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Michael Shemtov

Chef Michael Shemtov
Photo © Andrew Cebulka Photography.

F&W Star Chef

Restaurant: Butcher & Bee (Charleston, SC)

What recipe you are most famous for?
The pulled-squash sandwich. It’s completely vegan but it’s a barbecue sandwich with Kansas City-style sauce—smoky and rich and tomato-based—smoked coleslaw and our homemade bread-and-butter pickles. It’s awesome because you get all the hickory and the smokiness of eating barbecue, but you’re not eating pork or beef. It’s also great for lunch because you can go back to the office afterward and you don’t want to take a nap.

What’s your current food obsession?
Bread. Our space is attached to a bakery, so we had all the equipment when we opened. It’s been a slow, organic evolution. We went from doing it ourselves to hiring a full-time artisan bread baker from Bozeman, Montana, who’s going to move down here. He’s an Italian guy named Tommaso de Masco. Just his name puts a smile on your face.

Best store-bought ingredient?
Sriracha—Shark brand, not the rooster brand—the saucier, more garlicky, sweeter Sriracha that you typically don’t see outside Asian markets.

What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Hummus and pita. I’m a very big fan of hummus that has a ton of tahini in it and is really smooth.

Who is your food mentor?
Michael Pollan. He’s not a personal mentor, but reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma totally changed the way that I eat, and my career path. I realized that there are multiple food systems and every time you buy something, you’re voting for which system you want to support. That really pushed me to open Butcher & Bee.

Favorite cookbook of all time?
Plenty. I think it’s so awesome, from the cover being plush and soft to the recipes to the fact that it celebrates the diversity of vegetables. There have been so many people celebrating pigs for the past five or six years that I just appreciate the counterforce.

What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Bread. The price of meat is going to have to go up. It’s artificially low. Bread has all the characteristics of something that could become a national fad or obsession. It’s totally old-school, it’s super-cheap in terms of the ingredients, but you put it together and you give it time and it becomes this magical thing that you crave.

What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Humility. Stuart Tracy, our chef at the Bee in Charleston, told me over and over in the beginning, “Cooking is a craft. I want to practice my craft. I’m only seven or eight years in and I’m just getting started.” He is Mr. Keep His Head Down and Cook and Cook and Prep and Prep. That’s why he and I get along and why I feel comfortable transitioning control of that restaurant to him. I would like to grow Butcher & Bee to more than one location: Atlanta, Austin, Portland, San Francisco…

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