Chef Cooper Thomas has headed the kitchen and dining room at Victors in Florence since 2013. Tucked inside Hotel Florence in the town’s burgeoning downtown, the restaurant thrives under the leadership of Thomas, who ensures that hotel guests and local diners alike, sit down daily to the finest in breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Thomas’s chef philosophy eschews the “throw something together” aesthetic and focuses on local, fresh ingredients thoughtfully prepared. “Whatever I’m serving, it must be the best it can be, whether it’s chicken wings or foie gras," he said. "When I first began my career, I wanted to prepare the fanciest dishes to please myself. Over the years, that’s changed. It’s all about the diners now and what pleases them.”
Like so many chefs, Thomas stumbled into his career as a young adult. Born in Columbia and raised in Charleston, he attended College of Charleston, worked a few restaurant jobs for spending money and graduated without a strong sense of direction for his life. So, he headed to Colorado to do some skiing and think things through. When an attempt at snowboarding went awry, it shattered Thomas’s winter plans as well as his collarbone. So, it was back to South Carolina for recuperation and more soul-searching. Soon thereafter, a providential meeting with a former classmate working at Charleston Grill helped him land a job at the iconic restaurant. Under the expert tutelage of then-executive chef, Bob Waggoner, and his talented assistant, Michelle Weaver, the restaurant’s current executive chef, Thomas, began a life-changing apprenticeship. It was the launching point of a career that led Thomas to the helm of Victors and earned him the title of South Carolina Chef Ambassador in 2015.
“Chef Waggoner and Chef Weaver taught me so much, more than I could have learned in any culinary program,” Thomas said. “Working in that kitchen instilled joy in me and it soon became clear that I’d found my calling. I’ve never looked back.”