Culinary artists feed the community
By Barry Kaufman
Chef Lynn Michelle, an award-winning personal chef, is known for her upbeat personality and distinct culinary flare across the Lowcountry.
From working as a private chef in Belgium, to being executive chef at two bed and breakfasts in Beaufort County, to working at some of the top restaurants in the region, Chef Lynn Michelle has spent her career nurturing her love of cooking – and it is what led her to discover her true calling as a personal chef.
“My passion is bringing people together through food,” she said.
Whether her clients are craving Southern comfort, authentic Indian, or kid-friendly classics, The East Coast Chef can cook just about anything in the comfort of her clients’ homes or vacation rentals.
“We cook everything on site, and a lot of times we’ll have guests who just want to watch the show,” she said. “It’s very open and welcoming.”
She believes that when you’re on island time, everything should run on your time – not revolve around getting dinner on the table. By taking care of every stage of the cooking process, from shopping to clean-up, she allows her clients to spend more time at the table together.
Photo by Ritterbeck Phtography
843-422-5480 | cheflynnmichelle.com
As far as geography goes, there are about 800 miles that separate Hilton Head Island from Long Island. But in a different sense, these two islands are worlds apart.
“What gets overlooked here is the serenity,” said Chef Scott Hastings. “I’m just over the top excited to be here. It’s home sweet home.”
Hastings has earned a chance to enjoy some serenity. After cutting his teeth at some of Long Island’s busiest restaurants and spending a few years in the Navy, Hastings made his way to New York city where he landed a job at Charlie’s Inn under Chef Andy Anderson. “He was a Jamaican chef who studied in Germany for six years before coming back to the states,” said Hastings. “That chef taught me so much.”
He wouldn’t be the last mentor to guide Hastings along his path. Making his way to the Poconos, (“It was just supposed to be a layover,” said Hastings. “Twenty years later I was still there”) he found himself working at the Ramada Renaissance under French Chef Armand Paquin. “He was this total French maniac chef. It was under him that I got really engulfed in the world of cooking.”
Paquin showed Hastings the finer points of refining a dish, centering it on the plate, creating sauces without the help of heavy starches, and treating food with dignity. The rest Hastings learned from books, diving into his research with fanatical zeal.
“I was in D.C. in 1994 when I spotted Thomas Keller’s book in the window. It was $100 in 1994 money, but I had to have it,” he said. “I have that same book right now. It’s pretty beat up, but it brought my culinary thinking to another level.”
He honed those culinary chops at two restaurants of his own in Pennsylvania, Blue Shutters and the popular State Street Grill. For Hastings, who was conditioned to never do things by half measures, the success of his ventures took their toll.
“During the season I’d be working 120-hour weeks for 30 weeks straight,” he said. “Finally, my wife asked me, ‘When are we going to get a chance to enjoy life? I don’t see you for eight months at a stretch.’ ”
Hastings made his way down to Hilton Head Island where a job at The Sea Pines Resort awaited him, but in the back of his mind the move south represented a chance to do something different.
“I had this vision of this grandiose place with 11-course tastings, an army of staff clearing 1,500 plates a night at $150 a head,” he said. “In my mind, it was going to be the French Laundry on the Southeast coast. My buddies in New York said I was insane, and for the first time in my life I listened. They were absolutely right.”
What Hilton Head needed was a place that delivers the kind of cuisine Hastings has made his life’s work, in an atmosphere as casual as the island itself. “You come in here, no matter who you are, and you’re welcomed,” he said. “I just want you to come here, get a great meal, and let us go beyond all your expectations.” Scott Hastings
Photos by Rob Kaufman
890 William Hilton Pkwy Suite 1, Hilton Head Island, SC | 843-648-5858 | lulukitchen-hhi.com
For more than 40 years, Chef Kevin Keogh has honed his culinary skills in kitchens across the world, immersing himself in an array of techniques and styles in order to deliver his signature dish, “Whatever people enjoy.”
