"I got tired of the Caribbean. You miss being where you have more convenience and the food is right there. I took a couple months off. The friend who asked me to go to Jamaica called and said he needed a good sous chef in New York City. I worked at the Essex House for two years on Central Park South.
"That was great, working in New York, honing your skills. I worked for a German chef. He was very hands-on and expected you to be right there with him. So it was great exposure.
"Then the Marriott chain asked about a position open at Hilton Head. That transition was tough. New York was 24/7, and it was great living there, but I didn't want to raise kids there. I worked for Marriott for four years there. My kids had a great upbringing on the beach -- two golden retrievers and swimming in the ocean, the whole bit.
"Marriott was ready to sell that property, so after looking at a number of transfers, I interviewed with Reggie Carnemolla and Peter Meyer at the Charleston Marriott.
"Charleston was so much like upstate New York, this whole valley with a river running through the town. I thought I could fit in real well and it would be a great place for kids. That was 1991.
"I worked three years with Marriott and then Edgewood called. I shook hands during the interview and said no contracts, that if it didn't work out, we would just part ways. That's the way it still is.
"The biggest difference in a country club is that corporations all want to hand down menus that stunt your growth. Up here, they've been very accepting of all my cuisine.
"We change out the specials the first day of the month with what is in season. I turn that food into my style of cooking. We still offer the core menu. Every country club has to have your shrimp cocktail and filets and strips, fish and chicken.
"Three years ago, we opened the grill room, Randy's Pub. So I have a separate menu for that room but it's interchangeable with the other dining rooms.
"From Thanksgiving through December, we will average eight or nine parties a day with two full dining rooms and a ballroom.
"When I came to Charleston, the Marriott did a little bio on me in the Sunday paper. Billy Sohovich's mom was reading the paper and told him the Marriott had a new executive chef who went to the CIA. Billy shrugged and said, 'Well, there's a lot of us out there, mom.' She said, 'Well, it says he worked in Lake Tahoe, a Jeremy Still.' He said, 'Mom, put the paper away, and I will show you a picture of the Jerry Still I know.'
"Billy started working up here when I was at the Marriott and then came and joined me in the Tarragon Room. Then he got hired back up here. We would walk the streets looking for a restaurant for him to open, and that's where he settled on the Blossom. I'm sorry to see him gone.
"I cook a little at home. I like to cook out of one pan so it's less cleanup, whether it's jambalaya or stews or pot roast. I keep it easy.
"I do things for Sojourner's and Covenant House. We started a cooking class in my church, feeding the hungry, a food ministry at the Cross Lanes Methodist Church on Tyler Mountain. We do that every Wednesday. We were hoping to see 40 people a week and now we see about 150 a week, so there is a definite need. You don't realize it until you offer it.
"We've developed a great base with our members. They have allowed me to do my cuisine. This past month, on Friday nights, we had lobster nights. In the summer, every Thursday, we cook out on the terrace. They call that Still's Grill. Things like that keep me interested.
"I'm a real believer in being in the kitchen, not sitting around. I love having my hands in the food. It does get crazy back there sometimes, but I'm not a screamer in the kitchen. The stuff you see on TV is drama. It does get heated at times, but you have to realize that the dogfight is over in 30 seconds.
"You have to keep about a 55-hour week. We are closed on Sunday and Monday. That's a big difference from the Marriott hotel days. Hotels are 24/7, and you would come in on your day off for a meeting. But I accepted that. This is what I do. When everyone is out on weekends partying, we're here catering a party.
"I'm blessed. Looking back, I see this was my calling.
"My bucket list? I want to go see Ireland. My great-grandparents were hops farmers in upstate New York, so that farming community has always been an area of interest to me.
"And I would like to go back to some of the nice areas where I've lived. I haven't been to Lake Tahoe or the Caribbean in 20 years or to Hilton Head in 10 years. I'd like to see what has changed. That's always fun.
"I'm in a good place in my life now. I have no plans to move anywhere."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.