Best Chef

John Zucker: Cru Cafe, Purlieu, Cru Catering

Readers Pick

Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef John Zucker is the brains behind popular Pinckney Street lunch and dinner spot Cru Cafe, the Westside’s newish French restaurant, Purlieu, and Cru Catering, which has won CP’s Best Catering category for, maybe ever (consecutively since 2001, to be exact).

Zucker is not some “outta sight, outta mind” owner — he gets his ass in the kitchen, overseeing operations at all three properties, giving notes to his chefs and tasting their daily specials to make sure they’re up to par. Spoiler: they are.

Catering, is, perhaps, Zucker’s greatest baby. Well, at least his first born. When we chatted with Zucker and Cru Catering operations director Chad Rhodes for our Winter 2019 Dish dining guide, they described an event where “we painted the sauces and starches on the centerpiece display and served the protein and vegetables tableside.” They also mentioned they catered 150 wedding related events in 2018. They’re doing catering like no one else in the city, or the region. And they’ve been doing it for almost two decades.

Zucker credits his Cru crew when we chat this winter: “I’ve been fortunate to have people who have stuck around. I tell them, ‘from March to May we’re going to be working a lot.’” He also happens to have been the number one graduate from his class at Cordon Bleu in Paris, and he trained under celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at Spago in Las Vegas.

Since 2002, Cru Cafe, set in an 18th century single house, has been packed out for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat. (we have a couple of years of serving the hungry masses at this exact spot ourselves).

There are a handful of rotating specials, but the menu has remained mostly the same over the years, because ‘if it ain’t broke,’ and also, probably for liability reasons — regulars would riot if the shrimp BLT were ever phased out. And the fried green tomatoes with pork belly croutons? And the Chinese chicken salad? We could go on — but don’t listen to us, go see the fruits of Charleston’s Best Chef’s labor for yourself. Just make sure to call ahead. —Mary Scott Hardaway

Runner-up: James London, Chubby Fish

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