The Heyward is a restaurant I have been close to even before its inception since one of the owners, Che Stipanovich, is one of my oldest friends in NYC. Not only did Che and I both began our NYC days in the hospitality industry – working together at a late-90’s lounge – but we are also creatives who share a strong point of view, attention to detail and a solid love of design and food. I have reveled in every last detail in the development of The Heyward and can proudly say that the initial vision is very close to what you see at the Williamsburg restaurant today.
The food scene is currently exploding in Charleston, but 3 years ago Che and his partners Matthew Hechter & Christopher Brandon, of Hudson Clearwater, were far ahead of the curve in concepting The Heyward. They took note of nuances in the heritage of Low Country cuisine to develop The Heyward’s menu. The restaurant was named after South Carolina poet DuBose Heyward.
I was very much inspired by their approach to materials and design. Rather than the good ole standard Brooklyn staple of reclaimed wood, industrial materials like black iron, zinc and bronze were used in abundance. Their harshness was offset with carefully placed curves throughout the space like arched windows and the semi-circle open kitchen, softening the overall aesthetic.The environment is equal parts Southern charm and industrial Williamsburg, with a color palette that takes you to the clapboard houses and gas lamp streets of Charleston and Savannah.
After years of hearing about the development of The Heyward, I finally indulged in the Southern Atlantic food when they opened their doors a few months back. The menu employs local, seasonal ingredients with distinct nods to the Carolinas, Virginia and Savannah. The food blew me away—jumbo shrimp and creamy grits with chorizo and charred Shishito peppers is the star of the show. I suppose you can’t really do Southern food without serving grits: order it, you won’t be sorry. Further exploration of the menu reveals a killer raw bar at a chef’s counter and a locally sourced, ocean-driven play on Southern food.
This all leads me to the man at the helm of the Heyward kitchen, Chef Derek Orrell. Orrell was the sous chef at Locanda Verde before becoming one of the youngest executive chefs in NYC at The Heyward in April. I met Derek and his wife Britt Maren (with whom I’ve baked a killer chocolate cake) that first night, and was immediately taken aback at his relaxed demeanor, his willingness to chat food with perfect strangers, and well, also by his youthful good looks. I mean this is one beautiful foodie/model couple—I could have swooned all evening long.
Derek exudes such an incredible passion and excitement that you get the sense he is not burned out by this fast-paced industry, rather he is fired-up—no pun intended. He speaks about each ingredient and dish with such zest and precision that you hang on his every word. You can feel his joy as he speaks, and that joy translates to his food, which is complex in flavor, yet simply executed. As we created this brook trout dish together, we went back and forth—I would ask him the usual swoonism questions which always spark the conversation, and he would take me through the culinary steps… to say I was in swoony heaven would be the understatement of the year.
Gosh, I love being in a professional kitchen. Snoop Derek’s recipe below and get yourself to The Heyward stat!