and bookkeeping, to HR duties, maintenance and repair.  Some days I will go from working the broiler to climbing on the roof to change hood vent belts, to dealing with personnel issues, and then right back into balancing invoices. I think that is what I love about it the most though, it is never a dull moment and always keeps you moving.

Ruth's Chris Filet

Signature Filet | Ruth’s Chris

What is the most popular dish at Ruth’s Chris?

Our signature Filet is far and away the most popular item on our menu.

Does the most popular dish change depending on the season, or is there always one tried and true dish that seems to be on everyone’s minds?

The filet is, hands down, most popular, regardless of season.  And frankly, I can understand why, it’s a great cut of meat and we cook it to sizzling perfection every time!

What is your favorite dish to prepare at Ruth’s Chris?

I am a huge fan of our Porterhouse; when it’s cooked just right, it’s a beautiful thing!  At 40 ounces,  it may sound a little intimidating, but in my experience, many guests are up to the challenge.

What is your favorite Ruth’s Chris dish to eat?

sweet potatoes Ruths Chris

Sweet Potato Casserole | Ruth’s Chris

I love our Sweet Potato Casserole, there is nothing else like it out there. It’s a one of a kind dish that cannot be matched.

Since Ruth’s Chris is such a popular restaurant, the food needs to be consistently cooked to perfection. How do you keep your kitchen running smoothly to ensure that every dish comes out perfectly cooked?

I push myself to stay very active throughout the entire operation.  I am continuously working with the staff to make sure we reach our goals and produce a perfect product. I set a standard and except nothing less and continue to challenge staff with seasonal specials and food quality.

Do you have a special cooking technique you use that you’d like to share?

There are lots of techniques out there.  Don’t be afraid to experiment, you never know what you might come up with. Some of my best creations are made off the top of my head.

What do you consider to be the most essential item in your kitchen?

My staff is my most important kitchen “item.” When we all work together as a team to get the job done, it’s amazing what we can accomplish.

What do you think is the hardest dish to prepare at Ruth’s Chris, and why?

Many of our dishes that incorporate lobster into them and require a lot of attention to detail. Lobster is delicate and easy to overcook. Everything from our whole fresh Maine Lobster to our creamy Lobster Mac & Cheese take a special set of skills to prepare.

How do you think you’ve grown as a chef since working at Ruth’s Chris?

I believe I grow as a chef every day. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how long you have been cooking, you will never know everything. There are so many different cultures, ingredients and techniques in the world that no one person can ever claim to know it all. If I ever reached a point where I thought I had nothing else to learn, I think I would lose interest honestly. I am always hungry to learn.

Do you remember a night when you made a dish at Ruth’s Chris and were especially proud of how it turned out? Tell me about it.

Anytime a guest has a special request I always take the time to go out of my way to prepare it personally for them. Lobster Thermidor comes to mind in particular. Lobster Thermidor is a French dish consisting of a creamy mixture of cooked lobster meat, egg yolks, and brandy, stuffed into a lobster shell. It can also be served with an oven-browned cheese crust, typically Gruyère.  This is not typically a dish we offer, nor did I have it prepped at the time but I managed to prepare it exactly as requested and hopefully made a memorable experience.

Cooking the perfect steak... add butter!

Cooking the perfect steak… add butter!

All of our readers are dying to know how to prepare a tender, perfectly seasoned steak. Do you have any tips?

It is important to start with the best cut of beef you can get, that is where the flavor comes from.  After that keep it simple. Good quality sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to season. Nice hot clean grill, and finished off with a touch of butter.  Now that’s sizzling perfection.

Do you do a lot of cooking at home as well? What’s your favorite meal to cook at home?

I like to cook simple, fresh dishes at home. I shop for fresh, local ingredients and mostly rely on the flavor of the ingredient itself to highlight the dish. I love fresh seafood and vegetables!

You’re stranded on an island. What 5 ingredients do you wish you had with you? What would you make with those ingredients to sustain yourself while you wait to be rescued?

I would have to say butter for flavor, sweet potatoes, peanuts and rice because they are quick sources of energy, and Sriracha because it is the most delicious sauce ever and can make even the worst thing palatable. I would probably attempt to make some sort or sweet potato casserole, although I don’t know how successful it would turn out considering the scenario and ingredients of choice.

What personal goals have you set for yourself and for your cooking that you hope to achieve in the future?

Cooking with as many different people as I can and absorb as much as I possibly can from them .  I love meeting chefs with as much passion, dedication and respect  for cooking as I have. Additionally,  I love to teach people and helping them grow their love for cooking. I still remember  many of the people who have taught me unique skills and techniques throughout my career. I think that’s what being a chef is all about.

Champ McGee of Little Pigs Barbecue

Picture of 3 Little Pigs BBQ sandwiches

Little Pigs Barbecue serves its Q with a choice of sauce – mustard, red and vinegar.

Yum. Wood-smoked pork.  It smells great and tastes even better.  Smoky pork sandwiches, pulled pork suppers and fall-off-the-bone ribs.  3 sauces – vinegar, mustard and red.   Here in Columbia, located dead center in South Carolina, barbecue capital of the world, there is a whole lot of competition for Q-lovers’ business.  Barbecue joints are everywhere, from roadside shacks and trailers to sit-down restaurants where Q is served off the menu or buffet-style with country vegetables, cornbread and banana pudding.   Barbecue is offered by roving Q trucks that show up at craft breweries, festivals and downtown parking lots at lunch time. Barbecue cook-offs are center stage at local festivals each spring and summer.  So where do you go for the best?  One of our all-time favorites is Little Pigs Barbecue on Alpine Road in northeast Columbia.  We aren’t the only ones who rate it high.  Little Pigs Barbecue was chosen  Best Barbecue in the South by Southern Living magazine.  Hard to quibble with their pick.  We recently sat down with Champ McGee, master barbecuer.

