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The restaurant business is in Sarah McClure’s blood. It just took her a little while to figure that out. Her eventual epiphany was life-changing, launching her toward a culinary career. As executive chef and manager of Southside Smokehouse, McClure is living a life she did not foresee as a young Wofford College art history student. Not only is she following in the footsteps of her restaurateur parents, but she’s doing so in the hometown she swore she’d leave one day. Though harsh financial realities compelled her to leave school and seek out restaurant work, it soon became clear she was on her way to embracing her destiny.
Having always wanted to do something different, McClure saw firsthand how hard certain elements of this industry can be on one’s personal life. Her parents opened Southside in 2004, and she waited tables there her senior year of high school and on weekends through college. She got her undergrad degree in art history and was working on a master’s in art history when the 2009 recession hit. Her parents had divorced and the restaurant was struggling. McClure’s dad had been paying most of her bills while she was in school but couldn’t continue to do so. She had become pretty disillusioned with grad school, as well, so she dropped out and started working a variety of restaurant positions in a couple different restaurants and bars around Athens to make ends meet.
Long story short, she ended up in the kitchen at The National with chef Peter Dale and it really changed my perspective on cooking. It was one of the first places she was involved in that sourced local, had a really creative, constantly evolving menu and great bar program. It really inspired her to be interested in the restaurant world again. She learned primarily by being a huge suck-up and volunteering for pretty much every extra event, wine dinner and farm trip they would take her to. From Peter, she learned not to be afraid to mix flavors and cultures on one plate.
Chef Sarah feels Southern food, in general, is really having a moment right now. “Charleston has always been known as a great food city, but typically for traditional Southern or French cuisine. It is interesting seeing other cities in South Carolina come to be recognized as food destinations and how the types of food popular in these areas are really diversifying. I feel like we are really in the middle of a big shift in the way the nation views Southern people and food.”