Look up the word “visionary” and you just might find a photo of Leslie Rohland. As proprietor of multiple Bluffton enterprises—The Juice Hive, May River Coffee Roasters, Bluffton Pasta Shoppe and Old Town’s coziest cafe, bakery and tearoom, The Cottage, she has built a culinary career out of following her bliss.
Of course, achieving success hasn’t always been breezy. But armed with a vibrant imagination and an ear naturally attuned to her instincts, Chef Rohland basks in the journey as she does what she loves best: crafting delicious food and sharing it with others. It seems like a career in food has always been in the cards for her.
“I knew I was built for the culinary world from my very first job,” she said. “It was a ‘one-person-slice-a-pizza kiosk’ in a groovy, rustic mall in Salt Lake City. I ran this tiny shop by cooking pizza, serving customers, pouring soda, handling money and managing inventory. What I liked most about this experience was the full spectrum training and this is where I grew to appreciate the satisfaction that comes from serving a tasty and fulfilling meal, whatever the meal.”
That kind of self-discovery, as well as the influence of two grandmothers who exhibited versatility, patience, keen palates and creativity in the kitchen, were key to her success. Now that success is being recognized in a way that will allow Chef Rohland to make widespread contributions to the state’s culinary culture.
As a 2024 South Carolina Chef Ambassador, she is one of three accomplished chefs who will spend the coming year sharing culinary knowledge and experiences with the dining public. During a one-year tenure, these special representatives will conduct cooking demonstrations, promote healthy nutrition and highlight our rich agricultural bounty and heritage.
In this Q&A, Chef Rohland gives us a deeper look into her cooking aesthetic and goals as a Chef Ambassador.
What makes being a chef in South Carolina such a unique experience?
“South Carolina is and has been my introduction to being a chef. For the past 14-plus years, I have truly found my passion in being part of the unique and ever-changing culinary landscape of South Carolina, where I have been able to nurture and grow—my love of crafting both traditional Southern favorites and some new twists on Southern cooking using South Carolina’s abundance of fresh ingredients.
“I’ve found that locals and visitors alike all seem to enjoy trying anything put in front of them, especially heirloom recipes and regional flavors that include Lowcountry ingredients. Some favorite ingredients that I live by are shrimp, cobia, catfish, crab, rice, grits, tomato, collards, peanuts, okra, onion, ginger and scallions.”
Do you have a signature dish or particular approach to creating dishes?
“Shrimp and grits, very simply executed, but open to several variations.
A hearty and warming sauté of shrimp, onion, garlic, mushroom and smoked bacon over cheddar and goat cheese coarse-ground yellow grits, finished with scallions and a side of cornbread. Our culinary approach at The Cottage is pretty simple: consistency, fresh ingredients, consistency, make it pretty and tasty, and consistency.”
During your tenure as an SC Chef Ambassador, what would you like to share most with the dining public about South Carolina's culinary scene?
“I want people to know that South Carolina's culinary scene is hugely versatile, ever-changing and highly adaptable to current culinary trends, dietary restrictions and health matters. We have the advantage of access to some of the finest, freshest local ingredients in the country. I would also like to highlight the spectacular local fresh ingredients and regional foods of the Lowcountry and showcase the important and growing role that the Hilton Head and Bluffton areas have as part of the thriving South Carolina culinary scene.”