You started off working at Little Pigs when you were young and worked your way up. How did all of that happen?

The guy who owned Little Pigs, Lawrence Britton, was my neighbor and when I was 11 years old,  he asked if I wanted to help out (at his restaurant). I started out washing dishes and whatever else I could do. Over the years, I learned to do everything. In fact by the time  I was in high school, when I got off from school, I went to work and everyone else  who worked there went home. I ran the place totally by myself until supper time when Lawrence came in to help with the supper rush.  I have been at Little Pigs almost all my life.

How did Little Pigs start out?

Little Pigs has been in business for 45 years. The one on Rosewood Drive, before we moved here, was the 38th franchise out of Memphis. It had 36 seats and it was a small restaurant. People walked up to the counter and we chopped the BBQ in front of our customers. There were two wooden chopping blocks in front and behind us was a great big pit where we smoked the meat… and we’d cut the meat up and make sandwiches or plates right there. There was no buffet back then.

Best BuffetHow did you make the transition between having a pit you served from and a buffet and how has the buffet grown over the years?

In the 1962, we decided we would start a small buffet at the Rosewood Drive store. It progressed fast and the buffet was quickly becoming a larger part of the business. When we opened up on Alpine in ’78, we went totally buffet. You can still get a BBQ sandwich, you can still buy a BBQ basket, but it’s 99% buffet. You know, it’s over the last 10 years that we’ve expanded the buffet. We still had pretty traditional BBQ stuff when we first put the buffet out here. It was about half the size of what it is now. You had your coleslaw, and your barbecue beans, rice and hash, the different kinds of pork, and fried chicken with rolls and pickles and banana pudding. It’s grown from there. We have a lot of variety on this buffet today. I make jambalaya and we make chicken pot pie – both from scratch.  We added tomato pie. Everything we try and the customers like, we keep. I think there are over 40 items on there and we rotate things out every once in a while.  Mac and cheese is our most popular side.

Where is the pit located?

I have a pit in the back and three cookers outside. We do a lot of the chicken and ribs outside.

Is that all wood smoked? What kind of wood do you use?

It’s all wood smoked on hickory. Definitely hickory. I’ve got a chicken breast on my menu that’s a mesquite, but everything else is hickory.

How long does it take to cook something like a shoulder?Best Shoulder

18 hours. We cook the meat for 18 hours at about 225 to 235 degrees. We cook the BBQ overnight, and it’s smoked on hickory wood the whole time. Then we take it out, sauce it, let it marinate in the sauce until the next day, a full 24 hours, put it back in the smoker and bring it back to temperature and let it smoke. Not only is the meat smoked, but the sauce actually gets smoked into the meat. I don’t think anybody else in town does that and it makes a difference in the flavor.

You use three different sauces for your BBQ, right?

Yes, plus out here in the buffet area, we also offer meat with no sauce. We have shoulders that are cooked over hickory wood and we put it out on the pig pull, without sauce. Fridays and Saturdays, we use between 12 and 15 shoulders on the pig pull, which is the front leg. The ham dries out more, but the shoulder stays moist out here under the light.

What seems to be the favorite dish that people like to get off of the buffet?

Mustard BBQ. In this area, that’s going to be the biggest hit. I don’t keep up with the weights, but we probably use about 3,000 pounds of ribs a week. No other BBQ restaurant in town gives you all you can eat ribs on the buffet.

What about favorite side dishes?

Macaroni and cheese, number one. Hash is number two. Our hash is different from any other hash. It’s the Little Pigs of America’s hash. It has no heads, no feet, no livers, no junk. Typically, when you think about hash, BBQ people use hash to get rid of what they couldn’t make BBQ out of. We don’t do that at all. It’s pork ham and chuck roast. All meat. Period.

What’s your favorite dish to prepare?

I really love making the chicken pot pie. It’s a lot of fun. You’re using fresh carrots and celery. You caramelize the onions and add flour and milk and you make the roue to just the right thickness. I use pie crust on top and bottom. We serve probably 50 gallons a week – it’s really good.

What’s in tomato pie? A lot of people have never had tomato pie. I’ve always wondered what goes into it.

It’s tomatoes and basil, caramelized onions, sour cream, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese. Fresh basil is what makes it.

Did you ever think about owning Little Pigs when you were younger?

I bought in early on, and then when Lawrence died, I bought his wife out.  I did have another career –  I ran the dining room, dormitory, mail room and reservation section for the Police Academy for 32 years, 5 months, and 17 days, but I never quit Little Pigs. I worked at the Police Academy from 4:30am until noon, and I was at Little Pigs starting at 12:30pm every day.

Do you have any good food combinations that you’ve tried over the years that people wouldn’t necessarily think about?

Not really, other than things I like to eat. I like french fries on my BBQ sandwich. And skins on my BBQ sandwich. That’s really good.

When you’re catering, is there a set menu?

We have nine different menus on the website. We don’t just do BBQ. We do weddings, and I can make foods from any custom menu. Matter of fact, right now I’ve got a wedding I’m doing and they want bruschetta fig gorgonzola, and I’ve never made that before but we’re going to figure out how to do it. We do anything. Any custom menu you want for catering.