When Chef Orchid Paulmeier opened One Hot Mama's American Grille in 2007, the Hilton Head Island dining scene got a little extra sizzle. The daughter of Filipino immigrants, she grew up largely eating only her family's native cuisine.
As an adult, she developed an adventurous palate and ventured forth to learn all she could about American barbecue traditions. She has been cooking with smoke ever since, gaining legions of fans with her authentic South Carolina dishes and tantalizing 'cue.
Though she loves the Filipino food on which she was raised, Paulmeier was compelled to expand her culinary horizons. Her passion for trying new things - especially Southern dishes - has led her to adopt an aesthetic in the kitchen she describes as "open-minded."
"I am always open to new flavor profiles and different styles of cooking," she said. "I love hearing and learning about the old traditions of cooking barbecue and the connection South Carolinians feel to their past and the food they grew up with."
Born and raised in Chicago, Paulmeier landed her first food gig as a high school student working in an ice cream shop. Other restaurant work followed, inspiring her to pursue a degree in hotel and restaurant management from the University of Illinois.
An internship on Hilton Head in 1994 developed into a love affair with the area, rivaled only by her ardor for her high school sweetheart, whom she married and settled down with on the island.
After a few years working for various restaurants, she'd learned enough about regional dishes and the local restaurant scene to proceed with her dream of operating her own business. On the cusp of her 30th birthday, One Hot Mama's was born.
With a personality that's as feisty as her barbecue dishes, Paulmeier was selected to compete on season seven of "Food Network Star," making her a household name for fans of the show. Her appointment as a South Carolina Chef Ambassador in 2016 was a fitting honor for this chef, who adopted one of the state's signature dishes and made it her own.
"This is the birthplace of barbecue, which is totally my jam," she said. "It is a true representation of the South - rich in its flavors and the authentic stories behind the food."