Savannah | Meet Chef Derek Simcik

We met up with Chef Derek Simcik, one of the multiple chefs competing for the title of Heritage Hero, to discuss his preparation for Heritage Fire Savannah on April 16th. Simcik is the Food Network champion of Chopped 420 and is the executive chef of 700 Drayton. Find out his favorite protein to cook over the fire, the person who inspired his culinary career, and more.

What is your inspiration for cooking?

A. My inspiration for cooking comes from just about everywhere but if I had to narrow it down, I’d say my day-to-day activity, from my latest playlists to discovering new hiking trails. My creative process really shifts from moment to moment.

How do you prepare for an event like Heritage Fire?

A. When it comes to preparing for an event like Heritage Fire, the key is to focus on the task at hand. By staying organized and keeping a clear head, I’m more able to ensure that everything goes seamlessly.

What does cooking with heritage breed protein mean to you?

A. I know that when I use heritage breed protein I’m getting the best possible quality, so I can relax and enjoy the experience of creating a meal. I also think it’s important to support local farmers who are raising these animals in a humane and sustainable way. I’m always conscious of where my food comes from, so when I cook with heritage breed protein, I know I’m doing my part in supporting responsible farming practices. As a bonus, I get to share it all with my community.

Must-have ingredients when cooking?

A. Salt and lemon.

When did you first cook with fire and why?

A. There will always be something special about cooking with fire outdoors. When I was a kid, we would grill outside over an open flame, which always imparted the most distinct flavors and quality – so I always look forward to recreating that when I have the chance.

What is your favorite protein to cook? How do you like to prepare it?

A. Oh, that’s a great question with no easy answer. It really depends on my mood but if we’re talking heritage breeds, I absolutely love cooking pork – particularly Mangalica pork. It’s a breed of pig from Hungary and has a very high fat-to-meat ratio, which results in exceptional flavor.

Do you have any advice for beginners who want to try outdoor fire cooking?

A. There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about cooking outdoors with fire. First, try to understand the fire – watch the fire to see where flair-ups happen and let the wind show you the direction and speed it will burn. Second, pay attention to the temperature of your fire – find the hot spots, and treat the area like a range stove with different temperature settings.

Did you always want to become a chef?

A. I didn’t always want to become a chef. I started out as a fine arts major in college and thought I would be an artist. My dad was the one who inspired me to become a chef. He urged me to change my career path after noticing how hard I work in the kitchen, so I trusted my gut and never looked back.

Last meal request ever?

A. A crawfish boil with my friends and family.

Favorite dish growing up?

A. Tough question – there were so many. I was lucky to have a Cajun mom who loved to cook so some of my all-time favorites are crawfish etouffee, boudin, gumbo, and boiled crawfish.

What excites you about participating in Heritage Fire?

A. It’s a chance to cook alongside some of the best chefs in the area. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with other food enthusiasts and strengthen ties to our community – and give them a taste of what they can expect from our new restaurant concept opening in September.

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