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Nestled in the Southernmost corner of South Carolina sits the small town of Bluffton, where Jeff Condon manages the sophisticated and high-quality restaurant The Bluffton Room. Striving to provide a familiar and personal service that makes diners feel right at home and encourages them to visit time and again, it is little wonder that The Bluffton Room is one of the most highly-rated restaurants that the town of Bluffton has to offer. Here, Jeff shares exactly how he strives to maintain this reputation, and why it is that he is so proud of his establishment.
How would you describe The Bluffton Room’s ethos and style of cuisine?
The Bluffton Room is a unique blend of comfortable sophistication and truly personalized service. Our team is very good at remembering the details of previous visits, and integrating them into the dining experience. The cuisine is probably best described as a fun mixture of American steakhouse meets gastropub. We offer separate menus for dining room and bar, which allows for a lot of culinary flexibility.
Do you have a signature dish that you are particularly proud of?
I never expected our BBQ rubbed shrimp cocktail to take off in the way that it has, but I’m happy with it for a couple of reasons. It is a whimsical plate that has all the component flavors of BBQ in a format that people actually ‘get’, and often receives an ‘oh wow’ reaction after the first few bites. It is visually intriguing without being complicated, and is a delicious dish that we can produce consistently.
The Bluffton Room is always highly-rated; what do you think is the key to your success?
Consistency. We set a high bar for ourselves, both in service and from a culinary perspective. Having very consistent expectations from ourselves in everything we touch, every process, ensures we are providing the best experience. We are very aware that you are only as good as your last plate, your last meal, your last dinner party.
What can we expect from The Bluffton Room in the future?
That’s a question that rolls around in my head every day! We are certainly going to remain true to our brand, but continuing to adapt our menu is always the best avenue for evolution. We hope to always be the neighborhood spot, anchored by great food and service, with friends eager to come back and see what’s new on the menu.
Do you have any particular influences or role models whom you aspire to?
There are so many in our industry who have achieved pinnacle greatness in one form or another. John Currence in Oxford, Mississippi, has built a small empire on honest food that reflects the region, with just the right amount of fun and nod to classical preparations. Chris Hastings has had a similar effect in Birmingham, Alabama, with a focus on unpretentious, great food. Throw in anybody else that has a successful enterprise built on dedication to excellence and inability to compromise the plate: Eric Ripert, David Chang, Massimo Bottura… the list goes on!
Tell us about a particularly memorable dish you have eaten.
In as much as a meal is the sum of the people and environment you share it with, one of my most memorable dishes was on the gorgeous island of Waiheke in New Zealand. I was with a dozen other friends on day three of a wine tour, and the beauty of this island is bound to move absolutely anyone who visits it. We were all comfortable in long discussion with the winemaker husband and wife team, when they bought out platters of raw oysters that had just been pulled from the ocean in their backyard. No kidding. Perfectly paired off with the family’s off-dry Reisling, the oysters were stunning in their simplicity.
What is your proudest moment in the restaurant business so far?
You know that moment when you know your team truly understands the mission? When you know that everybody is on point, in place, perfectly performing their piece of the dance? And you don’t even have to be there. My proudest moment comes when I hand over the keys to my second-in-command, knowing the team will execute without flaw.
As a restaurant manager, what is the most bizarre culinary request you’ve ever received?
Ketchup for a perfectly cooked medium rare steak. I know it happens, but a part of you dies inside when it happens in front of you.
If you could take a culinary tour across one country in the world, where would you go?
Italy. And I’m taking my friend and head wino from Uvaggio in Coral Cables, Miami with me. It’s one thing to visit, but another thing altogether to have somebody show you all the great things you miss when you take the tour bus.
If you could sit down and have a meal with one chef in the world, who would that be?
I am almost that guy who answers James Beard or Julia Child, but I like the idea of sitting down with Massimo Bottura. His story, his drive, his failures and successes, make him the quintessential Food & Beverage tragedy/drama/fairytale with a great ongoing ending.
What’s the best kept secret of Bluffton?
Friday lunches at The Bluffton Room. It is a New Orleans tradition that we shamelessly stole, wherein a few of the great dinner houses open for lunch on a Friday only. It’s a great way for everybody to kick off the weekend in proper style; and if you decide not to go back to the office… well, as they say, laissez le bon temps rouler! True to tradition, we offer mini 25. Cent martinis and a small, but solid, New Orleans-inspired lunch menu. And the beignets… they will seriously take you back.
What are you reading or watching at the moment?
The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal. This book is less about recipes and technique, but more about the journey of one consumed by ultimate expression of flavor and all of its components.
Interview by Isabelle Pitman