It didn’t take much for chef Alfred Kettering to come out of culinary retirement.
“I retired but got bored,” said Kettering, currently the chef/owner at Alfred’s Restaurant, a charming, intimate German/Continental eatery outside of Palmetto Dunes that he opened in 2008.
After a decorated culinary career in Europe and the Lowcountry, Kettering had become an institution on the Hilton Head Island, the type of chef that locals and visitors tend to find wherever he may land. Over the years, Kettering has owned and helmed kitchens at several former island restaurants, including Maxwells, La Maisonette, Maxx and Jaxx.
But after more than 30 years in the restaurant business, he needed a bit of a break. At least, he thought he did.
The hiatus was short-lived.
“I missed the people, the work — everything,” he said.
The menu at Alfred’s is a mix of European and American influences (“Continental with a little influence of German,” as he calls it). A trio of classic German dishes (bratwurst, sauerbraten, and wiener schnitzel) highlights the European offerings. The menu, which includes a small but effective wine list, features grilled meats (filet mignon, spring lamb, panko-encrusted pork chop) and several fresh seafood offerings (Chilean sea bass, Atlantic salmon, shrimp and scallops).
“My customers, they love the veal. We probably have the best veal on the island, the best quality here,” said Kettering, who offers a trio of veal dishes (chasseur, cordon bleu and scaloppini) on his regular menu. “I still make French peppercorn steak, which nobody does anymore.”
Kettering, now in his 70s, has an impeccable culinary pedigree. He studied classical European cuisine at the Rhein School of Culinary Arts in Mannheim, Germany, and trained at some of the best hotels in Switzerland and Holland.
Eventually, the search for new experiences led Kettering from Europe to the United States.
“I loved to travel, so at that time in the ’60s, (cooking) was the easiest way to get away,“ said Kettering, who also is an avid wine enthusiast. “It was one of my dreams as a kid. You always read about the United States, and an opportunity came up.”
The Hilton hotel chain asked him to travel stateside for a stint in one of its Chicago restaurants. He jumped at the chance.
“That was a one-year contract, and I’m still here,” he said.
In the 1970s, as developer Charles Fraser’s Sea Pines Resort became a reality, opportunities grew for talented young chefs, especially Europeans like Kettering.
“One of (Fraser’s) general managers was German, and he brought a lot of Germans and Austrians to the island, to get us going,” Kettering recalls.
Years later, after helming several restaurants and spending half a lifetime in the Lowcountry, Kettering still can’t imagine a better home.
“I love the island for the weather. It doesn’t get any better than this. I’m not a golfer, but the weather and the overall atmosphere, that was it for me,” he said.