July 2009

Taste, Talent & Tradition • Christine’s Café & Catering serves up a fresh-from-scratch experience

Author: Blanche T. Sullivan | Photographer: John Brackett

When Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis visited Hilton Head Island in 2008, accompanied by a number of friends and family, Chef Christine Bohn, owner of Christine’s Café & Catering, was honored to have the opportunity to provide catering for the prominent star. In recognition of Dukakis’s Greek roots, Chef Christine was equally pleased to prepare authentic, traditional Greek dishes and recalls the unique experience with a smile.

“I was excited to take care of Olympia Dukakis and her family last year and, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, had prepared all these nice, Greek meals,” recalled Christine. “Then Olympia took me aside and asked me if we could ‘change some things.’ I asked her what, and she said ‘everything!’ I was a little surprised, but then she told me that she could have this [Greek food] at home. She wanted to have some real Southern food, something different. So I changed the menu and she was thrilled.”

Chef Christine added that, in spite of Dukakis’s celebrity status, the energetic group was exceptionally warm and hospitable. “The first night I was there it was this happy, loud battle across the table,” she said. “I felt like I was in [the film]
Moonstruck. It was amazing. They were all wonderful people.”
And while Chef Christine’s list of clients includes a number of fairly famous and discriminating individuals, her culinary tutelage began quite humbly with her grandmother Fannie, who was well-versed in many traditional skills often associated with fine Southern ladies. “My mother went to work, and I got to go stay with my grandmother,” said Bohn. “She was a great Southern lady. She loved to sew, can, cook—and she was a great cook.”

Although Chef Christine was only four years old when her “training” began, Grandma Fannie reportedly had no qualms about placing her granddaughter next to the kitchen burners and putting a machete-like instrument into her hands. “My grandmother would put me on this stool and pull it up to the stove so I could reach. She had this long, old style butcher knife and she taught me how to use it. By the time I was five, I was pretty good at chopping up vegetables with it. I could also make this fabulous delicacy called Sloppy Joes,” Bohn said with a grin.

Chef Christine also fondly recalls making pickles in old galvanized tubs, when the cukes were harvested in the fall, and pickling watermelon rinds. Regardless of the season, Fannie’s kitchen seemed to be a regular hotbed for culinary activity and she passed that passion on to her granddaughter.

“I’ve always dabbled in cooking,” said Bohn. “She [Fannie] gave that gift to me.”
Chef Christine’s “gift” continued to flourish as a result of cooking for college friends, while earning her BFA in Theatrical Design at Florida State, and her first restaurant job with Red Lobster. She traded Tallahassee for California where she first landed employment with the notorious Daisy Club, a restaurant featured in the 1975 comedy Shampoo, and then with L.A.’s popular Butterfly Bakery.

“The chef at the Butterfly was Armenian and she was amazing,” said Bohn. She would make this incredible baklava and she taught me how to make that and so much more. A lot of famous people would come in, and it was pretty exciting. There was a studio across the street, and when actors Jeff and Beau Bridges (and sometimes their father, Lloyd) came in, I would do whatever—race to the front—to see them.”

When Chef Christine had her fill of illustrious Rodeo Drive, she returned to Tallahassee and assumed a managerial position with a Steak & Ale restaurant. This position, which she maintained for about 10 years, introduced her to the corporate side of the food and beverage industry, as well as to her husband, David, with whom she is celebrating 25 years this November.

Because Chef Christine was a manager to whom David reported, one of them had to go. They decided to leave together and moved to Atlanta to work for the Peasant Company.

“They [Peasant Company] owned a lot of restaurants (16), and it was all white table cloths, from scratch cuisine. I was able to do a lot of R & D [Research & Development] and develop a lot of their menu items. I enjoy creating new things, so it was a great opportunity,” said Bohn.

Next on her culinary career path was Atlanta’s “Silver Spoon” restaurant group for whom she became the culinary director. According to Bohn, the group, which grew from five restaurants to nearly 70 during her tenure and is now identified as “The American Café,” kept her very busy. She traveled nearly 50 weeks a year, to numerous locations, and was constantly teaching, making instructional videos and more.

“We had a great team there and I enjoyed doing what I did,” she said. “But when they decided to move from being a ‘from scratch’ restaurant, I decided it was time for me to go.”

So how did this talented chef make her way to Hilton Head Island? “My husband is a musician and this [Hilton Head] is one of the last great places with lots of live music,” she said. “Plus, I love the beach and… it’s the South!”

