Chef Rob Masone had long yearned to make a statement with his culinary prowess. Plans to operate a restaurant in his native Rock Hill, however, exceeded that vision in unexpectedly profound ways. When he chose to open an establishment in a former five-and-dime, he learned it was the site of a notorious civil rights era sit-in during which a group of peaceful protesters were maligned, arrested and jailed. Rather than ignore the building’s past, Masone insisted on honoring the significance of what happened by incorporating it into the restaurant concept he fittingly named “Kounter.” Today, patrons can opt to dine while sitting at the well-preserved, original counter in seats that bear the names of those nine men who courageously stood their ground.
His high standards, conscientiousness and creativity in the kitchen have earned Masone a spot on the 2023 roster of South Carolina Chef Ambassadors. The program was established in 2015 to recognize chefs whose craft and aesthetic 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.
Chef Masone spent years honing his skills and building a reputation as one of the Carolinas’ most vibrant chefs. Some of his most notable endeavors include:
- Serving as executive chef at the Mash House in Fayetteville, North Carolina
- Opening his first restaurant, The Braz-N-Rabbit, in downtown Fayetteville
- Being the first American chef to represent the nation in a culinary showdown with chefs in Dubai and Kabul, Afghanistan, on the international television show “59 Minutes”
- Becoming a star on the catering and event scene with the establishment of Kre8 Xperiences in Charlotte
Here, Chef Masone provides a few more insights into his career path, his approach to cooking and what he hopes to share with the dining public during his time as a South Carolina Chef Ambassador:
Q: What inspired you to take a path to a culinary career?
Chef Masone: I was raised in the kitchen, cooking with my mother and grandmother. I remember when I was probably 4 or 5 telling my Ma what she was doing wrong while making the cookie dough. She is 96 now, and we still laugh about that. (Ohhh … and I was incorrect on my assessment of the cookie dough!) Food has always been such an important part of my life and my family’s life, it just made sense to share my gift with everyone I could.
Q: What were the most significant career challenges you faced along the way?
Chef Masone: I think the hardest thing to do is build a team that will support you, your brand, your style and your culture. My company and vision outgrew me years ago. This was extremely hard for me to grasp at first. Once I started to trust my team with my inner thoughts, expressions and genuine concerns, we were able to really grow the brand.
Q: As a chef, what kind of dining experience do you hope to create for your patrons?
Chef Masone: Every day we strive to “Kre8” an interactive and unforgettable dining “Xperience” for our guests. It starts and ends at the front door, and we must nail everything in between.
Q: What are your favorite SC products and why?
Chef Masone: Oh my—anything from the water for sure! I’m personally an oyster fan but realize the masses don’t always feel the same. So, they are a hard sell on the everyday menu. I offer them on the catering menus when I have access. And I can’t forget to mention a cold beer from a local brewery for sure!
Q: Do you have a signature dish?
Chef Masone: Alderwood Smoked Salmon with forest mushroom cream, Peruvian purple potato puree, julienne snow peas and crispy shallots. We use 14 different varietals of mushrooms in the sauce and it is amazing.
Q: What do you look forward to sharing with the dining public during your tenure as a South Carolina Chef Ambassador?
Chef Masone: I hope to motivate people to eat and spend locally and inspire them to follow their culinary passions, whether at home or in a professional setting. Most importantly, I want people to know that it’s perfectly okay to play with your food!