Mingling European and Southern flavors was a relatively novel idea along the Grand Strand when Heidi Vukov moved to South Carolina in 1992 and, subsequently, opened Croissants Bistro & Bakery. Though pastries and lunch were the focal point when the enterprise began in 1995, she soon went full throttle and developed a comprehensive menu influenced by French and Lowcountry cuisines and expanded to two locations in Myrtle Beach. Today, the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the bakery showcases Vukov's masterful pastry skills. Vukov's latest venture is a new restaurant that takes full advantage of South Carolina's rich coastline with a menu bursting with fresh, luscious seafood. And you'll find some scrumptious sweets available too when you visit Hook & Barrel.
Her contributions to creating a vibrant coastal culinary scene has earned Vukov a place on the 2018 South Carolina Chef Ambassador roster. An initiative begun by former Gov. Nikki Haley, each year four chefs from across the state are selected to promote South Carolina's culinary heritage and local food culture through cooking demonstrations, guest appearances and educational programs.
Vukov's many successes have more than prepared her for the challenge. Croissants remains distinguished among the state's coastal eateries, making dedicated fans of locals and tourists, alike. In 2011, the South Carolina Hospitality Association honored Vukov by naming her South Carolina Restaurateur of the Year. She went on to co-found the Coastal Uncorked Food & Wine Festival and wrote a popular cookbook based on her European/Southern fusion recipes, aptly titled, "Bonjour, Y'all." Most recently, she opened a new Myrtle Beach eatery, Hook & Barrel, with a focus on sustainable seafood and local produce, as well as a second location of Croissants.
Inspired by the dishes that issued from her grandmother's kitchen in Germany, the Pennsylvania-born Vukov has enriched the coastal culinary scene with her love for European and Southern foods. Here, she shares a bit of her remarkable story.
Q: Where did you get your inspiration to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
A: "I always loved cooking. I had a grandmother in Pennsylvania who grew up during the Depression. She could make a great dish with limited ingredients. My other grandmother lived in Germany, near the French border, and made exquisite desserts using interesting ingredients. I was fortunate to have two completely different methods to learn from and combine into my own style."
Q: What's the most important rule in your kitchen?
A: "Organization - everything has a place. Things need to be in place for more efficient production."
Q: What makes being a chef in South Carolina such a special experience?
A: "South Carolina has an amazing culinary history. There are so many cultures that play a part in our cuisine, including the French Huguenot, English, Spanish, Caribbean and African cultures."
Q: What South Carolina ingredients do you value the most and why?
A: "I am primarily a baker and like to use fresh fruits when in season. South Carolina produces more peaches that Georgia - the Peach State. But, quite honestly, my favorite food sources come from our ocean. We have awesome shrimp, crabs, clams and oysters, not to mention fin fish like grouper, trigger and snapper. We are also blessed to have some of the best rice in the world as well as delicious grits."
Q: What are your goals as a South Carolina Chef Ambassador?
A: "I hope to bring more awareness of the awesome cuisine that our state has to offer."