Q&A with Charleston Chef Bob Cook
One you meet Bob Cook, you will probably never forget him. As you get to know the chef, you quickly learn he is as passionate as they come, extremely loyal, and hardworking. He is someone we at The Daily Meal recommend watching closely.
A Michigan native, Bob and his family left the more industrial part of the state when he was in high school and found their way to northern Michigan, a heavily tourist-driven market. It is there he started his restaurant career in a country club at a local golf course. Like most during those days, he began his culinary career by washing dishes and after some time, found his way to prepping food. The chefs around him liked both his work and his work ethic, and soon he was hired as a morning prep cook. By age 17, he was a sous chef and went on to work in that kitchen for 11 years before departing to St. Louis, and eventually making his way to Charleston.
The Daily Meal: What was the biggest influence Michigan had on you as a chef?
Bob Cook: The water for sure. I grew up fishing and at the restaurant I worked, we always used as much local fish as we could. To this day, you will find me on most of my days off with a fishing poll in my hand. It is something I love to do and have great appreciation for those who do it for a living.
You finally left Michigan and moved to St. Louis. What was the experience like for you as a chef?
Yes, I moved to St. Louis out of nowhere and landed a job at Morton’s. I know it’s a chain but it is where I learned so many critical things I needed to know as a chef. It was such a good company and they took really great care of their staff. It was there I learned about having an effective kitchen and if you keep a few perimeters in place, you can really have a great restaurant. I also learned the importance of front of the house and the kitchen working together and not against each other at the restaurant; it is something I work hard to ensure happens today at Cypress.
What was the downfall of living in St. Louis?
Water, or lack of it. Living in Michigan, I was always a few minutes from some sort of body of water. In St. Louis, you had to drive at least an hour and a half to get to a small lake. It was something I really missed and ultimately made me look for another coastal city to move to.
So how did you decide on Charleston?
My girlfriend and I researched places that were on the water and had a good food scene—places like Austin, San Diego, Lake Norman, and Charleston. This was 2007, and the city just seemed to have something special happening in regards to food.
And how did you find Craig Deihl and Cypress?
I called around to places to see if anyone was hiring. Craig was impressed with my past cooking experience and hired me without even a stage (something that would never happen today). Of course, he started me out on the grill, knowing that I could do that from my previous job, and the rest is history. I was promoted to work in other stations and now help him lead the kitchen.
What is a typical day like?
First, I help manage a large, diverse staff and do so at different times of the day. I come in around noon and deal with product arrivals and orders with local farms and purveyors. Then I make sure everything runs smooth before, during and after service.
Tell us more about the charcuterie program that has been built and what your role is with it?
We were getting so many whole animals to use for our popular pork/meat menu items and we wanted to try to find something to do with the leftover parts. Craig and I both love to butcher and we had a large kitchen space upstairs that wasn’t really being used; so that grew into the charcuterie program you see today. It is exciting to see where Craig has taken it. The new location, Artisan Meat Share, will be the place to really showcase the program to more people and it will be a great extension for the restaurant group.
What about burger night? How did that happen?
Same kind of thing. We had a ton of ground meat left over and would use it for staff dinners but always had a lot left. We tried to think of new specials to offer and then it hit us to do burgers. A night that used to be slow at our upstairs bar is now one of the biggest, and we sell close to 300 burgers on any given Burger Night.
What is your role at Artisan Meat Share?
I will be helping Craig by going back and forth between Cypress and Artisan Meat Share. I plan to oversee the baked goods, something I really love to do. We will be able to do some new items we can’t do at Cypress like sandwiches, sides, to go items and more. It will be exciting.
What are some facts about you that most do not know?
I love Asian food and spent two weeks in Thailand on a food vacation. I have a massive whiskey collection (I am the founding member of the Charleston Brown Water Society), with over 60 bottles. I also grow hot peppers and have over 55 varietals. I love making hot sauces and condiments with them. Last, I am a cat person. Don’t ask me why, I just am.
Follow Bob Cook on instagram at @bobcook248.