Behind every great dish is a chef. The star of the show. The master of the meal.
But behind that chef is someone equally important. The unsung hero of the kitchen who goes by all manner of names, and is there working the line night after night, not asking for (or getting any) public recognition or glory. Chad Stalnaker, Sarah Adams and Daniel Heinz are all one of them.
Hit Blind Tiger on any given afternoon and you’re bound to bite into a juicy burger prepared by Chad Stalnaker. He works under Executive Chef Thad Stuckey and claims to have held at least 20 different food + bev positions in his young career.
“I guess you could just call me a cook,” he says. Stalnaker never went to culinary school. He just needed a gig and picked up his cooking skills on the job.
“You start out doing dishes, then move on to a prep cook or a line cook,” he says. “We’re definitely back there sweating and working the knife right there with the chef.”
While diners relax over the BT’s signature crab cakes, Stalnaker’s at the ready, working to plate the busy Tuesday dinner crowd’s Butcher Steak, mussel and perogie orders.
“I love working here,” Stalnaker says with grin. “The chef has to deal with the orders and the payments; I don’t want to do that stuff. I like working on my own thing.” He may not get to take all the credit, but working the line is exactly where Stalnaker wants to be.
For others, the end goal is their own restaurant and a solid reputation.
Sarah Adams is one such individual. She got her degree at CofC in Religion and Anthropology, but ended up as a prep cook.
“I just needed a job and applied to do prep work at a restaurant in Mt. Pleasant,” she tells us. That job led to a gig at Peninsula Grill and eventually landed her at her current position with James Beard loved Mike Lata at FIG. Whenever you take that first nibble of the John’s Island Tomato Tarte Tatin (sooo good) or sweet corn and field peas, it’s Adams’ hands that have lovingly prepared them.
She arrives to FIG daily at 8am to collect the deliveries from area farmers and preps for the evening’s meal. With the attention the restaurant has garnered, Sarah says you have to be on your ‘A’ game every night, but she loves the challenge and appreciates learning as much as she can from Lata.
“I see myself going further and eventually opening a place like FIG, bistro style,” she says. Until then, she’s just happy to be part of an award
As is Daniel Heinz, the lead line cook at McCrady’s.
“I expedite the four stations and handle the meat,” Heinz explains. He came to McCrady’s after working famed Norman’s Restaurant in Miami.
“I did a lot of research and knew I wanted to work with Sean Brock,” he says. His opportunity came when he volunteered to work for free at the restaurant. He was “hired” within days.
Heinz admits that when you work for a James Beard winner in a highly competitive food + bev town like Charleston, the pressure is always on. “You have to be passionate and be able to get satisfaction from the job every day,” Heinz says he does. He hopes to follow in his boss’s footsteps and one day run a place like McCrady’s that’s all his own.
“Brock was 27, my age, when he became Executive Chef at the Hermitage Hotel. Hopefully when I’m 30, I’ll have my own place.” Heinz may b
e working the line today, but he’s well on his way.
So, while your meal should always be attributed to the vision of its head chef, never forget the men and women slaving on the line to put that meal on your plate. Your unsung heros will never ask for recognition, but just maybe you’ll surprise everyone and give it to them anyway.
Story by: Kinsey Gidick
Photos by: Chrys Rynearson