To him, the dish in front of you is only as good as the journey it takes you on.
“I like when a dish makes someone happy, when it brings up a memory or takes them back to a time and place,” he said.
That focus on the diner propelled him through a lengthy career in the kitchen that has taken him from five-star restaurants to hip London eateries and everywhere in between.
This broad epicurean perspective is something he’s brought to The Sea Pines Resort. Having previously served as Chef de Cuisine at Coast, Keogh moves to the role of Executive Chef at Quarterdeck as it is undergoing a beautiful transformation.
“It’s exciting to renew Quarterdeck’s focus on local seafood, fresh ingredients and catering to families, visitors and locals alike,” he said. “Our philosophy has always been to use the best ingredients and let the flavors speak for themselves, but we did want to modernize it and make it lighter.”
Adding elements like a charcoal-burning Josper oven and renewing the focus on local ingredients, Keogh is excited to bring a new dynamic to the Quarterdeck, just as he’s done in kitchens throughout his celebrated career.
Photo by Rob Kaufman
160 Lighthouse Rd, Hilton Head Island SC 843-842-1999 | quarterdeckhhi.com
When Michael Cirafesi arrived on Hilton Head Island 20 years ago, this was a very different place. Especially from a culinary standpoint.
“I was a little punk,” he said with a laugh. “But I was a very driven, radical little punk. And what I saw here 20 years ago was terrible. I thought to myself, ‘This place needs a serious Italian restaurant.’”
That driven, radical little punk did exactly what he set out to do, launching the island’s culinary profile into the stratosphere with the opening of OMBRA. Built on the solid foundation of perfectionism and authentic Italian recipes that Cirafesi have made his twin trademarks, OMBRA presents a true epicurean high-water mark and a standard bearer for island cuisine.
It’s been 20 years since he arrived here, and Michael Cirafesi has only evolved.
“I’m a radical, but not a little punk anymore,” he said. “And even after all these years, I still use the best ingredients and still go by the classic techniques that were taught to me as a child. Some chefs as they get old start working smarter, not harder. I’ve gotten smarter over the years, but I still work just as hard.”
And as anyone who has tasted the results of his hard work can attest, this young chef has only gotten better with age.
Photo by Ritterbeck Phtography
Ombra CUCINA ITALIANA
1000 William Hilton Pkwy, G-2 Hilton Head Island 843-842-5505 | ombrahhi.com.com
Craig Ryan is a man of many hats. As general manager at Rockfish, he’s passionate about the community vibe, fresh local ingredients and laid-back atmosphere which come together perfectly at his restaurant. Keeping the front of the house immaculate is where his experience and perfectionism come into play. But in the back of the house, where most GMs would fear to tread, is where his heart belongs.
“The kitchen is one of my passions,” he said. “I grew up learning French cuisine, and I hold the five mother sauces close to my heart.” He gives full credit and thanks to Rockfish Executive Chef Alejandro for setting such a high culinary standard, and for letting the GM lend a hand in the back of the house.
“He has been tremendous about allowing to come in and work with him,” he said. “I’ll call myself his sous chef, I’m fine with that. I’m not about labels.”
That “all-hands-on deck” approach is pervasive in Rockfish’s company culture. Under Ryan, everyone from the food runners up takes ownership of creating the experience, pitching recipes or suggesting new ideas. It creates synergy and gives the general manager the perfect chance to create a great experience in the front of the house by creating magic in the back.
“I want people to love eating my food. I want every dish we serve to show the time and preparation it took to do it right,” he said. “It’s all about the love.”
Photo by Rob Kaufman
Rockfish Steak & Seafood
5 Lagoon Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 843-689-2662 | rockfishhhi.com
When you think of the world’s culinary capitals, you think of the various regions of Italy, each with their own traditions and techniques.
You think of places like the South of France, where the simple act of cooking borders on the transcendent, with a passion for food that is unrivaled. Nunzio Patruno got his start among these dizzying heights, in the trenches at kitchens across Italy and in Monte Carlo, studying alongside the greats and absorbing their knowledge with each dish.
