Andy Love: Old Oyster Factory chef puts knowledge to work in the kitchen

andyloveAndy Love got a jump on today’s “farm-to-table” crazy as a young boy.

"My grandparents lived on a farm in Missouri, where my grandfather practiced veterinary medicine, raised cattle, bottled fresh milk and had a big garden,” he said. “I spent my summers and holidays there, where the vegetables came right off the farm and into my grandmother’s kitchen.”

Little did he know that these childhood experiences would ultimately shape his life and career. A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, Love has been the executive chef at The Old Oyster Factory on Hilton Head Island since 2011. This year, the restaurant enters its second quarter-century of serving the freshest seafood in the Lowcountry.

Perched on the banks of the island’s pristine waterways, the restaurant is built on the original site of the Broad Creek Oyster Factory, which was in operation from 1925 to the 1990s. The view from the back deck is spectacular, featuring a unique palette every evening.

“I was classically trained, but when you're developing your own cooking techniques, creating menus and overseeing management of the kitchen, you make some changes. Diners are very educated now. For example, they ask about gluten-free offerings and produce — is it local? Is it organic? — which means our staff needs to be constantly educated and updated. We use as many locally sourced products as we can,” Love said as he walks through the kitchen, inspecting its many stations and overseeing the busy kitchen staff’s preparation for the evening’s service.

Love has worked in other waterfront resort cities, but has found his niche in the Lowcountry. He says it’s obvious why The Old Oyster Factory has such loyal diners, both locals and visitors, whose trip would not be complete without a reservation: "Our standards are very high. We use the best quality ingredients and our incredible crew also understands our high standards — most of the staff has been here over 10 years. And our purveyors know that if they send us something subpar, we'll just send it back.”

When it comes to the extensive menu, Love’s personal favorite appetizers are the tuna nachos and the bacon-wrapped shrimp. The best-selling seafood dish, he said, is the seafood medley. Roasted vegetable encroute, broiled dayboat scallops, grilled Key lime salmon, steaks and a myriad of other offerings keep the customers coming back for more. The restaurant’s international wine list is extensive, with a focus on alternative whites that go particularly well with seafood, such as riesling, chenin blanc and pinot blanc — varietals the wine-savvy wait staff may encourage diners to try based on their menu choices. Highlights from the dessert menu include the Chilled Mascarpone Soufflé, and the Chocolate Fantasia, which is described as “a mountain of sweets surrounded by a chocolate moat.” Perhaps one of each?