Working in the food industry was a career path that Nick Hunter stumbled into, and he’s glad he did. For the past year, he has been the executive chef at South Bay at Mount Pleasant, and, he says, it is one of the best decisions he has ever made.
“Taking this job and moving over from working at a restaurant started as a personal decision to have more time in my life, but it really became my calling and turned into one of the greatest decisions I've ever made,” he said.
It all started back in the early 2000s when Hunter was busy pursuing a computer engineering degree at Arkansas State University when he had an epiphany.
“I hated it,” he said.
At the same time in Memphis, Tennessee, his grandfather, Robert Anderson, a seafood restaurateur, had fallen ill and struggled to keep his restaurant open. Hunter decided to take time off, move to Memphis and help him.
“After a year, I just fell in love with it all -- the kitchen running at full force, being able to think on your feet -- all of it,” he said.
So he decided to enroll at Johnson and Wales in Charlotte, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree and found a culinary career. After graduation, his impressive resume continued to include positions in high-end catering companies and at the five-star Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
He also owned a food truck, Braised in the South, with served inspired fare with local seasonal ingredients. He went on to win Season 8 of "The Great Food Truck Race" with host Tyler Florence on Food Network.
“I really learned a lot, and later I had the opportunity to run an Italian restaurant on my own,” he said. “But then my wife, Brinn, suggested that being a chef and working until midnight wasn’t very conducive to having a personal life and a family.”
As an activities director in a retirement community, Brinn saw that the healthcare industry was looking for innovative and creative culinary people. Hunter became executive chef and worked with staff to make sure he created food comparable to what you would eat around Charleston.
“It’s what we strive to do,” he said. “It’s like we are their personal chef cooking in their home and for me, that just makes it a lot more special. We are also helping to create new memories for the residents and, potentially, creating some of the last holidays or birthdays that the residents and the family members may have together.”
While some residents can indulge in whatever they like, there’s a challenge to feeding residents who require modified or restricted diets. Well, Hunter says that’s not much of a challenge.
“We try to go above and beyond to make sure that the things that they can eat are of the same quality that we would serve in the dining rooms,” he said. “It’s the same level of care as to how we create that product, how we season and marinate it, how it's cooked and how it's handled.”
Creating a wonderful dining experience for the residents is of the utmost importance to Hunter. “We don’t just want it to be a tray line, where it’s scoop and serve,” said Hunter. “A lot of thought went into these menus. We want it to look beautiful and taste good. You're never going to please 140 people, but as long as you're working towards that, that's what really matters and what really matters to our residents is that we care.”
The residents can have a say in the menu, and they make sure Hunter knows how they feel by using their comment cards. “I look for trends, so if some people are saying they want, for example, a ham sandwich, I make sure that person knows we are here and I’ll put it on the menu, even though they could have a ham sandwich anytime they want,” he said.
He still reaches out to residents either by phone or in-person just to make sure everything is okay.
As executive chef, Hunter is still hands-on in the kitchen. He butchers fish and other proteins and works the line at least once or twice a week.
“I love cooking and I’m a farm-to-fork guy,” he said. “I grew up on a farm -- my dad still farms to this day -- and I know how much hard work goes into growing and sustaining crops. Anytime we get the opportunity to use local and fresh, we do.”
Hunter knows that it takes a team to feed the residents, and he’s quick to recognize their hard work. “It’s the product of a lot of people working really hard in unison to make things happen,” he said.
Bringing quality food to assisted living residents is what Hunter says is the future of culinary.
“When I'm at the age where I need to be living somewhere with assistance, I better dang well get great food,” said Hunter. “Think about how many memories you have had around dinner tables, or just around food in general. That’s how important food is to us in our day-to-day lives, and to me and our team, we take that very seriously.”
Interested in taking a tour, or learning more about the amenities that South Bay at Mount Pleasant has to offer? Contact them at (843) 936-2800, stop by the property at 1400 Liberty Midtown Drive in Mount Pleasant, or visit their website at SouthBayAtMountPleasant.com.