His mastery of Italian cooking made his restaurants here in the states legendary, with successful concepts in Philadelphia and New Jersey drawing massive crowds. When he made the trip south to Hilton Head Island, it was to launch a concept that was decidedly less formal than his previous restaurants but shared his passion for food.
And that passion works from the ground up, starting with an almost fanatical devotion to finding the freshest ingredients.
“How we approach the product makes the dish. You have to focus on that before you focus on the recipe. If you have a bad piece of meat, there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “A good piece of meat, you just need some herbs, salt and pepper. But the adventure of it comes with what you do with those ingredients.”
And what Nunzio does with those ingredients has made his restaurant one of the most sought-after culinary hotspots on Hilton Head Island.
Photo by Rob Kaufman
Nunzio RESTAURANT + BAR
18 New Orleans Rd., Hilton Head Island, SC 843-715-2172 | nunziohhi.com
For the last 10 years, Chef Amanda Cifaldi has led her restaurant Pomodori with a commitment to authentic ingredients and an irrepressible enthusiasm for food that comes through in every bite.
“The fun part of food is that it’s different every time you do it. Even if you’re cooking the same thing, it’s always new,” she said. “I truly believe that I show my love through my food. It’s how I care for people.”
It’s how she would care for her community as a kid, bringing her mom’s casseroles to the neighbors in celebration and in sympathy. “It really instilled in my that food is the conduit to caring for somebody.”
That love of cooking brought here to Calabria’s famed Italian Culinary Institute, where she and a dozen classmates lived, breathed, slept and ate the region’s culinary heritage.
“It was full immersion. You lived at the school, then went right to the market and cooked what you brought back,” she said. “Being Italian myself, it was important to get that authentic experience.”
She returned to her native U.S. having been trained in some of the most celebrated techniques in Mediterranean cooking, a foundation that informs her natural love of food and insatiable yen for life. And that lifetime of passion and experience comes through in every dish at Pomodori.
Photo by Rob Kaufman
Pomodori Italian Eatery
1 New Orleans Rd. No. 1g, Hilton Head Island, SC 843-686-3100 | gopomodori.com
Since his humble beginnings as a teenager washing dishes in his native upstate New York, to his celebrated career in some of the finest kitchens in Savannah, David Landrigan’s culinary career has been defined by his willingness to try new things.
As he put it, “You never know what you can do until you try.” That philosophy has dovetailed perfectly with his entry into the island’s culinary scene as executive chef at Lucky Rooster, where the menu is in a constant state of rebirth based on what is fresh. “We want it to be as seasonal as possible, so our guests always get the opportunity to experience new things,” he said.
That goes for the menu of elevated yet approachable favorites, plus the popular wine, beer, and whiskey dinners. “I love those events because they give me the opportunity to explore new things and see what works.”
Photo by Ritterbeck Phtography
Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar
841 William Hilton Pkwy Unit A, Hilton Head Island | 843-715-3215 | luckyroosterhhi.com
As renowned as The Jazz Corner is for its spectacular live music, it’s the cuisine that often steals the show. As Executive Chef, Wade Haase works hand in hand with his culinary team to ensure that their guests are served the highest quality cuisine, beautifully presented every night.
Starting in hospitality at age 16, Haase forged a career path that saw him training at Scottsdale Culinary Institute before cooking in kitchens around the country under the mentorship of chefs like Iron Chef Mark Tarbell at Barmouche. This storied career would eventually bring him to Hilton Head Island, where his passion for regional flavors is pushing The Jazz Corner menu in bold new directions.
“What better opportunity could there be than to hear worldclass music every night while I’m back in the kitchen creating my own art with food!” Haase said.
The Jazz Corner
1000 William Hilton Pkwy, C-1 Hilton Head Island | 843-842-8620 | thejazzcorner.com