CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He's cooked under a German chef's rigidly disciplined kitchen in a prestigious New York City restaurant and in the laid-back kitchens in Jamaican resorts. Executive chef Jeremy Still found a happy medium 15 years ago when he landed his current job at Edgewood Country Club.
He took over the kitchen in 1994, following in the footsteps of chefs Dan Ferguson and Bill Sohovich. His tenure at Edgewood has run much longer than the years he did the resort stints at Lake Tahoe and in the Virgin Islands.
The Marriott organization offered him the executive chef position at the chain's Hilton Head Island hotel. He and his wife had two children. In 1991, he transferred to the Charleston Marriott, where he was hired by the late Charleston chef and food and beverage director Peter Meyer before accepting the job at Edgewood Country Club.
"In hotel chains, you're using their program and menus. It was a total reversal of the creativity we had in Jamaica," he said. "I was anxious to get back to preparing my food. At Edgewood, I create my own cuisine and mix in monthly specials based on what's in season."
Still's kitchen staff has a relatively low turnover rate, which is rare in the industry. His kitchen usually includes an apprentice from Carver Career College's culinary program. Still, a Certified Executive Chef and American Academy of Chefs member, heads the advisory group for Carver's culinary apprentice program. The program provides a local option for aspiring chefs who might not be able to attend out-of -town culinary schools.
Still grew up in upstate New York, and remembers his childhood kitchen experiments. He usually made a mess, and his mother would kick him out of her kitchen. Despite his interest in food preparation, he enrolled in a traditional college after high school. It didn't take long for him to realize his hospital technology major wasn't leading him to a career he wanted.
"I couldn't see myself doing that every day for the rest of my life," he said. "I took the civil service test for the state of New York and got highest marks in cooking. After two years of institutional cooking experience, I went to Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park."
Harrah's Lake Tahoe, a upscale casino resort, recruited him right out of culinary school as lead saucier. He drove from New York to Nevada in a Volkswagon Rabbit equipped with only AM radio. "It was a long trip. Sometimes I would go four hours without a radio station," he said.
After two years in Nevada, Still headed south to Jamaica and to the Virgin Islands, where he mingled with the natives and familiarized himself with cultural cuisine there. The menu naturally featured lots of fresh seafood.
"We picked whelks off the rocks and stewed them, used oxtails in soup, and skinned lots of breadfruit," he said. "I've carried that emphasis on regional foods with me today. I try to use the freshest, local produce."
After a brief break back home in New York, he was hired at the Essex House on New York's Central Park South. Still worked 15-hour days under the stern eye of a German chef with exacting standards. "It was a very European, disciplined place," he said.
At Edgewood, Still's classically prepared cuisine showcases regional influences. For Appalachian walleye, he sautés walleye fillets, a local favorite, and tops them with bacon and julienned scallions in a lemon butter sauce. He supplements the core menu with seasonally-inspired foods. He developed a wild-mushroom bisque with cognac that is one of his personal favorites and a hit with Edgewood diners.
"They'd probably hang me from the South Side Bridge if I took it off the menu," Still said.
Other favorites with the more than 600 members are the ginger-sesame shellacked salmon, bread pudding with bourbon sauce and pecan ball dessert.
Still, 56, plans and oversees the food preparation for Edgewood Country Club receptions. He's seen trends come and go. Today, full dinner buffets are frequently shelved in favor of station buffets, giving guests the freedom to visit different parts of the room and mingle rather than standing in long buffet lines. Dessert buffets are increasingly popular.
In his kitchen at home, Still doesn't cook much now that his two children are in college, and three golden retrievers are his only housemates. A pot of chili sees him through the evenings when he doesn't grab a quick bite at work.
Still shared several recipes, including wild mushroom and cognac bisque, a recipe he developed in the mid 1980s while working at the Essex Hotel. It's the very recipe he fears would lead to his demise if he removed it from the Edgewood menu.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Wild Mushroom and Cognac Bisque
Yield: 10 8-ounce servings
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 ounce dry morels or chanterelle (reconstituted in brandy and julienned)
3 ounces shitake mushrooms, sliced
3 ounces white mushrooms, medium sized, sliced
3 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 sweet onion, medium sized, small dice
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 quart chicken broth
1 pint half and half cream
1/2 cup cognac
1 teaspoon thyme, or 1 tablespoon fresh
2 dashes hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste