The California-born F&B director is bringing big ideas and bold flavors to Henrietta’s at The Dewberry
Michael Tuohy took over as The Dewberry’s food and beverage director in June
CM: Tell us about your background.
MT: I’m from San Francisco originally. I was working in restaurants in my teens, and I fell in love with it. I started as a dishwasher and landed on the line when I was in high school. I’d always say, “I want to be a chef. I want to own a restaurant,” though I had no idea what that really meant.
CM: What was your first real gig?
MT: In culinary school I did an internship with the Four Seasons, which was my entrée into hotels. I just happened to land at a five-star luxury property. Through that, I ended up working for Joyce Goldstein at her restaurant, Square One—a legendary place. This was the mid-’80s, right as the whole fresh food movement was taking root in the Bay Area, and Square One was on the forefront.
CM: When you opened Chef’s Cafe in Atlanta in 1986, how did you get the local movement off the ground?
MT: I started tracking down farmers, connecting them with the restaurants and hotels. I remember everyone meeting in a parking lot one morning early on—there were all these guys with pickup trucks and overalls. I told the farmers, “These are chefs. They’ll use your product if you grow it.”
CM: How’d you end up working for the Sacramento Kings in 2014?
MT: The Kings wanted me to help with food and bev in the stadium. I never wanted to work in one of those settings because I thought the food was so bad—just not real. But the Kings had a vision to do all local food, which intrigued me.
CM: How did that work?
MT: My goal was to source almost everything we served from within 150 miles, which meant connecting all my suppliers and helping them scale up. The place took an army to run, and some creativity, too. We still had to have hot dogs, but they were 100 percent beef, grown 42 miles from our door. We had custom blends of nacho cheese and housemade tortilla chips. We even made our own carnitas.
CM: What led you to Charleston?
MT: My wife is from Nashville, and we were starting to miss the South. John Dewberry is a friend of mine. We got in touch last year, and when I came down to see the hotel, I was blown away.
CM: In your opinion, how does Charleston stack up in the local food movement?
MT: There’s a lot here, especially if you know where to look, though I’m still learning. I was ecstatic to find GrowFood Carolina and connect with some of the local producers.
CM: What are your plans for The Dewberry?
MT: I want Henrietta’s to be recognized as a go-to place for everyone. The menus will be shifting—the way people dine today is a lot more interactive and fun. Folks want to try different things. Big plates of food are boring; we want to encourage people to try lots of smaller dishes. We’re also making some physical changes in the next few months to enhance the “South of France meets the South” feel.
CM: Can you share any details on the Citrus Club?
MT: All I can say is that we’ll be open soon. It’ll do ceviche, oysters on the half shell, crudo...more seafood preparations that are very light and refreshing. The goal is to offer another unique experience within the same hotel.
Photographs by (Tuohy) Lilia Montero, & (The Ordinary) Andrew Cebulka & Courtesy of (oyster) Central Restaurante