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 Myrtle Beach enterprise began in 1995, she soon went full throttle and developed a comprehensive menu influenced by French and Lowcountry cuisines.
In 2017, Chef Vukov's culinary vision expanded when she opened Hook & Barrel, which adjoins Croissants Bistro & Bakery. A standout among the buffets and casual beach eateries in the area, the restaurant offers distinctive, sustainable seafood creations and other dishes brimming with locally sourced ingredients.
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."
Her contributions to creating a vibrant coastal culinary scene earned Vukov a place on the 2018 South Carolina Chef Ambassador roster. An initiative begun by former Gov. Nikki Haley, each year 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 Bistro and Hook & Barrel remain distinguished among the state's coastal eateries, making dedicated fans of locals and tourists, alike.
Today, Croissants Bistro serves breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch with a bakery that showcases an array of decadent pastries, cakes, cookies and more. On the other side of the building, Hook & Barrel serves dinner for guests seeking an elevated seafood experience that showcases South Carolina's abundant gifts from land and sea.
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 than 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."