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‘It’s a labor of love’: Lowcountry cooking at Hilton Head’s TidePointe

“A little Creole, a little spicy old-world Gullah cooking, a lot of corn, shrimp and andouille sausage.” That’s Lowcountry cooking, according to TidePointe, a Vi Community’s new executive chef Jim McLain. Lowcountry cooking is a staple of the Hilton Head dining scene so Chef McLain knew it would need a prominent place on his menus at TidePointe. And he brings his passion for the cuisine to each dish he creates at the community.

Inspired by Hilton Head’s Southern roots

From stews and boils to whole roasted chicken and crawfish étouffée, Chef McLain’s team serves up Lowcountry flavors and favorites daily to the Life Plan Community residents of TidePointe. “We stay true to our roots,” says Chef McLain, and his menus reflect those roots, a true blend of southern flavors like Creole and West African Gullah.

McLain was able to witness firsthand the Gullah way of cooking from an expert, “The Gullah Diva” herself, celebrity chef and historian Sallie Ann Robinson of Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. “She was filming a cooking demo and I got to spend the day with her, listening to her stories and watching her cook. I left very inspired.”

Farm-to-table, ocean-to-plate

Lowcountry cooking is local in every sense of the word, which is why Chef McLain uses fresh local ingredients. As a participant in the South Carolina Bought program, TidePointe sources produce from farmers within a 200-mile radius. The seafood in entrees like crab-stuffed flounder and broiled sea bass is caught within 50 miles of Hilton Head, while hormone-free, vegetable-fed chicken is sourced from Prestige Farms in Charleston. “It’s a whole different world when you source products from people who really respect them,” explained McLain.

Southern cooking for discerning palates

Chef McLain welcomes the challenge of surprising and delighting the palates of resident diners at TidePointe. His signature 100 percent local jumbo blue crab cake with mango and red pepper relish is a particular favorite. “If you’re going to make a crab cake, it’s got to be all crab,” McLain said. “The key is to enhance the flavor but not overwhelm it. If you do, then you lose the crab, and nobody likes a lost crab cake!”

Chef McLain brings the same attention to detail to another southern stable: grits. Speed over flavor is not the southern way, so when it comes to grits, Chef McLain doesn’t take the easy way out. He uses hand-mixed, heirloom grits from Anson Mills of South Carolina in another of his signature dishes: stone-ground grits with pancetta and white cheddar. “These are not those quick five-minute grits; these take 40 minutes. But it’s worth the extra time when you taste it. Some people think a grit is a grit, but that’s not the case.”

Lowcountry labor of love

Chef McLain goes into the dining room every day at breakfast, lunch and dinner to talk with residents about their meals and listen to their feedback. For him, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a smile of satisfaction when someone is truly savoring a dish he made from scratch. As he says with a smile of his own, “It’s a labor of love. Truly.”

Learn more about the services and amenities available at TidePointe, a Vi Community.