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Meet Chef Erica McCier, 2023 South Carolina Chef Ambassador

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Since opening Indigenous Underground in 2021, Chef Erica McCier-Rayford has been redefining the dining scene in Abbeville.

It took a near-death experience to give new life to Chef Erica McCier. When her kidneys failed in 2008, she was resuscitated and placed on dialysis while awaiting an organ transplant. Once a middle school teacher, active community member and busy mom, McCier now faced a massive void, and she filled it by watching cooking shows. When she received a donor kidney in 2013, it opened avenues for a new life direction—and food was at its core. Since opening Indigenous Underground in 2021, the energetic chef has been redefining the dining scene in Abbeville with dishes that are a fusion of Southern and global flavors.

Chef Erica’s indomitable spirit, talents in the kitchen and penchant for showcasing local ingredients have earned her a place on the 2023 roster of South Carolina Chef Ambassadors.

The program was established in 2015 to recognize chefs whose craft and aesthetic best represent the state’s culinary culture. During their tenure, these talented representatives showcase local ingredients and South Carolina’s food heritage through cooking demonstrations, guest appearances and educational programs.

Here, Chef McCier shares more about her personal journey toward wellness and a vibrant culinary career.

Q: When did you first consider becoming a professional chef?

Chef McCier: One day while watching Food Network, I Googled "culinary schools near me," and Greenville Technical College came up. I enrolled in the culinary program as a part-time student, while doing dialysis treatment three days a week and driving to Greenville for classes twice a week. This was only supposed to be a hobby until I received my transplant, but I fell in love with food and the concept of being able to produce art on a plate. My passion for cooking was at a peak, so I decided to start hosting private dinner parties for family and friends. The next thing I knew, those small dinner parties turned into large dinner parties and receptions for 300 – 400 guests. This is when I decided to start my first personal chef and catering business in 2012.

Q: What were the most significant challenges faced along the way?

Chef McCier: My main challenge has been balancing family and career. I am a single (divorced) mother of three and during most of my career, I have had to figure out how to prioritize time for family and business, especially considering that my children were very young when I started out. In 2015, I opened my first restaurant called Trudy's at the Belmont which was located inside of the historical Belmont Inn in Abbeville, SC. I decided to step away after a year because even though the opportunity was great, I just was not ready to step into the position of being an owner/chef. I took too much time away from my children who were more important to me than having a brick-and-mortar establishment. So, I just continued to pursue my personal chef and catering career.

Q: As a chef, what kind of dining experience do you hope to create for your patrons? 

Chef McCier: Being that I am from a very small community I just want to be able to bring the big flavors and experience of the city to our small town. My goal is to create an atmosphere of food, music and culture that will keep the locals here in our area as well as bring in more out-of-town clientele—not just for my business but for our community. Abbeville has a lot to offer but being such a small town, we get overlooked from time to time.

Q: What are your favorite South Carolina products and why?

Chef McCier: Any fresh vegetables, grains and dairy I use are from local farmers and produce stands. Our dairy products are from Southern Oaks Jerseys Farm & Creamery, which has the best buttermilk, and our stone-ground grits and cornmeal come from Atkin Milling Company. One of our missions here at Indigenous Underground is to use at least 70 percent local vendors within our community.

Q: Do you have a signature dish?

Chef McCier: My signature dish would be our Soul Rolls, which is a fusion of Asian and Southern cuisines. It is a spring roll filled with seasoned collard greens and black-eyed peas served with a house-made chili sauce.

Q: What do you look forward to sharing with the dining public during your tenure as a South Carolina Chef Ambassador?

Chef McCier: I hope to share the simplicity of utilizing the fresh and local products that are readily available and emphasize the sustainability and economic impact of purchasing from SC-certified business owners.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.