Chef Gary Smith, a Charlotte, NC native, has been the executive chef at Sea Captain's House since 2019 and is arguably a certified czar of deliciousness. His dishes starring fresh fish are phenomenal.
About Gary Smith
Sunlight streaked through bay windows at Sea Captain’s House and shined on the jubilant visage of Gary Smith. He was happy, and it was just a Tuesday.
He is an executive chef credited with brightening and heightening the profile of this Myrtle Beach restaurant, one the city’s oldest.
“Gary has shored up the kitchen, and he's made it a real place to work,’’ said David Crone, Sea Captain’s House food and beverage manager. “People enjoy working for him. As anyone in restaurants knows, the better you do on turnover, the better you do in keeping your people, the more sustained success you have.”
Crone recruited Smith four years ago from Interlachen Country Club in Winter Park, Fla. It was a decision that Crone said benefitted this iconic eatery known for its storied menu items, including she-crab soup and seafood specialties.
“Gary is probably one of the best presentation chefs I have ever met,’’ Crone said. “His food is beautiful. The way he constructs dishes is beautiful. He has truly helped elevate our perception of value and our perception of what good food is in this restaurant.’’
Meet Smith, and you will meet a man with an insatiable love for his profession. For him, plates of food are an opportunity to manifest his Van Gogh presentation skills, tantalize tongues, and flaunt unexpected tastes and textures.
He cheerfully relishes being at the helm steerer at an eatery with a solid reputation and a formidable supporting staff.
“I love it here,’’ Smith said. “This place has been here for 60 years. So, it isn’t going anywhere. The atmosphere is great. You can’t get any better than that.”
Smith is pleased he anchored himself at a restaurant that bolsters a staff of veterans, some serving between 25 and 40 years.
“With staff being here for so long, it makes life a little easier for me because it is not a revolving door,’’ Smith said. “Sea Captain’s is a tradition on the beach. I am at a place where I know I am going to be busy, and I am going to work very hard. Sea Captain’s is it.”
Smith, 42, initially unearthed his gift as a boy in Martinsville, Va., on his grandparents’ farm. There, he quickly learned the dynamics and possibilities of food.
“He was able to see firsthand the farm-to-table concept that is prevalent right now,’’ said Gwen Smith, his mom. “From gathering it from the farm to putting it on the table, he saw it.’’
The farm flourished with various fresh vegetables such as corn, sweet potatoes, squash, and green beans.
“He would help with planting and picking the crops,’’ she said.
His early exposure to agriculture was fuel to fire up a vision of the world in which he is now intricately involved. His current appreciation and elevation of food are grounded in his astute observation of all things food. Smith deeply compreheneds how food is gathered and is a master of how to prepare food and present it as if it were artwork.
By 16, he worked in a mom-and-pop pizzeria as a dishwasher. His time in suds, however, was short-lived. He sooon became the sauté chef when the man who held the position was a no-show for work.
“The first thing I learned was that every pan is always hot,’’ said Smith, a native of Charlotte, N.C. “So, you have to grab it with a towel. I also learned how to make alfredo, marinara, and pesto sauces, but I wanted more.”
After graduating high school, he attended Johnson & Wales Culinary School in Charleston, S.C. His time there proved to be revelatory.
“I found out how much I didn’t know,’’ Smith said.
He learned how to cut steaks properly, and break down whole chickens, became a mixologist, and discovered the ends and outs of operating a dining room.
His time at culinary school landed him an internship at Kiawah Island, where he did high-end catering for celebrities. Gayle King’s best friend was one of them.
“Oprah Winfrey and her guests had filet mignon and lobster tail,’’ he said. “We also did a purple and white mashed potato down in a piping bag and made a swirl across. Maybe, we had grilled asparagus. We also made strawberry shortcake for dessert.”
After an 8-month stint on Kiawah Island, he moved back to Charlotte and worked at the Caramel Country Club. He met clientele who ate his food regularly, maybe three or four times a week. They dined on lamb, veal, and other pricey items chosen from a menu that changed every three months.
“When you are paying $175,000 to join this country club and then it’s annual dues of $20,000 to $30,000 a year, the expectation is that the food quality and standard is a little higher,” Smith said.
After working at Caramel for six or seven years, he went to Forest Lake Country Club in Columbia, where he stayed for eight years. During this period, Smith also became a culinary instructor at the University of South Carolina, the largest employer in the Palmetto State. He taught there for five years and recruited students from his class to work for him at Forest Lake.
His final entrance into cooking at country clubs was at Interlachen before Crone successfully scooped him up for Sea Captain’s House in July 2019.
Here, Smith serves about 1,100 people daily. Here, he is a leader, teacher, and friend to his staff of nearly 200 employees.
Here, he looks for ways to bring excitement to featured items and delivers results with aplomb. Shrimp and grits, a Southern golden go-to, is transformed by his invention to create a deep-fried grit cake made with smoked gouda cheese, butter, and cream before topping a bed of shrimp and grits.
He features fresh fish, called “Our Carolina Catch,” and exhibits it with unique flavor profiles and titillating sides.
“Gary is extremely talented,’’ said Ja’net Smith, his wife of 18 years. “He thinks outside of the box. He can take on any challenge and blow it out the water.”
By: Johanna Wilson Jones, Local Food Writer and Judge on Chef Swap at The Beach
“If you are looking for good cuisine, it’s definitely in Myrtle Beach. Overall, there are lots of people in this town that serve great food.”
She Crab Soup
Locally-famous for its She Crab Soup — not to mention tons of other locally-caught seafood — Sea Captain's House is one of the most iconic restaurants in Myrtle Beach. Chef Gary shares his take on this classic southern dish, noting that the key to creating this savory soup is using good quality crabmeat to obtain the desire quality of soup.