COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – A Lowcountry chef was named one of South Carolina’s ‘Chef Ambassadors’ during a special ceremony at the Statehouse Wednesday morning.
Gov. Henry McMaster was joined by the Commissioner of Agriculture, Hugh Weathers, and South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Director Duane Parrish as they appointed three chefs to serve as South Carolina Chef Ambassadors for 2022.
These chefs prepare dishes using Certified South Carolina produce, meats and seafood, support local farmers and highlight the state’s rich food traditions.
“South Carolina Chef Ambassadors do South Carolina a great service by shining a light on our state’s destinations, signature dishes and locally grown foods, and their own incredible talents,” said Gov. McMaster. “We’re proud to have these three great chefs represent our state.”
Among them is Executive Chef John Ondo of The Atlantic Room on Kiawah Island.
Chef Ondo grew up playing in the tidal creeks of the Lowcountry, according to the governor’s office. It’s something he said left an indelible mark on him as he has spent his 20-plus-year culinary career drawing inspiration from the area’s fields and waterways.
It was here in Charleston where Chef Ondo developed long-lasting relationships with local farmers and fishermen. He often stops by to visit and discuss how crops are coming in and to pick up produce that will appear on plates that same night at The Atlantic Room.
“With his wry sense of humor and affable nature, Chef Ondo is a recognizable spokesperson for Lowcountry foodways,” said Gov. McMaster’s office.
Ondo accepted the honor along with fellow Chef Ambassadors, Chris Williams of Roy’s Grille in Lexington, and Haydn Shaak of Restaurant 17 at Hotel Domestique in Travelers Rest.
“Man, had y’all told me all these cameras were gonna be here today I would have brushed my hair,” Ondo joked as he stepped before the podium, just seconds before First Lady Peggy McMaster reached up to brush his hair with her hand.
“This is a huge honor to be able to represent my home state and the hard-working farmers and fishermen and shrimpers, just producers of Carolina products,” he said. “This is a huge honor and I’m happy to be here.”
The governor’s office said the Chef Ambassadors, a program now in its eighth year, will represent South Carolina at food festivals, media events and other forums.
The program was created in 2014 to highlight the state as a top culinary destination. It unites agribusiness and tourism, two of the state’s largest industries, which together contribute tens of billions of dollars to the state’s economy each year and account for hundreds of thousands of jobs statewide, according to Gov. McMaster’s office.
“These three talented Chef Ambassadors honor South Carolina’s diverse culinary heritage and local ingredients,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers. “Chefs connect with and promote our state’s farmers and help teach us all how to eat fresh, local food in season.”
“Our hospitality industry has been on a rollercoaster ride since March 2020,” said Duane Parrish, Director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. “From shifting to a to-go model almost overnight, to navigating workforce challenges, to welcoming an influx of visitors as tourism began to rebound – they’ve really seen it all in a very short timeframe. The Chef Ambassador program highlights and celebrates some of the very best of what this resilient and tenacious industry has to offer, and helps showcase just how significant and extraordinary our culinary scene is in the Palmetto State.”
To learn more about the program and past Chef Ambassadors, visit discoversouthcarolina.com/chef-ambassadors.