Although Chef Joe Bonaparte is relatively new to the Myrtle Beach area, having relocated a few years ago to take the reigns at Horry Georgetown Technical College’s International Culinary Institute, he has quickly embraced Lowcountry cuisine. And, with decades of experience in the kitchen, he knows a thing or two about cooking.
I asked him some questions recently about must-have tools and ingredients, trends in southern cooking, and – of course – his favorite dishes. Here’s the scoop:
What ingredients is your home kitchen never without?
Staples like olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, Fleur de Sel sea salt, homemade bread and good quality vinegar are must haves. After living in Texas for 20 years, I always have chili powder, cumin and tortillas on hand. And, it might sound odd, but you can do a lot with everyday items like chunky peanut butter, fresh vegetables and bananas.
Do you have an unexpected or go-to tool for creating perfect Carolina Coastal cuisine?
I really love being by the coast and making the most of the local seafood bounty. With the beautifully fresh shrimp and many varieties of fish available, my favorite and most used piece of cooking equipment is a wood-burning grill. There’s nothing better than super fresh seafood simply grilled with olive oil, lemon and good salt.
Which restaurants are your favorites in the Myrtle Beach area?
There are so many! I love the Fire & Smoke Gastro Pub for scratch-made food and craft beer. A little inland in Conway, Rivertown Bistro is a great spot to experience contemporary southern cuisine. We have a lot of really good hotel restaurants, and Cyprus Room at Island Vista is probably my favorite. When I’m in Murrells Inlet with my family, on the south end of Myrtle Beach, I always go to Wicked Tuna for the freshest seafood and the best water views.
What’s your favorite regional dish?
Chicken Bog, which is a rice-based dish with chicken, smoked sausage, onion and spices. It’s something I hadn’t heard of before moving to the Grand Strand, but it is a very humble, simple dish that is really heartwarming when done correctly.
When you’re creating Chicken Bog at home, do you like to mix it up and make it your own or do you prefer it classically prepared?
Classically, for sure. I try to make it as traditionally as I have learned, using great local ingredients and proper cooking techniques. Chicken Bog reminds me of risotto in that it is a simple-to-prepare rice dish, but commonly made incorrectly – which can impact the traditional taste and presentation.
What’s the one dish you think must be mastered before you’d call a student a Low Country expert chef?
The first thing you need is 20+ years of experience! All kidding aside, they’d need to master a slew of Lowcountry dishes to call themselves an expert: Frogmore Stew, She-Crab Soup, Shrimp & Grits, Oyster Roast, and Lady Baltimore Cake, just to name a few.
In your opinion, what’s coming next in the Myrtle Beach food scene?
The food scene is gaining momentum in terms of the number of people interested in quality food: knowing where their ingredients are coming from, caring if they are in season and locally/regionally produced. It’s awesome to see the growth of the Waccamaw Market Cooperative, which operates seven farmers markets around the area and continually adds new farmers and other vendors.
At the International Culinary Institute, we are planning for growth in our student body and our development into a world-class center for culinary education – all indicative of our brand new facility, set to open yet this year. The availability of a well-trained workforce translates into the availability of higher quality goods and services to a region, so the Myrtle Breach food scene will certainly see those benefits. We’re teaching our students about local food, sourcing correctly, seasonality and sustainability, all of which align with consumer interest locally and around the globe.