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SC Chef Ambassador Program

South Carolina Department of Agriculture

Hugh Weathers, Commissioner
Media Contact: Aaron Wood, 803-734-2182,


Columbia, SC – Governor Nikki Haley recently joined South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers and South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) Director Duane Parrish to introduce the South Carolina Chef Ambassador Program.

Each year, a Chef Ambassador will be selected from the state’s four regions: the Upstate, the Midlands, the Pee Dee, and the Lowcountry. The Chef Ambassadors will serve for one year and will attend events around the state to perform cooking demonstrations, conduct educational discussions on healthy eating for children, and promote South Carolina staples in agriculture and tourism.

“We’re excited about this program because it’s another way for us to highlight all that we have to offer,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “We’re proud of our restaurants and locally grown crops – and having our Chef Ambassadors travel the state, promoting these things, is going to be extremely helpful.”

“South Carolina’s amazing cuisine, delicious locally grown products and amazing destinations provide the perfect recipe for promoting the best of what the state has to offer. The Chef Ambassador Program will be a great tool for increasing demand for all things local,” said Commissioner Hugh Weathers.

“The Ambassador Chef program will complement and enhance our tourism marketing efforts in South Carolina by showcasing our destinations’ talented culinary professionals and creating greater awareness of our state’s diverse dining experiences,” said SCPRT Director Duane Parrish.

The following Chef Ambassadors were selected for their commitment to sourcing foods locally through Certified SC Grown and for striving to make their restaurants a destination:

Upstate: Chef Heidi Trull, Grits & Groceries, Belton, SC
Midlands: Chef Brandon Velie, Juniper, Ridge Spring, SC
Pee Dee: Chef Cooper Thomas, Victor’s Bistro, Florence, SC
Lowcounty: Chef Brian Waters, Saltus River Grill, Beaufort, SC

Mansion chefs Steven Janowski and Jared Hudson will serve as advisors to the Chef Ambassadors.

Note to editors: See Chef Ambassadors’ bios and photos included.

Chef Ambassador Bios

Chef Heidi Trull – Grits & Groceries, Belton

Heidi has developed her eclectic southern cuisine through years of training and experimentation. Heidi grew up on a large farm near Sumter, South Carolina loving the fresh, delicious food of the countryside. After high school, she immersed herself in her passion for cooking, and got a degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales in Charleston.

After completing her education, Heidi apprenticed herself to outstanding chefs for five years in order to learn the ins and outs of fine dining and restaurant operation. She gleaned valuable experience from Elizabeth Terry at Elizabeth’s on 37th Street in Savannah, fed the stars at the Ritz Carlton in St. Louis, and finally settled in New Orleans to join Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA with her husband, Joe. Heidi fit right into the tradition of culinary excellence in New Orleans and soon realized that she had a marvelous vision for a restaurant of her own.

Heidi opened Elizabeth’s Restaurant, a lively place to enjoy delicious, affordable food in a laidback neighborhood called the Bywater – downriver from the French Quarter. A magnificent outpouring of word-of-mouth praise for her fresh, inventive comfort food and the restaurant’s fun atmosphere helped Heidi grow her establishment, accommodating the flow of people from all over New Orleans and the world. She was given rave reviews in eminent publications like Gourmet and Southern Living, and won awards for her consistently excellent restaurant.

When she and Joe realized that they wanted to head home to the Carolinas to raise their son, Tom, and get back to the land where the food is grown, she knew that a new restaurant was in her future. And thus was born Grits and Groceries. Now Heidi splits her time between the restaurant and horseback riding with Tom through the nearby fields.

Contact Information for Chef Trull

Restaurant: 864-296-3316



Brandon Velie – Juniper, Ridge Spring

Juniper’s owners, Brandon and Jeanne Velie, opened the restaurant five years ago on East Main Street in Ridge Spring and since then, it has been well-received in the community. Their restaurant is housed in a building with a past just as colorful as the local artwork that adorns the walls. Built in the 1890s, this building was once a hardware store and an auto parts store. Today, Brandon and Jeanne have turned it into a dining destination in this rural community.

Brandon studied culinary arts in the U.S. Marines where he learned to cook, and Jeanne worked in varying positions in the restaurant business for years, but Juniper is the first restaurant they have owned. Before moving to Ridge Spring with their children, they lived in Virginia where together they learned to appreciate local farmers markets and buying locally grown. That appreciation has driven their selections for the meals served at Juniper.

Contact information for Chef Velie

Restaurant: 803-685-7547



Brian Waters – Saltus River Grill, Beaufort

Chef Brian Waters, a native Beaufortonian, began his cooking career with Plums Inc. some 11 years ago by chance. What started as side job in the kitchen of Plums Restaurant has turned into a full-fledged career as the Chef of one of the top restaurants in Beaufort, Saltus River Grill.

Waters’ talents were quickly identified and he soon found himself studying under then-Saltus Chef James Spratling for several years. His exceptional work allowed him ample opportunity to meet and learn from renowned regional chefs by way of events like the annual “Chef’s Feast” and “Great Chef” occasions. Through guidance from Spratling and various professional development opportunities provided by Plums Inc., Waters has been able to dive into the culinary trade and find his unique voice. Waters’ goals for Saltus involve maintaining a commitment to serve as many local products and house made items as possible and making every effort to refine – and redefine – the dining experience for his guests.

Contact information for Chef Waters

Restaurant: 843-522-0386



Cooper Thomas – Victor’s Bistro, Florence
Cooper Thomas comes to Victor’s after serving as Executive Chef at the Belvedere Club & Resort, Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms, South Carolina, Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront Restaurant and the University of Cincinnati, both in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from the College of Charleston and prestigious Johnson and Wales University with a Culinary Arts & Food Management degree. He has worked under some of South Carolina’s best chefs, including Bob Waggoner and Michelle Weaver at Charleston Grill.

Victor’s was recently recognized last month with a Certificate of Excellence by, based on outstanding customer reviews. It also has been awarded “Best of the Pee Dee: Fine Dining” each of the past eight years and is the only restaurant in Florence to have received the 3-Diamond rating from AAA.

Contact Information for Chef Thomas

Address: 126 West Evans Street, Florence, SC 29501
Telephone: 843-665-0846

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