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Economy: Pawleys chef puts tourism on menu for 2017

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In the era of celebrity chefs, more people are planning trips with an eye on their meals and Adam Kirby will help put Georgetown County on the menu. The chef and co-owner of Bistro 217 and Rustic Table is one of four South Carolina Chef Ambassadors for the coming year.

“It’s a great honor,” Kirby said. “It will do a lot of good things for our area.”

It is the third year for the program, a joint venture of the state Department of Agriculture and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Four chefs are picked to represent the Lowcountry, Pee Dee, Midlands and Upstate. Kirby was nominated by Lauren Joseph, tourism director at the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce who does tourism marketing for the county and the town of Pawleys Island.

“Foodie tourism is a big trend right now,” Joseph said. “People travel to experience the cuisine.”

Along with promoting locally-grown food and South Carolina destinations, the program is designed to highlight cuisine that can be found “off the beaten path.”

The final four are selected by Gov. Nikki Haley, and Joseph said she heard the governor ate at Bistro 217 last year and “really enjoyed it.”

“Bistro is what I learned in cooking school,” Kirby said. That was at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., which was affiliated with Le Cordon Bleu. The school was founded by one of Portland’s original celebrity chefs, a German native. “I had classical French training, learned from Germans,” Kirby said.

He cooked in Hawaii and San Francisco before coming to Pawleys Island in 2004 with the opening of Bistro 217. Last year, Kirby and co-owner Anne Hardee opened Rustic Table. “Rustic Table is the food I grew up on,” said Kirby, a native of Atlanta. “I grew up with two grandmothers who were awesome Southern chefs. My mother was an awesome cook. I learned the difference between good food and bad food at an early age.”

The chef ambassadors have a schedule of nine events over the next 12 months, starting with the state AgriBiz and Farm Expo in Florence. They’ll cook and give demonstrations around the state and at tourism events in Atlanta, New York and the Southern Living test kitchen in Birmingham, Ala.

The four chefs will also be asked to participate private meals for the governor, the directors of Agriculture and PRT and for other state agencies. “I’ve talked to people who have done it before,” Kirby said. “They said it did a lot for their restaurant and a lot for their community.” The other chefs are William Cribb of Spartanburg, Amy Fortes of Fort Mill and Sean Mendes of Charleston.

For Kirby, “the essential ingredient for South Carolina cooking is seafood, far and beyond. We have such awesome fish.”

But although the varieties change with the season, fish, like other meats are generally the same year round. “It’s the produce that drives your menu,” Kirby said. He gets his from local farms. A recent “loaded grits” item on the menu featured mushrooms gathered by the owner of Inlet Culinary Garden.

On the tourism side, Kirby has seen an increase in people coming to Pawleys Island for the food. “We get people coming up from Charleston just to eat,” he said. “A lot of people come from Atlanta.”

“We’re definitely a summer town, but the winters are getting busier and busier,” he added. Joseph thinks that trend only grows with the area represented in the chef ambassador program. “They do a great job of selling South Carolina,” she said. “Hopefully, this won’t be our last chef ambassador from Georgetown County.”

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