Michael O'Shaughnessy, Chef de Cuisine, Cassique at Kiawah Island Club, South Carolina, USA.
Image by Diana DeLucia.
GK: Where are you from, Michael?
I grew up in Akron, Ohio in an Italian neighborhood. I was always eating Italian-American food such as lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, Italian sausages, and stuffed shells. That was how I got into food and cooking. My dad was always making eggplant parmigiana, and it was ridiculously good. He was a plumber but loved to experiment with food. When I got married, my wife and I went to Italy on our honeymoon and that’s when I tasted real Italian food. I was hooked.
GK: Where was your first job?
My first job was as a line cook at the Cypress Grill in downtown Charleston, where I stayed about a year. The Sous Chef Brandon Buck left for another restaurant and asked me to go with him, possibly as his pastry chef.
GK: Why pastry?
He needed a pastry chef but didn’t have the budget for the position. I said, “I can do it!” He said “Really, you can do that?”, and I said “Yes”. He asked me to get him a pastry menu in a week, and of course I had no idea what I was doing! I did have a year and a half in a kitchen, though, so I made it happen. I am glad I took that job, as it gave me exposure to the other side of savory foods. I like to mix the two together. I stayed there for a year and a half and then got a job at the Sanctuary Hotel, just down the road.
Shortly thereafter, Brandon and I re-connected. He was working at Cassique as a line cook, and gave me a call one day, and said that I should come and check out what they were doing. I wasn’t looking for a job, but he said to come by and have a meal, and it will be fun. After that one evening here, I fell in love with it - the standards, the quality of the ingredients, the service, everything. They told me that there was no job available at that time, but about a week later I got a call that a position had opened up. I accepted their offer, and I have been here ever since.
GK: Which pastry chef inspires you?
Michael Laiskonis at Le Bernardin in New York. He has incredible desserts. He came to Charleston to do an event, and I introduced myself. He was nice and very cool. His dish for that event was this little custard filled egg; he is really good with those eggs.
When we cooked at the James Beard Awards dinner in New York, I spent a lot of the free time running around eating at any restaurant I could. I would tell them I was cooking for the James Beard event, and they would just invite me into the kitchen. When I went into Le Bernardin, it was obviously a little classier, so I decided I would just enjoy the food. After some general chatting with the staff, I finally told them I was cooking at the Beard event. They explained that Michael Laiskonis just won a James Beard award, and I told them that I had met him a month ago in Charleston. They took me to the kitchen to meet him, and he remembered my face! Michael is a great guy, so accomplished and yet so kind. It was very nice to see. He is now working at the Institute of Culinary Education.
GK: Tell us about your culinary passion.
I like my food to be simple and surprising. I like to have just the right amount of ingredients to add extraneous flavors. While the dish may look unassuming, it’s a “wow” moment when you taste it.
Full interview available in GOLF KITCHEN