Town Hall’s Vogelheim serving as one of state’s Chef Ambassadors
BOB SLOAN Editor
When Kelly Vogelheim steps into the kitchen at Town Hall Restaurant & Bar, she enters her element.
Vogelheim, the executive chef at the restaurant located in downtown Florence, showed off her culinary expertise in impressive fashion Aug. 11 as part of the Hometown Chef Series sponsored by the S.C. Department of Agriculture and the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
In January, Vogelheim earned the distinction of being one of five chefs from across the state to be named a 2019 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. As a chef ambassador, she travels nationwide to promote South Carolina's culinary heritage and local food culture.
Gov. Nikki Haley created the program in 2014. Each year chefs are nominated to be chef ambassadors and one from each of the state’s four major regions - the Upstate, Midlands, Pee Dee, and the Lowcountry - is chosen for the honor.
The chef ambassador serves as part of ongoing effort to promote the state’s authentic culinary experiences and to encourage the incorporation of buying local into everyday meal planning. The chef ambassadors also work closely with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism by attending and participating in a variety of public events, performing cooking demonstrations, taking part in educational discussions on establishing healthy eating habits for children, and showcasing the best of South Carolina’s bounty in both agriculture and tourism.
Vogelheim is the second chef from Florence to be named a chef ambassador. Executive Chef Cooper Thomas earned the distinction in 2015.
Joining Vogelheim in the team of South Carolina Chef Ambassadors for 2019 are Brandon Carter of FARM in Bluffton; Marc Collins of Circa 1886 in Charleston; Tania Harris of The Lazy Goat in Greenville; and Jessica Shillato of Spotted Salamander in Columbia.
“These five chefs are among the best and brightest culinary stars in our state,” said Governor McMaster. “Being named an S.C. Chef Ambassador allows these chefs to shine a unique spotlight on not only their exceptional talents, but also on the destinations in South Carolina where they live and work.”
Vogelheim said being named a chef ambassador was a great honor and one she does not take lightly.
“Being a chef in South Carolina is appealing because of the outstanding resources that are readily available,” Vogelheim told www.DiscoverSouthCarolina.com. “From produce to seafood, I am consistently finding new ingredients to work with, which keeps my job fresh, new and exciting all year-round. South Carolina has a rich historical influence on cuisine, and it has been a great pleasure to learn and execute the old traditions while incorporating my own ideas into the dishes."
According to the program’s web site, www. scchefambassadors.com, Vogelheim was chosen for the honor in part because of “her reputation for spotlighting South Carolina’s finest products.”
Vogelheim grew up in Michigan and graduated from Great Lakes Culinary Institute. She honed and refined her culinary skills as head chef for the Interlake Steamship Company. In 2017 she moved to Charleston and began working and making a name for herself at Lowcountry Bistro. It was there she learned about South Carolina’s rich culinary heritage. Hired as a sous chef, she was quickly promoted to chef de cuisine, or executive chef.
In 2018 she was offered the position at Town Hall. She accepted and has called Florence home ever since.
Vogelheim prides herself on using nearly all local produce and meats and seafood in her creations.
“One ideal that I would like to share with the dining public is the importance of using local and sustainable products and supporting small businesses,” she said. “Buying local means the money stays close, enriching our communities and, in return, we get a better product.”
As part of the chef ambassador program, each chef is given an opportunity to showcase their talents in their home restaurant. An invitation-only crowd gathered to at Town Hall on Sunday evening to have their taste buds tantalized by Vogelheim’s exceptional culinary skills.
The menu for her hometown meal revealed her ability to create appetizing dishes with extraordinary taste and exquisite presentation.
The first course consisted of goat cheese and ricotta mousse, topped with thin slices of cantaloupe and prosciutto, and garnished with fresh basil.
Next was an eggplant tower and butter bean cassoulet in a rich and flavorful pork trotter au jus. Pickled mushrooms were served as an accompaniment.
The third course was fresh grouper on a bed of seasoned and steamed kale and okra. The fish was topped by creamed cucumber and crunchy fried shallots.
The fourth course consisted of tender pork belly roasted in red wine. The pork belly was paired with a sweet potato puree, cow peas and red onion.
Served for dessert was sweet corn ice cream paired with a peanut brittle and pickled peach.
Each course was paired with a wine selected by the restaurant’s staff.
Vogelheim said she considers being named a chef ambassador one of the highest achievements of her career and was honored to be able to share her passion for cooking with her hometown.
“Simply amazing,” was the response of one guest when asked what she thought of the meal. “This may be one of the best meals I have even eaten.”
She paused a moment and then added, “It was almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.”