CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nobody can say Jeremy Still showed early signs of his future vocation. The shell-filled scrambled eggs he prepared as a Boy Scout certainly didn't portend his impressive career as a cook.
And yet, here he is, esteemed king of the kitchen at Edgewood Country Club, a position that has served him (and club members) well for nearly 20 years.
The amiable executive chef, son of an undertaker in upstate New York, graduated among the top 10 in his class at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. The journey to Charleston included stints at Lake Tahoe, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, New York City and Hilton Head.
Working at Hilton Head for Marriott led eventually to the kitchen of the Charleston Marriott in 1991 and, three years later, to Edgewood. Freed from corporate confines, he enjoys flexing his cuisine creativity in a country club setting.
He never dreamed what those paste and flour pizzas he concocted as a kid would lead to.
"I was born in Saratoga, N.Y. We lived 10 miles away in a small village, Schuylerville. Pulp and paper factories were there along the Hudson River.
"My dad was the undertaker. My mom taught kindergarten. They had four boys. I'm No. 3. We lived in the funeral home upstairs. Growing up in that environment was normal for us
"We would make sure the house was kept up. We were dad's little troops out there making sure the grass was mowed and there was no grass in the cracks. We helped with the funerals but never the embalming end. We weren't allowed to hang around when he was doing that.
"I played around with cooking. I would mix flour and water and pretend I was making pizzas. The first time I made a dish for my merit badge in Scouts, my parents were the guinea pigs. I made scrambled eggs, and of course I broke half the shell in the eggs. But they smiled and said how good it tasted.
"I always thought I would be in the medical field. Out of high school, I was studying X-ray tech, but at 18, I knew this wasn't for me. I was more of an outside kid.
"I had taken an adult cooking seminar just to feel it out. I ended up taking a civil service exam for the state of New York and got good marks, so they hired me. That's where my career started off, in institutional cooking.
"It was a great foundation, especially in the banquet world in learning portions. The institution was for mentally and physically handicapped people. They were on rationed diets, all portioned out, so we had to know how much to cook. We did everything from scratch, everything from pork roast to pot roast. They ate well.
"I did that for two years and that led to Hyde Park to the Culinary Institute of America. That was a great experience. I graduated in the top 10, so I was full-blown into it by then.
"I got recruited by Harrah's Hotel in Lake Tahoe, and it was there that I met Bill Sohovich from Charleston. We graduated three weeks apart. We did everything together, fished and skied. But we went in different directions. Ten years later, we reunited when I was in Charleston with a transfer with Marriott.
"Working in Harrah's five-star restaurant at Tahoe, we fed all the celebrity headliners, Willie Nelson, the Osmonds, Ricardo Montalban, Don Rickles. Willie Nelson would bring in Merle Haggard. Don Rickles always liked veal chops and always said he was on a diet. For the most part, they ate off the menu.
"That led me to meeting a fellow who asked if I wanted to go to Jamaica to work. I went there in the fall of '82 working for a restaurant-hotel management company. They had me live with the local people. That opened my eyes to different foods and cuisines and cooking with what you have on hand. They had their own style of food.
"Here I try to manage our menus to what is local and regional and how the locals prepare things. I brought that with me.
"I was in Jamaica for eight months. They had another property in the British Virgin Islands so I was there for a while. From there I broke off from the management company. I was offered a job at another hotel next to little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda.
"In the Caribbean, we taught Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset how to scuba dive when they were filming 'The Deep.' We would get in the dinghy and go out and dive for lobster.