While Chef Orchid Paulmeier snagged plenty of fans as a finalist on season seven of "The Next Food Network Star," she's collected legions more by way of her Hilton Head restaurant, One Hot Mama's American Grille. The daughter of Filipino immigrants followed her culinary bliss - then shared it - when she opened the eatery in 2007.
As a young girl, Paulmeier learned the fine points of Filipino cooking from her mother and grandmother before embarking on a series of restaurant jobs. An internship in Hilton Head sparked a desire to put down new roots, and she made the arrangement permanent when One Hot Mama's stoked up its grills and swung open the doors.
While cultural influences complement how this high-energy chef expresses herself in the kitchen, they do not necessarily define her as a culinarian.
"My approach to food is very open-minded," said Paulmeier, also called Mama Orchid by fans and patrons. "I am always open to new flavor profiles and different styles of cooking. Having been raised in a Filipino household, eating only Filipino food, I truly enjoy learning about other cultures and styles of cooking as an adult."
Her passion for exploring the roots of South Carolina cookery led to her appointment as one of four 2016 South Carolina Chef Ambassadors. In its second year, the program annually recognizes chefs whose work ethics reflect South Carolina food traditions. It's an easy fit for Paulmeier, who enthusiastically pledges her allegiance to Southern cooking. She's crazy for local crops like collards and green peanuts, but her main squeeze has been fanning the flames of South Carolina foodie ardor for generations.
"This is the birthplace of barbecue, which is totally my jam," said Paulmeier, who indulges her obsession by offering a menu built around the Southern tradition of smoking meat. "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."
She said she sees her role as a Chef Ambassador as an opportunity to shine a light on a culinary heritage that is "a true representation of the South."
"It's rich in flavors and authentic stories behind the food, food that is raised with our neighbors' hands and that is prepared with our families in mind," she said. "As a Chef Ambassador, I look forward to getting people to want to learn more about the Lowcountry and am excited about them trying the fantastic food we want to share."