He was a bold man that first eat an oyster. – Jonathan Swift
There could not be a truer statement. Oysters are certainly not very attractive and border on disgusting to look at, so what ever possessed someone to try them? I know I was a brave woman to eat not just one, but two semi-raw oysters for breakfast while at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in April. Gulp.
It had been 33 years since I last took the raw oyster plunge. I was living in Ocean City, Maryland one summer during my college years and after a few beers I decided to join in the fun with friends. Well, I declared at that moment those slippery little slimy creatures making their way down the back of my throat were not for me and that was the last time. That was until Chef Robert Wysong wanted to demonstrate a very special oyster roast for us at The Sanctuary.
Some of the most memorable experiences we had during our recent trip to Kiawah were spent with Robert Wsyong, the Director of Restaurants & Executive Chef at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. In keeping with the property’s commitment to preserve what is local and natural, the first meeting with Wysong was spent talking about a local tradition, roasting oysters.
Originally from Maryland, Chef Wysong knows a thing or two about oysters and chose a new coastal home wisely when he moved to South Carolina in 2004 to open The Sanctuary hotel. A graduate of Johnson and Wales University, when it was in Charleston, S.C., Wysong worked at other private clubs and hotels during his career including The Grove Park Inn and Spa (Asheville, NC) and the The Ritz Carlton Golf Resort (Naples, FL). He jokingly referred to himself at the “hotel vagabond”. Not bad hotels to take up residence in, I would say.
While these properties are beautiful places to work, working as an executive chef at a hotel and in particular, opening a new property, is very stressful (and he has opened two resort properties in his career). What we often forget is that it is also stressful on the spouse and family. You might be familiar with this recent article, Marrying a chef is a recipe for disaster!, written by Tess Floyd. Balancing personal life and work life is a challenge for all of us. Chef Wysong shared a personal thought with us that he and his wife went through a bit of a rough patch early in their marriage (they have now been married 13 years). “It was our personal commitment to the marriage and a willingness to change some expectations and modify some behaviors that allows us to have a strong marriage today”. That is advice that we can all learn from.
When he arrived at Kiawah in 2004, Wysong took notice of what he thought were barbecue pits or grills in people’s yards. They were at least 25 years old and in some cases, much older. He eventually discovered they were oyster roasting pits and this was a very popular way of preparing oysters in the region. He wanted to recreate that local tradition at The Sanctuary for their guests. The pit (in the photographs) is used for smaller functions. For much larger Oyster Roasts they use their venue at Mingo Point. You might remember the pictures of Mingo Point from my prior articles.
Wysong was also our first introduction to Kiawah’s vision to keep everything as “relevant, unique and natural” as it should be. “We are in a Maritime Forest and we want to be in sync with that.” He went on to say that when he was in Naples at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, the property was intentionally heavily manicured and Kiawah’s goal is the reverse.
The same is true in the kitchens of the restaurants he oversees. “We use what we have available. We highlight the fresh vegetables and seafood and the seasonality. We have so much constantly coming out of the ground in Charleston and wonderful local seafood. We focus on that.” The Ocean Room at The Sanctuary, the resort’s premier steakhouse, also serves MiBek Farms beef from Barnwell, S.C., less than 30 miles from the Sanctuary. This farm raises all natural and hormone free beef that is comparable in taste to corn-fed beef as a result of their pasture grazing techniques. The Ocean Room has earned the Forbes 4 Star and AAA 4 Diamond restaurant recognition.
We noticed while touring the property with Chef Wysong that he took the time to personally acknowledge and speak to each person we passed, guest or staff. His leadership team at The Sanctuary is comprised of 16 people and he manages a staff of 120 in the food and beverage department. His personal touch was evident throughout our stay.
“We need to engage personally. We are a five star, five diamond property and there are expectations to be met. There are a few errors that can be forgiven when the service is personalized and exceptional. Kiawah is a blend of an operation that is very successful. We work hard on the finished product.” I have always believed that outstanding service is as much a part of the overall experience as the hotel room, the food or the property. You can walk away feeling good if you have been treated well.
Working for a luxury property on one of the most gorgeous stretches of beach in the country is definitely not a bad gig. “When there are tough days, I’ll go in the kitchen and I’ll say to Ryley (Chef McGillis), remember why we got into this. It was because it was fun. Then I go outside and I look at this (the ocean) and I count my blessings.”
Thank you so much to Chef Wysong for his hospitality during our stay at Kiawah. It was truly a pleasure to meet and work with him. Chef Wysong has two favorite local shellfish that he enjoys preparing. One is clams, in particular, wild littleneck clams. The other is soft shell crabs. Chef Wysong has agreed to share his favorite recipe for soft shell crabs that we enjoyed at The Ocean Room. They are in season, so I hope you are able to find some at your local fishmonger.
For more on soft shell crabs, you might want to refer to our adventure last winter with Kimberley’s Crabs in Charleston, SC. We will also share more about those roasted oysters in a future article.
Disclosure – Kiawah Island Golf Resort provided a media package for our visit. I was not asked to write any articles about my stay and have in no way been compensated. The opinions expressed regarding our experience are my own.
Spiced Soft Shell Crab with Remoulade
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
1 Tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 teaspoons Sugar
1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 cups Good Mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Sweet Pickle Relish
1 Tablespoon Capers, finely minced
1 Tablespoon Flat Leaf Parsley, washed, minced, some in reserve, whole
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and Pepper to taste
Four to Six Live Soft Shell Blue Crabs, defaced, lungs removed
Wondra or All Purpose Flour
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 Quart Peanut Oil
Blend all ingredients together.
Blend all ingredients together well, taste carefully.
1. Prepare crabs and dust with seasoned flour. Carefully fry in heated oil, 325F until golden brown. Remove & drain on a paper towel. Season liberally with Seafood Spice mixture.
2. Split in half, arrange attractively with split lemons, and whole flat leaf parsley. Serve with Remoulade sauce served chilled, on the side.
Recipe courtesy of Robert Wysong, CEC
Director of Restaurants & Executive Chef
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort