Where the culinary purview begins and ends at sandwiches, you might think a chef feels limited. But this is the age of the sophisticated sandwich, which is why Chef Stuart Tracy is more than happy to fill the late night hours at Butcher & Bee with creative, scratch-made, satisfying sandwiches. A graduate of Johnson & Wales, who got his start at 14, working at Harry’s Farmers Market, Tracy worked his way through the finer dining ranks before bringing his polished skills to the world of sandwiches. He was chef de cuisine at Sienna Restaurant, and most recently chef de cuisine at the Palmetto Café at Charleston Place.
But Butcher & Bee is where Tracy’s skills have come home to take root. As much a late night industry spot as a platform for haut sandwich experimentation, B&B allows Tracy to craft homemade brioche for his self-proclaimed favorite porchetta sandwich. Tracy also makes the pita for his obsessively perfected lamb gyro—and generally keeps his imagination running to keep locals and travelers hitting up this hidden gem. He has garnered praise in local and national press, including New York Magazine, GQ, Food & Wine, and the Huffington Post, and has earned a local “Best Late Night Menu” and “Best Sandwich” nods. Understatement never tasted so good.
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Interview with 2013 Carolinas Rising Star Chef Stuart Tracy
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking?
Stuart Tracy: I started for all of the wrong reasons. When I was in high school, I worked in a farmers market in a small suburb of Atlanta. I wanted some money to spend, and the place was within biking distance. It was my first exposure to high-quality ingredients and led me to wanting to know how to cook it. After the farmers market, I worked at a small deli. It closed when I was 17, and I didn't have a job for the rest of the year. Eventually, I realized there were culinary schools in Charleston and it just made sense for me to come here.
AB: What did you do after school?
ST: My first job was at Outback, and it only lasted three months. They were the hardest months of my life, but I decided to stick with it and got a job at a nice restaurant in Mount Pleasant. It was straightforward. They used quality ingredients, and the chef was Patrick Bowens. After that, I worked at another restaurant called Opal. I worked in Michigan for a while and then went to a place in Sienna with a chef named Ken from Woodlands [in South Carolina]. Woodlands served modern Italian food. The quality of food was high, but the work was so hard. I adapted to it and stuck it out though. I worked as a cook for a year and then they promoted me, but that was all I could take. It affected my personal life.
AB: What's your proudest accomplishment to date?
ST: I am most proud of having stuck with it. The stuff they don't tell you is it's such a difficult thing—getting systems and procedures into place and building them. The most difficult is having the work ethic to stick with it and put those systems in place. Going through an opening is what inspires another restaurant.
AB: What is the biggest challenge you face?
ST: The hours here are a little different. We do lunch and then late service on weekends (11pm to 3am). Working lunch on Thursday (11am to 3pm), prepping for late night service, leaving at 5pm, coming back for late night then getting up again at 8am is challenging. It’s challenging to achieve that total balance.
AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
ST: We are involved in as many charitable organizations as possible. We also sell bread to other local restaurants.
AB: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
ST: Maybe with three restaurants. It’s a good model to take your time, get everything right, and then become a real manager. Opening up more Butcher and Bees! I want 10 to 12 and eventually want to not work as hard as I do. I’m still working on restaurant number one, though, and as far as we have come, I still have work to do.