At the knee of a mother or grandmother - it's where many a great chef first felt the tug of a culinary career. For Chef Teryi Youngblood, formerly at the head of Greenville's Passerelle Bistro, it was a special relationship with her grandmother - a skilled home cook - that piqued her kitchen interests. But as is often the case with chefs, it took some time for Youngblood to recognize food-craft as her destiny.
After years of working as a pharmacy technician, a time punctuated by bountiful family meals prepared with her sisters, she took a leap of foodie faith. With no formal culinary training, Youngblood applied to be a line cook for a small Upstate bistro and launched a new career. Eventually, she landed at Table 301's Soby's on the Side and Soby's, where she collectively spent more than a decade as pastry chef. Her dedication and finely honed skills were duly recognized when she was named executive chef of Passerelle Bistro at Falls Park in 2013. The French-inspired menu is the perfect canvas for an approach to food that Youngblood describes as "eclectic," "inspired" and "experimental."
"I find myself inspired by my heritage and the abundance of fresh ingredients," Youngblood said. "If your ingredients are choice, then simplicity is key. Very little is required to allow the true lusciousness of a homegrown, ripe tomato to shine. Straightforwardness is my signature, however, there is something to be said for layering those flavors and ingredients to create a complex meal, giving each delectable ingredient ample focus. Balance is also important to my cooking, in all respects."
It's this aesthetic that earned her the title of South Carolina Chef Ambassador for 2016. Each year, the state appoints four Chef Ambassadors, each of whom embraces a work ethic that honors and reflects South Carolina food traditions. Throughout the year, they serve as state and regional representatives for culinary and tourism functions.
"I am so humbled and excited by all of it that I want to dive in head first and soak it all up," she said of her appointment. "I am hopeful for every opportunity to share what I know about the Upstate, our resources and the beauty of our area. I also look forward to working with my fellow Chef Ambassadors to shine a spotlight on our destination dining."
With a focus on locally sourced ingredients, Youngblood creates dishes infused with the richness of South Carolina agricultural products.
"Being a chef in South Carolina is incredibly satisfying," said Youngblood. "Our weather is just short of perfect. Our soils are varied and rich to grow a variety of crops. We have mountains, streams, lakes and a sea of fishes, not to mention the farmers and producers who make the most of our land raising livestock, making cheeses and honey. Abundant sunshine and an infinite supply of resources make it easy to tap into our natural need to feed a person body and soul."
She says visitors might be surprised to learn South Carolina dining is "as diverse as it is divine."
"From the Lowcountry to the Upstate, our cultural influences show through in every aspect of our cooking," Youngblood noted. "We are a magnificent collective of chefs and restaurateurs dedicated to putting amazing food on the plate. We live to create and to delight ... South Carolina is becoming a culinary destination for those reasons."