Michael O'Shaughnessy, Chef de Cuisine, Cassique at Kiawah Island Club, South Carolina, USA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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