Chef Kevin Mitchell is one of those rare culinarians whose professional interests far exceed the confines of the kitchen. Disciplined and driven, he earned two degrees from the Culinary Institute of America and went on to hone his craft with hands-on experience at several restaurants across the country, including Sun Dial in Atlanta, Seldom Blues Supper Club in Detroit and the MGM Grand Detroit Hotel.
In 2008, Chef Mitchell joined the faculty at the Culinary Institute of Charleston, where he still teaches his craft to aspiring chefs. A Nathalie Dupree Graduate Fellow of the Southern Foodways Alliance, he became a strong proponent for the preservation of Southern ingredients and earned a reputation for expertise on the historical significance of African American cuisine. In 2013, he joined the board of Slow Food Charleston and remains active in the American Culinary Federation. Chef Mitchell is also the founder of Bridging Culinary Awareness, a mentoring program promoting culinary arts as a career option for challenged high school students.
His community work, support for fellow chefs and talent for creating dishes with French, American and soul food influences have earned Chef Mitchell a place on the roster of South Carolina Chef Ambassadors for 2020.
In this Q and A, he provides more insight into what distinguishes him as one of the state’s most notable chefs.
What influences put you on the path to a culinary career?
“My interest in the culinary industry was sparked as a young boy in my grandmother’s kitchen, where I first paid dues by cleaning collards and mustard greens. I come from a single-parent home with three brothers and spent a great deal of time with my grandmother while my mother worked. She would not allow me to go out and play with the other kids and kept me at her ankles to learn how to cook. Being in the kitchen with her gave me a love for food and feeding people and created a special bond that still exists today. That experience laid the foundation for my dedication to moving food from the fresh market to a white tablecloth and empowered me to steadily climb up the culinary ranks. I am happy to say that Grandmother Doris is still with us and able to see my growth as a culinary professional and how her love of food and feeding people has been instilled in me.”
What makes being a chef in South Carolina such a special experience?
“There are many appealing things about being a chef and culinary educator in South Carolina. As a chef and culinary educator, I have the opportunity to not only teach the future chefs that will take over the great restaurants of our great state, but to also expose them to the many great products that come from our state. We have the advantage of having great things produced here at our fingertips and young culinarians can benefit from that.
What are your favorite South Carolina products?
“I am a huge fan of Carolina Gold rice as well as Sea Island Red Peas. I have to have benne seeds close by. Being an avid seafood lover, I must have the best fish and seafood the state has to offer, such as shrimp, triggerfish, clams and definitely local oysters. I cannot forget the local collards and other greens that grow throughout the state. There are too many to name.”
What dish best reflects your personal preferences?
“I love to cook berbere spiced salmon as I am a fan of berbere spice that comes to us from Ethiopia. Charleston’s rich culinary heritage is rooted in the food and ingredients from Africa, so in my dishes, I like to pay homage to that influence.”
As a South Carolina Chef Ambassador, what philosophies and ideals do you hope to convey to the dining public?
“As a Chef Ambassador, I hope to share not only stories of the great ingredients of our state, but to also share the stories of those who created the great food we enjoy today. As a culinary historian and chef, I feel it is important to connect the food to the people. We have a great history here in the Lowcountry and it is important to honor the enslaved and formally enslaved chefs and cooks on whose shoulders we stand for creating the food we now know as Southern cuisine.”