Edgewood chef cooks up stellar career
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nobody can say Jeremy Still showed early signs of his future vocation. The shell-filled scrambled eggs he prepared as a Boy Scout certainly didn't portend his impressive career as a cook.
And yet, here he is, esteemed king of the kitchen at Edgewood Country Club, a position that has served him (and club members) well for nearly 20 years.
The amiable executive chef, son of an undertaker in upstate New York, graduated among the top 10 in his class at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. The journey to Charleston included stints at Lake Tahoe, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, New York City and Hilton Head.
Working at Hilton Head for Marriott led eventually to the kitchen of the Charleston Marriott in 1991 and, three years later, to Edgewood. Freed from corporate confines, he enjoys flexing his cuisine creativity in a country club setting.
He never dreamed what those paste and flour pizzas he concocted as a kid would lead to.
"I was born in Saratoga, N.Y. We lived 10 miles away in a small village, Schuylerville. Pulp and paper factories were there along the Hudson River.
"My dad was the undertaker. My mom taught kindergarten. They had four boys. I'm No. 3. We lived in the funeral home upstairs. Growing up in that environment was normal for us
"We would make sure the house was kept up. We were dad's little troops out there making sure the grass was mowed and there was no grass in the cracks. We helped with the funerals but never the embalming end. We weren't allowed to hang around when he was doing that.
"I played around with cooking. I would mix flour and water and pretend I was making pizzas. The first time I made a dish for my merit badge in Scouts, my parents were the guinea pigs. I made scrambled eggs, and of course I broke half the shell in the eggs. But they smiled and said how good it tasted.
"I always thought I would be in the medical field. Out of high school, I was studying X-ray tech, but at 18, I knew this wasn't for me. I was more of an outside kid.
"I had taken an adult cooking seminar just to feel it out. I ended up taking a civil service exam for the state of New York and got good marks, so they hired me. That's where my career started off, in institutional cooking.
"It was a great foundation, especially in the banquet world in learning portions. The institution was for mentally and physically handicapped people. They were on rationed diets, all portioned out, so we had to know how much to cook. We did everything from scratch, everything from pork roast to pot roast. They ate well.
"I did that for two years and that led to Hyde Park to the Culinary Institute of America. That was a great experience. I graduated in the top 10, so I was full-blown into it by then.
"I got recruited by Harrah's Hotel in Lake Tahoe, and it was there that I met Bill Sohovich from Charleston. We graduated three weeks apart. We did everything together, fished and skied. But we went in different directions. Ten years later, we reunited when I was in Charleston with a transfer with Marriott.
"Working in Harrah's five-star restaurant at Tahoe, we fed all the celebrity headliners, Willie Nelson, the Osmonds, Ricardo Montalban, Don Rickles. Willie Nelson would bring in Merle Haggard. Don Rickles always liked veal chops and always said he was on a diet. For the most part, they ate off the menu.
"That led me to meeting a fellow who asked if I wanted to go to Jamaica to work. I went there in the fall of '82 working for a restaurant-hotel management company. They had me live with the local people. That opened my eyes to different foods and cuisines and cooking with what you have on hand. They had their own style of food.
"Here I try to manage our menus to what is local and regional and how the locals prepare things. I brought that with me.
"I was in Jamaica for eight months. They had another property in the British Virgin Islands so I was there for a while. From there I broke off from the management company. I was offered a job at another hotel next to little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda.
"In the Caribbean, we taught Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset how to scuba dive when they were filming 'The Deep.' We would get in the dinghy and go out and dive for lobster.
"I got tired of the Caribbean. You miss being where you have more convenience and the food is right there. I took a couple months off. The friend who asked me to go to Jamaica called and said he needed a good sous chef in New York City. I worked at the Essex House for two years on Central Park South.
"That was great, working in New York, honing your skills. I worked for a German chef. He was very hands-on and expected you to be right there with him. So it was great exposure.
"Then the Marriott chain asked about a position open at Hilton Head. That transition was tough. New York was 24/7, and it was great living there, but I didn't want to raise kids there. I worked for Marriott for four years there. My kids had a great upbringing on the beach -- two golden retrievers and swimming in the ocean, the whole bit.
"Marriott was ready to sell that property, so after looking at a number of transfers, I interviewed with Reggie Carnemolla and Peter Meyer at the Charleston Marriott.
"Charleston was so much like upstate New York, this whole valley with a river running through the town. I thought I could fit in real well and it would be a great place for kids. That was 1991.
"I worked three years with Marriott and then Edgewood called. I shook hands during the interview and said no contracts, that if it didn't work out, we would just part ways. That's the way it still is.
"The biggest difference in a country club is that corporations all want to hand down menus that stunt your growth. Up here, they've been very accepting of all my cuisine.
"We change out the specials the first day of the month with what is in season. I turn that food into my style of cooking. We still offer the core menu. Every country club has to have your shrimp cocktail and filets and strips, fish and chicken.
"Three years ago, we opened the grill room, Randy's Pub. So I have a separate menu for that room but it's interchangeable with the other dining rooms.
"From Thanksgiving through December, we will average eight or nine parties a day with two full dining rooms and a ballroom.
"When I came to Charleston, the Marriott did a little bio on me in the Sunday paper. Billy Sohovich's mom was reading the paper and told him the Marriott had a new executive chef who went to the CIA. Billy shrugged and said, 'Well, there's a lot of us out there, mom.' She said, 'Well, it says he worked in Lake Tahoe, a Jeremy Still.' He said, 'Mom, put the paper away, and I will show you a picture of the Jerry Still I know.'
"Billy started working up here when I was at the Marriott and then came and joined me in the Tarragon Room. Then he got hired back up here. We would walk the streets looking for a restaurant for him to open, and that's where he settled on the Blossom. I'm sorry to see him gone.
"I cook a little at home. I like to cook out of one pan so it's less cleanup, whether it's jambalaya or stews or pot roast. I keep it easy.
"I do things for Sojourner's and Covenant House. We started a cooking class in my church, feeding the hungry, a food ministry at the Cross Lanes Methodist Church on Tyler Mountain. We do that every Wednesday. We were hoping to see 40 people a week and now we see about 150 a week, so there is a definite need. You don't realize it until you offer it.
"We've developed a great base with our members. They have allowed me to do my cuisine. This past month, on Friday nights, we had lobster nights. In the summer, every Thursday, we cook out on the terrace. They call that Still's Grill. Things like that keep me interested.
"I'm a real believer in being in the kitchen, not sitting around. I love having my hands in the food. It does get crazy back there sometimes, but I'm not a screamer in the kitchen. The stuff you see on TV is drama. It does get heated at times, but you have to realize that the dogfight is over in 30 seconds.
"You have to keep about a 55-hour week. We are closed on Sunday and Monday. That's a big difference from the Marriott hotel days. Hotels are 24/7, and you would come in on your day off for a meeting. But I accepted that. This is what I do. When everyone is out on weekends partying, we're here catering a party.
"I'm blessed. Looking back, I see this was my calling.
"My bucket list? I want to go see Ireland. My great-grandparents were hops farmers in upstate New York, so that farming community has always been an area of interest to me.
"And I would like to go back to some of the nice areas where I've lived. I haven't been to Lake Tahoe or the Caribbean in 20 years or to Hilton Head in 10 years. I'd like to see what has changed. That's always fun.
"I'm in a good place in my life now. I have no plans to move anywhere." Reach Sandy Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5173.