Executive chef Christina Halstead of Cafe at Williams Hardware in Travelers Rest, SC recently took home $40,000 grand prize for her BLT on Pimento Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit with Red Pepper Jelly.
Halstead incorporated General Mills ingredients into her sandwich submission for the Neighborhood to Nation competition. Little did she know she would win not only a grand prize of $40,000 cash, but also $10,000 for a local charity of her choice.
Last week I was given the chance to sit down with her and ask her where she came from, where she came up with this idea, and who influenced her the most in her life.
Halstead is a Travelers Rest native that graduated from both Blue Ridge High School and Greenville Technical College, so she’s a real small town, local girl.
Halstead came by her cooking chops honestly. “My dad loves to cook; he’s all about grilling. My step dad always cooked big family meals, and we all really love to cook together as a family.”
She started serving tables at the Thai and I when she was 15, and by 16 was cooking on the grill. After that she worked at the Westin Poinsett, a restaurant called Latitude, and then Pebble Creek Country Club.
Although Halstead doesn’t leave our little-big town of Travelers Rest much these days, she has been all over Greenville throughout her career as a chef. She also helped open an Asian focused restaurant in Arden, NC called Tamarind. Asian Cuisine is a huge influence in her cooking style still today. Halstead’s favorite dishes to prepare are a lot different than what she prepares for her southern, small town customers at the Cafe.
“I worked with a Thai chef at the Thai and I, and I worked with a lady from Bangkok at Tamarind. I lived with her for 6 months and learned how to cook all kinds of Thai food.” It’s her favorite food to serve, but not so much in demand on the Southern, local menu of the Cafe.
Starting as waitstaff at most places she’s been employed, she knows what it’s like to be at the bottom and work your way up. Sometimes, she says, it was even better than working in the kitchen. She was strong, and experienced and made more money waiting tables.
“In every job, I’ve always been interested in learning from the chefs,” she says. “I always wanted to know everything about the food so I could sell it to the customer. The ticket prices go up, the tips go up. Food ended up turning into a passion.”
When asked about how she takes ownership of each dish she said, “White pepper! I work on getting everything into balance – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami – and white pepper just adds that bitterness. A lot of times, when you make something, and you taste it, it’s good, but it’s missing something. It’s usually the bitter. And that’s the white pepper. I swear, if you just put a little bit in there, it changes the whole flavor of the dish.”
Chef Halstead won $40,000 with an additional $10,000 to give to the charity of her choice. She chose Marietta, SC based Foothills Family Resources.
People kept telling her about the amazing services provided by Foothills Family Resources. The organization provides assistance with clothing, food and bills to those in dire need. She would hear of someone in need that recieved help and would ask where it came from. “It kept coming back that it was Foothills Family Resources, and I said that’s the one,” she says. “I wanted the check presentation to be at their new location, because it really is all about them. I didn’t want it to be showy for us.”
On August 1, 2016 Chef Christina Halstead and Williams Hardware Cafe owners, Nancy and Joyce McCarrell, presented a check to Foothills Family Resources in Slater Marietta for $10,000.
“I’m just really grateful that I was able to do all of this. It felt surreal while it was happening, and now that it’s over it feels like a dream.” She’s using her winnings to take a vacation with her family and friends.
Head on over to Cafe at Williams Hardware to try their now-famous Pimento Cheese Biscuit BLT with Red Pepper Jelly.