Justin Feasel

Fire & Smoke
Myrtle Beach
Chef Swap Ingredient:
Bone Marrow Bread Pudding
Cuisine Style:

A text from his mom changed Justin Feasel’s life and jump started him into the restaurant industry. Since his early days as a busboy, Feasel has cooked beside top tier chefs and learned the subtle details of fine dining and otherworldly flavor profiles.


About Justin Feasel

The text came and caught Justin Feasel off guard. It was obligatory and concise.

“Oh, don’t stay up too late. You are going to work tomorrow.’’

His mom was the sender and a server at Damon’s in Myrtle Beach, and she alerted him while he was still a student at Carolina Forest High School that he would work at the oceanfront eatery.

As he sat in Fire & Smoke on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, he realized how far he has progressed from then to now as an accidental chef with planned ways to keep his culinary fire ablaze.

Feasel is a hushed force at 411 79th Ave. in Myrtle Beach. His food speaks for him, plate by plate. His presentation of duck, for example, is succulent and flavorful. When he accompanies it with balsamic bacon and bone marrow bread pudding, mouths rejoice.

Meet him and encounter a shy but confident chef wearing a nose ring, a scruffy red mustache, and intricate tattoos. Within the fertile ground at Fire & Smoke, he nurtures who he is and ia able to seek culinary escapades absent elsewhere.

Currently, he is wowing patrons with his sustainable fish dishes, palatable take on elk and lamb chops, and other outstanding options at this fine dining eatery.

“Chef Justin is creative and intuitive,’’ said Brynn Barnett, general manager. “His food is always impeccable.”

Finding The Way

His introduction to the industry came as a busboy at Damon’s, and his first day on the job rattled him.

“It was a lot,’’ Feasel said. “It was shocking. It was scary. It was almost overwhelming.’’

The pace was like a rushing wind – fast, furious, and coming from all directions.

“It was pretty insane,’’ he said. “You know with this industry there are a lot of wild people who work in it. I was 16, a shy kid I guess, and it was a lot to take in.”

He was scared, shocked, and nearly overwhelmed by the insanity.

He heard stories from staffers sharing their whole backstories upon meeting him. For an instant, Feasel wanted to get out of there – but he steeled himself and stayed.

Quickly, he found being a busboy wasn’t a hard job but a gross one. He didn’t revel in picking dirty napkins and rib bones off the table. Nevertheless, he powered through each day. After about three years, he became an expo food runner. His new job had a greater degree of pandemonium because it was a kitchen job with more responsibilities. He had to plate the food, ensure orders were correct, and check plates for presentation before they left the kitchen.

Damon’s was a great start for him because it allowed Feasel to see the industry from the ground up. After he graduated from Carolina Forest High School, he decided to continue his education at Horry Georgetown Technical College. The restaurant industry, however, wasn’t on his mind. Feasel wanted to pursue other careers.

He changed his interest in studying several times.

Dental hygiene crossed his mind. Teaching came next – being a history teacher would be rad. Not. So, he revisited his decision and resolved to be a graphic designer. Yeah, that was going to be it.

“I was in the class for like a day, and I said, ‘Nah, I can’t do this,’’’ Feasel said as he shook his head while sitting at the bar at Fire & Smoke.

A friend he partied with attended the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach, a part of Horry Georgetown Technical College.

“He said, ‘Man, you would like going to the school,’’’ Feasel said. “I was like, ‘I should do it.’’’

He didn’t change his course of study again after that.

“Honestly, when I went there, I had no idea what I was doing,’’ he said. “I had no real cooking job before going to culinary school.”

Growing up, he had watched his mom cook. He did some barbecuing on a $30 grill he bought and kept in the back of his car. Yet, he was nobody’s chef.

Still, he shined in school. He created tasty, polished meals.

“I was always at the top,’’ Feasel said. “They would divvy us up into groups, and we killed it. Our food was the best in the class.”

After graduating, he landed a job at PF Chang’s.

“I started as a dishwasher and prep guy,’’ he said. “I didn’t do real cooking for the first six months.”

One of only two people who spoke English in the kitchen where Spanish was the predominant language, Feasel realized he had to earn the respect of more experienced contemporaries.

“After about six months, people started opening up and having conversations with me and trying to teach me things,’’ Feasel said. “I was washing dishes and doing what they call drama, which was just preparing a plate of raw ingredients and passing it to the hotline.”

He stayed there for about a year and a half and left a faster and more efficient worker.

“There was no room for error,’’ he said. “If you got slow, you got kicked off of the line. You had to be on it all the time.”

The Grind & The Gifts

Feasel isn’t fake. He keeps it 100. He loves what he does, but he admonishes all who will listen that the restaurant industry isn’t all glam and glitz. You have to be on your game and be willing to grind.

“There is stress in the industry for sure,’’ Feasel said. “You take on more responsibility when you are young without getting paid. Sometimes, you must do that to get better and more rounded."

Before he arrived at Fire & Smoke, he worked at the former Cypress Grille in Carolina Forest. There, he entered the presence of older chefs who gave him a deeper grasp of cooking.

“They showed me how to do stuff,’’ Feasel said. “They gave me tips and tricks of the trade.”

An insane lesson came in flavor profiles. One of the chefs told him to take raw scallops, slice them extremely thin, and serve them with finely portioned strawberries.

“It made no sense to me, but I did it,’’ Feasel said. “I plated it up and tried it. I seasoned it with just a little bit of salt. The pairing changed my view on things – truly, it was delicious.”

The time spent under their tutelage gave Feasel a command of culinary arts unknown to him previously.

“The one thing about this industry is that there is always somebody out there that is going to humble you down,’’ he said. “They will show you things and make you realize you are completely green to this. Being a chef is a never-ending journey of knowledge. If you put yourself in the right positions, you will evolve, grow, and learn.”

Feasel is known for his exceptional takes on the fresh fish catches of the day, especially Chilean sea bass. For the New Year’s Eve dinner, he sous vide the fish before searing it and partnered the sea bass with fresh white truffle and lobster and a sweet pea risotto cake.

“His fish dishes are spectacular,’’ Barnett said. “Whatever the fish is of the day, he will make it incredible with amazing sauces with a starch and vegetable.”

Contentment is his friend here and now at Fire & Smoke. He likes being under the auspices of Tyler Rice, Fire & Smoke’s owner and operator known for his mastery of savory dishes.

“We have a mastermind chef in Tyler,’’ Feasel said. “He has so much knowledge. He has probably forgotten more knowledge than I will ever learn.”

Rice said his demeanor distinguishes him from other younger chefs.

“Justin always seems to stay real calm and takes everything in stride,’’ said Rice, an industry veteran with nearly 40 years of experience. “He is thorough in what he does.”

Rice is a fan of his food.

“As simple as it sounds, he does an heirloom tomato salsa that is just fantastic,’’ Rice said. “Justin doesn’t talk much about it. He keeps it on a low profile, but it is the perfect balance of acid to cilantro. It’s just really on point. He also works well with fish, especially Chilean sea bass.”

There is, however, nothing fishy about his future. Rice firmly believes Feasel will continue to fly high.

“If he stays focused, he can become one of the top chefs on the Grand Strand,’’ Rice said. “He has the work ethic, and the attitude is there…He is a really good kid. I think he can go as far as he wants to go with it.”

By Johanna Wilson Jones

“The one thing about this industry is that there is always somebody out there that is going to humble you down. They will show you things and make you realize you are completely green to this. Being a chef is a never-ending journey of knowledge. If you put yourself in the right positions, you will evolve, grow, and learn.”

Justin Feasel
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