Armed with family recipes and a love for South Carolina food traditions, Kiki Cyrus and husband, Tyrone, opened Kiki's Chicken and Waffles in Columbia in 2012. It was a journey of discovery, one in which Cyrus' soulful culinary expression earned her a solid following of diners as well as the title of South Carolina Chef Ambassador for 2018. An initiative begun by former Gov. Nikki Haley, each year four 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.
Cyrus' chicken and waffles are in high demand among those who crave the crunchy, savory-sweet combo constructed of a buttery Belgian waffle topped with four hefty, crusty chicken wings and served with a side of warm syrup. But her signature dish is just the foundation of a solid soul food lineup that honors her cultural roots. Smothered pork chops, shrimp and grits, salmon patties, and all the customary veggies that round out a proper plate of Southern goodness are yours for the asking.
Here, Cyrus, a Charleston native, shares her cooking aesthetics and what it means to represent the best of South Carolina cooking in the coming year:
Q: Where did you get your inspiration to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
A: "Watching my grandmother and mother always prepare a meal in the kitchen was one of my favorite hobbies growing up. Every day, there was always a meal on the table. I was always watching how each dish was prepared, and just developed an aspiration of wanting to be a chef."
Q: What's the most important rule in your kitchen?
A: "Clean as you go. I hate to work in a messy kitchen!"
Q: What makes being a chef in South Carolina such a special experience?
A: "Being a chef of South Carolina - just hearing that statement - is so amazing to me. And I love it! This experience will allow me to inspire other young people by letting them know they can do anything that they put their mind to. They can become a chef and own their own restaurant someday if they have that passion for cooking food like I do!"
Q: What South Carolina ingredients do you value the most and why?
A: "I value the fresh and local seafood and produce of South Carolina because I am able to buy local. That is important. Buying local means more money stays within our community and local produce and seafood are fresher."
Q: What are your goals as a South Carolina Chef Ambassador?
A: "I hope to educate South Carolinians about all the wonderful, local small business restaurants we have in South Carolina and how important it is to support us."