Chef Ambassador Program

Each year, a small number of select chefs are chosen for their dedication to incorporating healthy, locally grown ingredients into their menus.

The Chef Ambassador program is an initiative created and developed in 2014 and facilitated by both the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA) and the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT). The purpose of the South Carolina Chef Ambassador Program is to promote the state’s cuisine and locally grown products that make South Carolina a culinary destination.  The program seeks ways to educate local and statewide citizens, as well as visitors to the state, on the importance of eating local, buying local, and supporting your area farmers. Each year a Chef Ambassador will be selected from the state’s four regions: the Upstate, Midlands, Pee Dee, and Lowcountry.

To learn more about the Chef Ambassador Program and past classes, please visit –


2022 Chef Ambassadors

Chef John Ondo

As a Charleston native, John Ondo, executive chef at The Atlantic Room at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, long ago experienced a full-immersion baptism into the Lowcountry way of life. With the tidal creeks and his grandmother’s kitchen for stomping grounds, he grew up surrounded by the abundant agricultural/aquacultural resources and traditions that define the rich, regional larder. He studied hospitality management and culinary arts at Trident Tech’s Culinary Institute of Charleston and sharpened his technique working in some of the area’s most memorable kitchens, including Il Cortile Del Re, Carolina’s and McCrady’s.

Ondo established himself as a local culinary force in 2005 when he opened the restaurant Lana, where he showcased rustic Mediterranean dishes and built a loyal following before moving on to other ventures, including serving as an adjunct professor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston. His respect for local foodways and demonstrated commitment to culinary excellence has earned Chef Ondo a spot on the 2022 roster of South Carolina Chef Ambassadors.

Chef Haydn Shaak

Restaurant 17 | Travelers Rest, SC

Chef Haydn Shaak knows his way around a kitchen. As the son of a chef, he spent his formative years shadowing his father and, at age 16, chose to become his apprentice at City Range Steakhouse Grill in Greenville. The next five years were marked by hard work and a dedication to excelling at his craft as he graduated from the culinary program at Greenville Technical College and proceeded to move up the kitchen ranks at several reputable restaurants.

In 2018, Chef Shaak took the helm at Restaurant 17 at Hotel Domestique in Travelers Rest, where his expert application of classic techniques and focus on locally sourced ingredients continue to win the admiration of discerning diners. His artisanal aesthetic, which he describes as “rustic elegance,” has also earned him an appointment as a 2022 South Carolina Chef Ambassador.

Chef Chris Williams

Roy's Grille | Lexington, SC

Strong family traditions of hard work and home cooking played pivotal roles in leading Chef Chris Williams into a culinary career. As a child growing up on a farm in Olar, SC, he learned about the intrinsic value of locally sourced food and the sweat equity that went into producing it. He watched as his grandfather awakened before dawn to do odd jobs before heading to his job at a sawmill. And when his grandmother hit the kitchen to prepare family meals, Williams was at her knee, asking questions and learning the fine art of frying chicken and making the perfect pot of rice.

With both grandparents serving as role models, he developed a deep-seated longing to craft comfort foods reminiscent of those he enjoyed as a child. In 2014, after years of restaurant work and catering, that longing became reality when he opened Roy’s Grille inside of a Lexington gas station. Named in honor of his grandfather and inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen ethic, the restaurant is thriving thanks to Chef Williams’ winning formula that marries family tradition with a dedication to locally sourced ingredients and made-from-scratch foods.