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LIBBY WIERSEMA: Chef Ambassadors ready to serve in 2020

LIBBY WIERSEMA: Chef Ambassadors ready to serve in 2020

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It’s that time of year again — the latest roster of South Carolina Chef Ambassadors has been announced.

Last year, Florence enjoyed local representation with the naming of Chef Kelly Vogelheim of Town Hall.

This year, the lineup features chefs from other regions, but I’m sure there are a couple of names that folks in the Pee Dee will recognize.

Let’s take a look at this year’s Chef Ambassadors.

Chef Jamie Daskalis

Johnny D’s Waffles and Bakery, Myrtle Beach

If you love waffles, you’ve probably stopped in at Johnny D’s at the beach to experience some of Chef Daskalis’s waffle magic. Though she was born and raised in New York, she is proud to call South Carolina home.

Trained on the job as her father owned several restaurants, Daskalis learned the family dynamic of hard work and quality food early on. She went on to earn a degree in baking and pastry from the Culinary Institute of America. She brings that experience, her enthusiasm and creativity to her endeavors at Johnny D’s, where she said she’s thrilled to serve a diverse customer base.

“Living in Myrtle Beach allows me to have that Southern life,” Daskalis said, “but in an environment that brings me great opportunity to feed the world.”

Chef Kevin Mitchell

Culinary Institute of Charleston

I was so pleased to see Chef Kevin Mitchell in this year’s group. His reputation as a chef and educator in the Lowcountry is stellar, and few chefs work that hard to mentor the great South Carolina chefs of tomorrow.

And he has paid his dues. After earning two degrees from the Culinary Institute of America, Mitchell put his learning to the test at various establishments across the country. With a sharpened skill set, he landed in Charleston and developed an expertise in African American cuisine.

That led to a life of advocacy for the preservation of Southern ingredients and more through the Southern Foodway Alliance and Slow Food Charleston. He joined the faculty of the Culinary Institute of Charleston in 2008 and founded the Bridging Culinary Awareness mentoring program for high school students.

“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,” Mitchell said.

Chef Raffaele Dall’Erta


Here’s a name the fine dining crowd of the Pee Dee probably is familiar with. Plenty of people from this area plan their date nights around a reservation at Sumter’s dining hot spot.

Chef Raffaele Dall’Erta has been helming the kitchen at Hamptons since 2010, much to the delight of locals as well as the many fans who make the short drive to experience his cuisine.

A native of Italy, Dall’Erta began his culinary career at a culinary school in Northern Lombardy. He then apprenticed at some of Italy’s finest restaurants before setting out to hone his craft in the United Kingdom and New York. When he finally came to Sumter, he brought all of that European know-how with him. It’s no surprise Dall’Erta caught the attention of foodies across South Carolina.

“The longer I am here, the more I learn about local specialties,” he said. “I also enjoy taking these native dishes and adding my own touch to them.”

Chef Jason TuftsMalia’s

I love downtown Aiken and have always enjoyed wonderful dining there. Malia’s adds so much to the small but burgeoning dining scene there.

Chef Jason Tufts gives a special touch to the dishes issuing from the kitchen of this charming restaurant. He began his career at the bottom, washing dishes for an Aiken eatery. Though just a high school student, he was bitten by the culinary bug and decided that a chef’s life for was him.

When his mother alerted him to the presence of a culinary school in Charleston, the budding chef enrolled and charted his course, graduating from Johnson and Wales in 1999.

After developing his skills even further with positions at other restaurants in the Augusta-Aiken area, he signed on with Malia’s and was named executive chef in 2017.

He savors the rich resources of South Carolina, and that aesthetic is reflected in his farm-to-fork philosophy.

“Mountains, lowlands, midlands and the coast — there are not many places where you can get all of these components to create a delicious, healthy meal made from ingredients harvested within mere hours of preparation,” Tufts said.

Now that you’ve been introduced to these amazing chefs, keep a lookout for events where they will be giving demonstrations and talks about the wonderful world of South Carolina cuisine and products.

Of course, the best way to get to know them is to experience their craft firsthand. Visit these restaurants and experience the creativity and freshness of these fine South Carolina Chef Ambassadors.

Libby Wiersema writes about dining, food trends and the state’s culinary history for Discover South Carolina as well as other print

and online media. Contact her at

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