Growing up in the restaurant business put Jamie Daskalis on a steady path toward a chef’s life. Her father owned and operated four restaurants in New York, so young Jamie spent a lot of her formative years observing the culture and pitching in.
So, it was only natural that she pursued a career in the family business, enrolling in the Culinary Institute of America to earn a degree in Baking and Pastry. When an opportunity presented itself in Myrtle Beach, she headed south and the rest was providence. As the brainchild behind the wildly popular Johnny D’s Waffles and Bakery, Chef Daskalis found the perfect avenue for spotlighting her culinary talents.
But the restaurants are more than just a platform for earning a livelihood and indulging her kitchen passions. They also offer a way for Chef Jamie to give back to the community. As the mother of a child with autism, she routinely hosts events to advocate for others and spread awareness of the condition. Named “Best Chef” by South Carolina Woman Magazine and Grand Strand Magazine, Chef Jamie has hit her stride—but she’s not done yet. As a 2020 South Carolina Chef Ambassador, this year is shaping up to be a pinnacle in her career.
In this Q and A, she shares some of her plans for her tenure and what it means to be a South Carolina chef.
What influences put you on the path to a culinary career?
“My father has been in the restaurant business for over 30 years. I basically grew up in his diners. I would run behind the counter and through the kitchen like it was my playground. As I became a teenager, I knew with more and more certainty I wanted to be in the restaurant business.
One day I was watching my father make a spanakopita in the kitchen and I said to myself, ‘I need to go to culinary school. That’s what I want to do.’ So, because my brother had just finished the Culinary Arts program, I decided on the Baking and Pastry program. After graduating, I worked in one of my father’s restaurants and that’s where I decided I enjoyed cooking more than baking. I started to learn new techniques and recipes, slowly building my knowledge of cooking. Then, a few years later I moved to Myrtle Beach and took it to the next level.
What makes being a chef in South Carolina such a special experience?
“I love South Carolina. It’s a place where Southern hospitality meets the rest of the world. Living in Myrtle Beach allows me to have that Southern life, but in an environment that brings me great opportunity to feed the world. People come from all over to visit South Carolina. They come for our beaches, they come for the weather, they come to play golf, they come to visit historical cities like Charleston, and as more chefs help shape the food scene, they come for our food.”
What are your favorite South Carolina products?
“My South Carolina ‘musts’ in my kitchen are my Adluh grits and flour out of Columbia. Before moving down here from New York, I never made grits in my life. Clearly, with opening a breakfast house in the South, this posed a problem. After sampling some instant grits, I was confused about what the big deal was. But after sampling the stone-ground grits Adluh had to offer, I was hooked. This New York girl loves her grits so much. So, with knowing how good the grits are, it’s only natural to prepare our waffles with Adluh’s flour. Our waffles are the cornerstone of our operation—I have to have the best.”
What dish best reflects your personal preferences?
“I would say the Brisket Skillet. In an area where everyone is smoking their briskets, I braise mine. After it’s braised in my signature barbecue rub and a special mixture of liquids, it’s shredded and cooked with barbecue sauce and more rub to ensure the flavor is in every bite. Then the brisket is crisped on the grill with sweet tea-pickled jalapeños and baby portabella mushrooms, and then covered with smoked Gouda and two eggs served on our signature home fries. This is the kind of dish you can find here at Johnny D’s—twists on classics and/or reinvented dishes.”
As a South Carolina Chef Ambassador, what philosophies and ideals do you hope to convey to the dining public?
“I want the dining public to know that I appreciate them. I appreciate that, with all their choices of restaurants, they chose to visit mine. I appreciate that they help support my family and the families of my employees. I appreciate the memories they make when they dine with us. It’s important for them to know that I promise to always do my best and that they always have a great place to eat when they are in Myrtle Beach. I promise to provide them creative, fresh and delicious dishes using only the best ingredients, in a clean, hospitable environment. I always want my guests to smile when they think back to their visits with us.”