Chef Haydn Shaak knows his way around a kitchen. As the son of a chef, he spent his formative years shadowing his father and, at age 16, chose to become his apprentice at City Range Steakhouse Grill in Greenville. The next five years were marked by hard work and a dedication to excelling at his craft as he graduated from the culinary program at Greenville Technical College and proceeded to move up the kitchen ranks at several reputable restaurants.
In 2018, Chef Shaak took the helm at Restaurant 17 at Hotel Domestique in Travelers Rest, where his expert application of classic techniques and focus on locally sourced ingredients continue to win the admiration of discerning diners. His artisanal aesthetic, which he describes as “rustic elegance,” has also earned him an appointment as a 2022 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. Through the program, the state’s most talented chefs are chosen to promote South Carolina's culinary heritage and local food culture via cooking demonstrations, guest appearances and educational programs.
His father’s influence played no small role in Chef Shaak’s success.
“I worked under my pops for five years, learned so much, but took away much more when the five years was up and I was ready to go out on my own,” he said. “Pops was old-school, ruled with an iron fist, didn’t play any games and always made me work the hardest.”
A firm believer in that kind of nose-to-the-grindstone dynamic, Chef Shaak advises aspiring chefs to maintain a strong emphasis on consistency and determination.
“If you want to be a Michelin star chef, never stop that pursuit,” he said. “If you want to be the best chef in town, never stop that pursuit. It’s the consistency part that matters. If you really want to work your way to the top, then never stop until you make it—it’s that simple.”
Here, Chef Shaak shares more about his approach to food, kitchen philosophy and vision for his term as a chef ambassador.
Q: What do you love about being a chef in South Carolina?
A: I love everything about our beautiful state—the weather, people, places, cuisine and access to locally sourced ingredients.
Q: Speaking of ingredients, do you have a favorite?
A: I don’t have favorites in life. I feel like it sets limitations and only leaves things open to those few favorites. But one of my top three go-to ingredients would be both summer or winter squashes, meaning hard or soft squash. I love them so much that I went so far as to get a tattoo of one of them—patty pan squash, to be exact.
Q: Do you have a signature dish?
A: I feel like I would be selling myself short by choosing just one. So, I would say any dish I could make that brings back memories of a simpler time of life—I’d want that to be my signature dish. For me, it’s less about my signature and more about the guests’ signature that they leave with me.
Q: What do you most look forward to sharing with the public during your tenure as a chef ambassador?
A: I look forward to sharing my emotions on a plate, giving to others a portion of my soul through each dish I prepare and hoping it translates into an emotion that will create a memory for people and inspire them to remember me.