Local Kathleen Speer, of Speer and Associates, is no stranger to Chef Christine’s talents and offers volumes of praise for both her cuisine and character. “Christine is an original. Her smile, cheerful countenance and catering ideas brim over when we meet to discuss an event. She has catered a bridal shower, small intimate lunches and dinners, and parties with 100+ persons for us. We do have our favorite dishes (crab cakes, peppermint semifreddo, pork tenderloin in an orange reduction, etc.), but she offers new ideas and recipes each time.”

“Kathleen actually text messaged me from her recent Hawaiian vacation,” said Bohn. “She told me she was eating a Macademia nut semifreddo and she wanted me to figure out how to make it.”

Speer is an avid entertainer and is amazed at Chef Christine’s ability to maintain a cheerful and collected demeanor regardless of circumstances. One memorable experience, in particular, stands out.

“Last summer, we held a family reunion with over 50 family members, and dinner was to be at our home, outside on the deck,” recalled Speer. “Naturally, it poured rain that night so everyone crowded inside and hung around the kitchen, watching Christine work her magic. With so many family members in close quarters, the situation could have been tense, but she poured her secret punch recipe, smiled, and quickly passed around appetizers. Soon everyone was smiling and gobbling up her dinner! I guess the most important point I can make is that she makes my entertaining life quite easy and enjoyable!”

Lindy Russell, co-founder of Hilton Head Heroes, a non-profit organization that helps children with life-altering illnesses enjoy family vacations on Hilton Head, shares Speer’s enthusiasm and praise. “Christine has been a long-time supporter of Hilton Head Heroes. In addition to generously providing delicious food for our benefits and support for our many families, Christine’s compassionate and friendly personality help make every event an enjoyable, stress-free experience. She is a great person and has been an important part of not only the Russell family, but of Heroes since the beginning. I love her!”

Chef Christine has been a resident of Hilton Head for more than a decade and established her own catering business nearly 10 years ago. Word of her tasty delicacies and exceptional service quickly spread, which helped her earn the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce’s coveted Small Business of the Year award in 2005.

The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina and the chamber have both called upon Chef Christine to cater many of their events, and she gratefully credits this support with helping her grow her business. She, in turn, has provided support or community service to local organizations such as the Coastal Discovery Museum, Hilton Head Heroes and others.

Chef Christine has always embraced cooking from scratch and relying on natural, high-quality ingredients. She has also always maintained a very flexible cooking style, accommodating vegetarians and vegans, as well as those with food allergies or dietary concerns.

She stays on the cutting edge of the culinary industry by taking advantage of various professional events and, this past February, attended the “2009 Event Solutions Conference & Tradeshow with Catersource” in Las Vegas.
“This conference is the largest educational program for event planners and caterers, with about 4,000+ attendees,” said Bohn. I went to every event, every class, and really learned a lot about upcoming food trends, hot items, marketing and more.”

Chef Christine is also busy passing her skills and traditions down to her beloved four-year-old grandson, Mack, and opening a new business. As of late last month, her long-time fans and new ones once again have the opportunity to enjoy some of those hot items and trends, as well as many of Chef Christine’s signature favorites, in a fabulous mid-island café.

Christine’s Café & Catering, situated in the Atrium Building at 850 William Hilton Parkway, will be open weekdays from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., serving eclectic, fresh-from-scratch cuisine. The café will also be available for private events.
Those familiar with Chef Christine’s signature dishes will be thrilled to learn that her new café will feature famous items, such as: Fannie’s Chicken Salad, Calibogue shrimp salad, tomato basil soup, she crab soup (touted by fans as the best in the world), Caprese paninis, chipotle fried fish wraps and, of course, the highly addictive homemade potato chips.

“We use fresh sliced potatoes that we fry in Canola—no trans fat—and season with a unique blend of seasonings. People just love them and can’t believe we don’t charge for them,” said Bohn. “We’re ‘fools.’ We give them away!”
One taste of her cuisine and all will agree that Chef Christine is absolutely no fool. She is a talented, savvy and personable businesswoman who is, unlike much of our fructose corn syrup- and processed foods-obsessed world, serving up an eclectic, inviting, fresh-from-scratch experience. Just like Grandma Fannie.

For more information, call (843) 785-4646 or visit christinescatering.com. (Christine’s Café is also on Facebook at facebook.dj/christinescafe/)

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