The kitchen has been Kelly Vogelheim’s happy place since she was just a teen. While working her first job in the restaurant industry, the culinary muse snagged an eager new apprentice and a budding chef was born. Today, Vogelheim is master of her craft, having risen through the ranks to become executive chef at the farm-to-table restaurant Town Hall, in downtown Florence. (She left the Pee Dee eatery in 2021 to work at a new restaurant in Highlands, NC.)
Her reputation for spotlighting South Carolina’s finest products earned her the honor of being named a 2019 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. As part of an initiative begun by former Gov. Nikki Haley, each year chefs from across the state are selected to promote South Carolina's culinary heritage and local food culture through cooking demonstrations, guest appearances and educational programs.
A native of Michigan, Vogelheim developed her skills at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City, and eventually immersed herself in the energetic environments of ship galleys, where she served as head chef for a fleet of nine. But life on land and a warmer climate beckoned, so Vogelheim chose one of the most exciting dining destinations in the South as her new headquarters—Charleston, of course! As sous chef at Lowcountry Bistro, she embarked on a journey of discovery, learning about South Carolina’s rich culinary heritage and eventually attaining the title of chef de cuisine. In the summer of 2018, she brought her knowledge and skills to Town Hall, where she helmed the kitchen and servee up some of South Carolina’s finest flavors.
In this Q&A conducted before she relocated to North Carolina, she describes her journey and aesthetic as a South Carolina chef:
What first sparked your interest in a culinary career?
“My first interest in the culinary field began in the kitchen at home, cooking with my mother and grandmother. Creating meals and enjoying them together with family was always such a pleasure. That same feeling was carried on when I began working in restaurants, providing an experience for guests that have come to gather around a table and enjoy not only the food but also each other.”
What makes being a chef in South Carolina so appealing?
"Being a chef in South Carolina is appealing because of the outstanding resources that are readily available. From produce to seafood, I am consistently finding new ingredients to work with, which keeps my job fresh, new and exciting all year-round. South Carolina has a rich historical influence on cuisine, and it has been a great pleasure to learn and execute the old traditions while incorporating my own ideas into the dishes."
Which South Carolina products are "musts" in your kitchen?
"Carolina Heritage Farms provides incredible pork, and they are only a short drive up the road from my place of work. This has made it a “must” in my kitchen. The ability to stay true to local resources and businesses has great importance to me, and the quality of the product makes it that much more worth it."
What dish best represents your creativity and culinary style?
"I would say bouillabaisse is a great dish to represent my culinary style. A good bouillabaisse can be very time-consuming and sometimes labor-intensive, but the result is incredibly beautiful and so rewarding. It can be different each time it is made, incorporating various types of produce, fish and shellfish. To me, there is no better feeling than spending hours on a single dish and seeing the satisfaction on someone’s face as they take a big spoonful of your hard work—pure joy.”
As a Chef Ambassador for South Carolina, what ideals do you hope to share with the dining public and why?
“One ideal that I would like to share with the dining public is the importance of using local and sustainable products and supporting small businesses. Buying local means the money stays close, enriching our communities and, in return, we get a better product.”