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In the Kitchen with Chef Brandon Velie

Gwen Fowler Gwen Fowler
Chef Brandon Velie of Juniper Restaurant in Ridge Spring.

Juniper restaurant is in the small town of Ridge Spring, but it seems huge in coolness, with its '50s-looking tables and chairs, wooden floors, large showcase windows and flowers in Ball canning jars.

Ridge Spring is in Saluda County and southwest of Columbia. Owners Brandon and Jeanne Velie opened Juniper in an old building on East Main Street that had been an auto parts store, a hardware store, a florist shop and an antique store in the past.

Southern Living magazine posted on its Facebook page a question about Juniper on Jan. 12. "We hear there's a great restaurant in Ridge Spring, S.C., Juniper. Anyone tried it?" Within two days, there were raves from more than 25 Juniper fans, with many praising the corn chowder.

Chef Brandon Velie said Juniper was created with a simple concept: "Incredible food paired with unbeatable service would provide everyone (customers and employees) with a unique experience -- an experience worth driving for, a place you enjoy, somewhere you can forget about all the things you have to deal with and just take a break."

Q: What are your favorite ingredients?
I think my favorite ingredients are inspired by what is in season. I love to go to the local farmers markets to find fresh local produce and then feature it on the menu that day. We change our dinner menu every week, allowing for a lot of flexibility.

Q: What are you cooking these days that excites you the most?
I just made some tasso ham with some local pork I had, and have been using that in all kinds of stuff. I also had a basket of green tomatoes just picked and brought in from Bell Farms in Ward, S.C., and I am thinking skillet fried with some of our Juniper pimento cheese.

Q: Which chefs inspire you?
Frank Stitt, The Lee Brothers, my brother (he is also a chef).

Q: Which three cooking gadgets or tools are your favorites?
Comfortable shoes, comfortable shoes and comfortable shoes.

Q: What was your first job in food? What did you learn?
Washing dishes at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., when I was 14 years old. I quickly realized I had to learn to cook so I could get out of the dish pit.

Q: What would your dream meal be?
I am a HUGE fan of pizza, so it would be getting to travel with Jeanne, my wife and business partner, and eat pizza all over the world.

Q: What's the best tip you can give a home cook?
Relax and have fun in the kitchen; experiment and be playful; and of course, make sure you have a pair of comfortable shoes.

Q: What music plays in your restaurant kitchen?
Depending on the mood in the kitchen, anything from Lupe Fiasco to Pink Floyd, and of course, lots of Darius Rucker. (We do believe in S.C. grown.)

Q: Even chefs don't eat gourmet every night. What is your ultimate comfort food or quick meal?
Again, I've got to go with pizza, or maybe some bean and bacon soup with Doritos.

Gwen Fowler
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