Doing simple and doing it well has helped earn Sean Mendes of Charleston's Blue Cajun Kitchen the designation of South Carolina Chef Ambassador for 2017.
Each year, the Chef Ambassador program, an initiative of Gov. Nikki Haley, names four chefs from across the state to promote South Carolina's culinary heritage and local food culture. During their one-year tenure, these representatives appear at events to conduct cooking demonstrations, promote healthy childhood nutrition and spotlight the state's rich agricultural bounty.
Formerly of the food truck operation Roadside Seafood, chef Mendes first wowed patrons and critics with dishes featuring fresh local shrimp and other seafood. At Blues Cajun Kitchen, he works the same magic with beef, serving up creative burger interpretations along with cold brews and a side of live blues.
In this Q & A, Mendes describes his chef's journey and goals for the upcoming year:
Q: When did the culinary muse first beckon you to pursue a chefs' life?
A: My "calling" started when I was knee-high to my grandmother. To watch her work magic in her kitchen and produce such comforting and satisfying meals made me want to do the same.
Q: As a chef, what is the main philosophy that defines and guides your kitchen?
A: I believe in using the best ingredients available to you and preparing them with the love they deserve. It's almost like deep meditation for me. It doesn't matter if you cook at a Waffle House or for some world-renowned chef, as long as you do what you love and love what you do.
Q: Which South Carolina products could you not live without?
A: Our abundant fresh and local seafood, especially shrimp and oysters, as well as okra and sweet potatoes are some of my favorites.
Q: What is your signature dish?
A: My She Crab Soup - it is something that can easily be messed up if not done correctly. I would put mine up against anyone's.
Q: As a Chef Ambassador for the great state of South Carolina, what ideals do you hope to share with the public and why?
A: I think it is very important to support your local farmers and fishermen. We need to focus on helping to educate the public on where we are sourcing the wonderful products we serve, and what they can do to help support these businesses.