Saturday Spotlight: Cheraw chef looks to chop competition

by: Sarah Lively, web producer Updated:


CHERAW - Chris Kyler’s interest in cooking started at a young age. As a child, his mom taught him how to cook basic dishes, such as gravy and cookies. A Disney cookbook really peaked his interests in food preparation.

Kyler grew up in Woodridge, Virginia, but spent a couple of his teen years living in the Cheraw area with his father and stepmother.

During those two years, he attended Chesterfield High School in Chesterfield, South Carolina.

In high school he began taking home economics. His first job was at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and his second was at Red Lobster. He had a desire to learn more about the food industry, so after high school graduation, Kyler joined the Navy as a culinary specialist.

The Navy sent him to school where he learned about international cuisine. He was then placed on an aircraft carrier, where he had to cook for 5,000 people per day in the enlistment galley. His talent was recognized, and Kyler was moved up to cook for the 300 officers on the ship.

His superiors wanted more of his talent, and put Kyler in charge of cooking for the captain. He was 21 years old.

During his duties to the captain, Kyler had a chance to cook for Bruce Willis, President George H.W. Bush, and various dignitaries who visited the ship. He described cooking for the captain as the pinnacle of his career. Then, he began hanging out with the wrong crowd and started using marijuana. He was kicked out of the Navy.

“That rocked my whole world,” Kyler said. “I got the book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ and it changed my mentality.”

With a changed perspective, Kyler cut the negative influences in his life and begin thinking about how to return to high status cooking. He started working for chain restaurants again, including Applebee’s, Macaroni Grille and Olive Garden.

“I kept cooking; I just said I had to cook my way out of this. I knew I had the talent,” Kyler said.

With encouragement from church members, Kyler opened his own business and began cooking out of mobile kitchens. He often watched “Hell’s Kitchen.” He respected Gordon Ramsey because he understood his mentality of perfection, and demanding the best from those he worked with. Kyler tried out for the show last year, and made it to casting finals before being cut.

Then the Food Network called, asking Kyler if he’d want to participate in “Cut Throat Kitchen.” Not only did Kyler participate, he won.

“I felt in my element,” Kyler said. “Wow, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

He found out about “Food Network Star,” the channel’s long-running competition series, and went to New York for an audition.

“(I thought) this is my last attempt at this, I’m going to give it everything I have. I put on the performance of my life, showed one of my techniques,” Kyler said.

He got the call back to be a participant on the 10th season of the show, which airs on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. The first episode of this season airs on June 1.

Kyler says he feels a special connection to the Cheraw area. Although he only lived there for a couple of years, he’s been visiting since he was 13 years old.

“When I did live down there, my dad and step mom taught me Southern cuisine,” Kyler said. “I take classic dishes seen in the South and add a modern touch to them.”

No one on this season is from North or South Carolina, so Kyler wants to represent the Cheraw area on the show.

To learn more about the Food Network show and Kyler, click here.