About Eugen Hysa
Eugen Hysa cooks all day, goes home, and binges on cooking shows.
His wife, Claudia, thinks it’s kooky that he could totally immerse himself in the kitchen at Ciao and then go home and soak up as much food entertainment possible via TV. His children also share his culinary consumption. They join him as he looks at show after show.
“I like traveling and seeing new things and new trends – that’s the best way to do it,’’ Hysa said. “Plus, I am so crazy about this industry that I work all day long and then I go home and watch Food Network for three hours.”
Hysa, 42, sees his insatiable appetite for visual epicurean amusement as one way to keep himself sharp and inventive. As the executive chef at Ciao, he sees opportunities to grow in skill and creativity wherever food can be found and experienced. His on-the-job hard work, travel training, and an unrelenting dedication to his profession combine to fire the furnace of food expression at Ciao – a Myrtle Beach eatery serving simple and sensational Italian fare.
His beginnings were in the picturesque Vlorë, Albania. The city, close to the Mediterranean Sea, was where Hysa’s first flings with food began. Petro and Kristhi were people of simple means that utilized food in the best ways to ensure nothing was wasted, and their son witnessed this ingenuity and practicality.
“My parents would use every part of the animal,’’ said Hysa while sitting at a booth at Ciao. “They would take the same chicken and make three or four meals out of it. They would be very creative. That’s how I learned how to be creative by using few ingredients.”
He saw, for example, how his parents took chicken bones and make a stew with onions, garlic, and tomatoes – the vegetable trinity that appears in nearly every Mediterranean dish.
“Depending on the season it was, we would also add potatoes,’’ Hysa said. “Everything was seasonal. If it was summer, you ate tomatoes four months, five months.”
As a little boy growing up with a mom who was a teacher and a dad who was a geologist, he may have fantasized about being a cop but never a chef.
However, his visions of his future changed when his family relocated to Greece when he was 10.
“My parents moved to Greece for a better life, and that’s where I started working at small fisheries,’’ Hysa said.
When the fishery at which his mother worked needed extra help, she suggested he would be the ideal hire.
He was only 14, but he impressed the folks at the fishery. He started as a bus boy and later worked as a dishwasher. He filled in wherever help was needed, including being a prep cook.
“It was hard work, but I didn’t mind working hard,’’ he said.
They lived in a small beach town with numerous eateries. Soon, Hysa gained more experience by going from place to place. Eventually, the clutches of the restaurant business took him.
“I didn’t want to do anything else,’’ he said. “I enjoyed restaurant work.”
He realized how genuine his passion was when he tried other occupations. Brief stints as a carpenter and a driver for a moving company proved to be not it.
In his late teens, he moved across the Atlantic to Toronto.
“I wanted to see something different,’’ Hysa said. “I knew Albania and Greece were great, but this world is big, and I wanted to see what I could do somewhere else.”
He knew no one in Toronto. He had no plans. He was winging it, but then he began to fly.
After renting a motel room for a few days, he began walking around asking for jobs. He became a fry cook at a Greek restaurant before being promoted to sous chef in eight months.
“The chef liked me, and he taught me every position at the place,’’ Hysa said. “I was in a big kitchen too. There were 14 people, and I moved up the ladder fast. I was only 20 years old.’’
His coworkers didn’t like him because of his quick ascension, but their disdain motivated him because he knew he had earned his position. Besides, he submerged himself in making classic Greek foods.
Love, however, drew him from Toronto to Cleveland when he met his now wife, Claudia. So, he moved to the United States. He quickly found employment at another Greek spot. Yet, he didn’t dig Cleveland.
“We stayed there for eight months,’’ he said. “It was too industrial. After five o’clock, nobody was on the street. The sky was always gray, and you didn’t see the sun much.”
Myrtle Beach became their new home after being told about its beauty and abundance of restaurants by Claudia’s parents. They moved in 2001 and married in 2004. He worked at a variety of restaurants around town. One of those eateries was a favorite of countless Grand Strand residents and considered one of the best – Giovanni’s. Now permanently closed, the late Giovanni Carandola, a native of Sicily who cooked everything from scratch and never used recipes, owned it.
Finally, after years of learning in the kitchen of others, he and Claudia opened Ciao in 2006.
“I trained on my jobs, went to Italy, and trained for a month,’’ Hysa said. “We go everywhere and try good restaurants. We have been to Italy, France, Paris, and Spain. Plus, once a year, we go to New York.”
Ciao’s menu boasts daily specials, fresh seafood, and classics.
“I have different specials every day because I hate cooking the same thing over and over again,’’ he said. “I hate routines.”
His loyal customers are the opposite. They have made it a habit to make regular trips to Ciao to feast on Hysa’s fare.
Lewis and Ann Sauls drive more than an hour from Whiteville, N.C., several times a month to eat at Ciao. They have been patrons since the eatery’s inception.
“We’ve never had anything on this menu that we didn’t like,’’ Lewis Sauls said. “We love the calamari, and the portobello mushrooms are outstanding.”
The chicken piccata and dishes featuring veal are among the most Ciao dishes.
“We don’t take shortcuts,’’ Hysa said. “We squeeze our lemon juice. We make our chick stocks and beef stocks in-house. We do things some of these new chefs are too lazy to do.”
Hysa is certainly not slothful. He has the stamina to remain in the game for countless more years.
“I have been saying I am going to retire for 20 years,’’ he said, “but I am going to go way over.”
By Johanna Wilson Jones, Local Food Writer and Judge on Chef Swap at The Beach
“I like traveling and seeing new things and new trends – that’s the best way to do it. Plus, I am so crazy about this industry that I work all day long and then I go home and watch Food Network for three hours.”
Lunch Chef Swap | Greg vs. Eugen
A Chef Swap Challenge with international flair! Amanda visits Ciao Italian restaurant and unique coastal eatery, Drift, for a Lunch Challenge. Things get messy as Chef Eugen Hysa and Chef Greg Plingau do their best to come up with a lunch dish to wow the judges.