Chef John Zucker has literally been catering to Charleston diners since 2000. When he opened Cru Catering, he distinguished himself by creating high-end dishes for a discerning clientele. Nearly two decades later, his catering business not only continues to be a crowd-pleaser, but Zucker is now proprietor of two other popular establishments: Cru Café and the French-influenced, Purlieu. That kind of prolific success is to be expected from someone who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu at the top of his class. Zucker's in-depth knowledge and experience has also made him one of the most highly regarded restaurant consultants in the Southeast. Locally, that expertise was key in the establishment of such iconic eateries as McCrady's, FISH and 39 Rue de Jean.
In a celebration of Lowcountry dining traditions, Zucker has implemented local seafood and Southern-inspired dishes as common themes in his restaurants. But the menus reveal what his many fans already know: There's nothing common about Zucker's creations.
"I think of my culinary style as somewhat Southern-fusion," he said. "I like to take a traditional Southern dish and add different elements from my culinary history to make it stand out."
The offerings at Purlieu are a perfect example, with dishes that pair Lowcountry and French cuisine - a nod to Zucker's Paris years. At Cru Café, influences reflect his stint at Spago, yet another pivotal chapter in his career.
"In Las Vegas, I worked at Wolfgang Puck's Spago, where I learned the importance of utilizing the freshest possible ingredients daily," he said. "And that's something so important to me now in my own restaurants."
A Los Angeles native, Zucker embarked on his career in Colorado when he was 28. Then it was on to culinary school in Paris where he cemented his career path.
"I have always been drawn to the excitement of being on the line and feeding people in restaurants," he said. "I love the creative aspect of playing with ingredients and flavors and creating a dish that really resonates with guests."
In 1995, he made his way to the Southeast where he assisted with the opening of the Atlanta restaurant, Canoe. He followed that by serving as consultant for the opening of Sonoma, a former wine bar in Charleston. Like so many people who visit the Holy City, Zucker was enamored with the welcoming vibe and beauty of the Lowcountry. He was here to stay, and remains dedicated to showcasing the best of local foods while providing diners with a taste of the world.
"Food has the ability to transport people to a different time and place," Zucker said, "and that's so powerful."