CLEWISTON- A passionate and talented chef who once prepared meals for superstars like Jennifer Lopez, is now serving up delicious prime rib, brisket, and smoked pork chops with sour orange glaze at his new restaurant, the Staghorn Kitchen. Offering classics like hand-rolled chicken and dumplings, or chicken pot pie with a biscuit crust, along with being one of the only places open on Sundays, has created quite a buzz around town.
“Staghorn Kitchen is a casual quick service restaurant featuring scratch made everything, slow smoked BBQ, daily homestyle specials, and seafood,” described Sam Edwards, Owner and Pitmaster, who grew up in Clewiston. He returned, after extensive traveling, to his hometown to open the restaurant. The cafe opened on Jan. 8, 2021.
“Me and my three brothers are 7th generation Floridians. We grew up doing all the things boys do in a small country town. Hunting, fishing, fourwheeling, building forts, etc. I lived in Clewiston up until I left to go to college at Auburn University. I started private cheffing and catering in college to make some extra cash, not realizing that would be my main source of income for the next 8 years,” said Edwards. “I moved back to Clewiston in March of 2020 when the pandemic started,” Edwards said. “I was living in Miami when the Pandemic started. I did NOT want to be there when $%#& hit the fan.”
“Both of my parents grew up in Clewiston,” he explained. “I had to leave our area to really learn what I appreciate most about it. That thing would be community itself. The amount of support I have received from local individuals and businesses has been truly overwhelming. Opening this restaurant has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and it wouldn't have been possible without the support of the community.”
On Sunday, March 21, the restaurant released their first brunch menu, which includes some classic brunch items with a “Staghorn twist.” Customers raved about the guava and cream cheese stuffed French toast, shrimp and grits, and pulled pork hash and eggs. The delicious food combined with excellent customer service, made the cafe a local favorite.
“I have 17 employees from all walks of life,” said Edwards. “Our youngest employee is 16 and our oldest employee is 72. We have cooks who didn't start cooking until they came here in January, and we have some folks who have cooked for 15, 20, and 40 years.”
“Some of them have deep roots in Clewiston, and some of them grew up in different parts of the world and have only been here for a couple of months,” he added.
Edwards started cooking his own eggs when he was just 3 years old, “I was pitching a fit to my babysitter because she wasn't making the eggs how my mom made them. Finally she got fed up and pulled a chair up to the stove and told me to make my own, and I've been doing it ever since.” He added, “My first restaurant job was at the Clewiston Country club when I was 15.”
After college, Edwards was eventually led to a position working with Chef Art Smith, former chef to Oprah Winfrey and owner of multiple restaurants, including Reunion in Disney Springs, “My experience with Chef Art was insanely fun and a little chaotic at times. He has more energy than any person Ive ever met. One day we would be cooking for people in his hometown, Jasper FL, the next day he would fly us to NYC with no warning, to cook dinner for Lady Gaga's family at their restaurant Joanne's.”
Chef Art introduced Edwards to Chef Lorena Garcia, whom competed against on the Bravo tv show Top Chef Masters.
“I eventually began working for Chef Lorena starting in 2018. Chef Lorena currently is a regular part of the Univision morning show Despierta America, as well as owner of multiple restaurants including Chica Miami and Chica Las Vegas at the Venetian,” the cola ones Edwards. “I worked for Chef Lorena as her corporate chef on a wide variety of projects including her segments on Despierta America, cooking Christmas meals for Jennifer Lopez and her family at their home in Los Angeles, private events at her studio kitchen in Midtown Miami, or towing her boat to safety when hurricanes approached Miami because I was the only person she knew with a pickup truck in Miami.”
“Chef Lorena makes food that is completely different than what I was used to. Learning from her helped me to refine and lighten my menus considerably,” said Edwards. “She loves Clewiston, and she really enjoyed her first taste of swamp cabbage.”
How did the Staghorn Kitchen get started? “When I moved here from Miami, the lockdown was in full swing and I had to make money somehow. So I started selling food on Instagram,” said Edwards. “I would sell a variety of things from the back of my truck once a week. Fish dip, pimento cheese spread, brisket, whole racks of ribs, whole boston butts, pickled shrimp, all sorts of things.”
His Instagram sales were very successful and Edwards was able to build his savings, “I took the money I had saved, selling food out of the back of my truck, and started hitting every used restaurant equipment auction in the state. The pandemic had shut down so many restaurants that prices on equipment were rock bottom and I was able to outfit the kitchen with equipment I would have never been able to afford otherwise.”
What’s next on the menu for the talented chef and his crew?
“We have a few things coming up in the restaurant. in the next two weeks. We are introducing a new menu featuring some new sandwiches, salads, seafoods, and some new sauce options for our smoked wings,” he said. “Last but not least, we will be accepting phone orders. I was hoping to only accept online orders for takeout, but I think its time to give the people what they want.
What’s Edwards’ personal or business philosophy?
A. Make simple food with the best ingredients you can afford.
B. Treat your staff as well as you treat your customers.
“Nothing makes me happier than successfully introducing someone to a food they've never been willing to try before,” he said.
When asked who his typical customers are, he said, “Anyone with a mouth.”
Aside from hoping that the pandemic ends soon, Edwards says he hopes to cement Staghorn Kitchen into the foundation of Clewiston and to provide gainful employment to the great folks who work there.
He also wanted to make sure he expressed how important it is to support local. “Times are especially tough for independent restaurants right now. No matter where you are, don't eat at the chain dumping frozen lumps in the fryer,” pleaded Edwards. “Don't eat at the fast food place who, yeah, maybe they'll save you a minute or two in your day, but after you eat their chemical laden over processed mystery meal, you may lose those minutes at the end of your life. Support your local, independent restaurants everywhere.”
Staghorn Kitchen is located at 728 US-27 (Sugarland Highway) in Clewiston. For more information follow the cafe on Instagram @staghornkitchen , or Like them on Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/staghornkitchen/ and you can check out their website: www.staghornkitchen.com.