Despite being raised by parents who owned and operated restaurants, Malaki Craft never saw himself becoming a chef. But it was seemingly inevitable — as a 10-year-old, he started helping his executive chef stepdad and general manager mom in the restaurants they ran.
Now 29, Craft brings inherent skills to his role as executive chef at Rick Erwin’s Clemson, where he is infusing a menu of Southern favorites with the freshness and acidity of the South Florida cuisine in which he specializes. In contrast with those vibrant fruit and vegetable flavors, though likely perfectly positioning him for an Upstate clientele, Craft is also an expert in whole hog charcuterie. He’s combined both loves into a new menu that rolls out this week.
He holds a degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, stints under two James Beard Award-winning chefs – Tory McPhail, formerly of the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and Clay Conley of Būccan and Grato in South Florida – and numerous other leadership roles. And with that experience comes high expectations of his staff, with a healthy dose of empathy, especially when the hospitality industry has him and other execs working 80 hours a week at all positions in the kitchen to compensate for the widespread staffing shortage.
“My approach is attention to detail,” he says. “If you focus on doing the little things well, the big picture comes together.”
Turkey chili recipe:
Yield 1.25 gallons (adapted from recipe for 3.5 gallons)
5 lbs Ground turkey
1 yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1/2 pint garlic, sliced
1.5 T tomato paste
1/2 T oregano, dried
1/2 T cumin
1/2 T coriander
1/2 T chili powder
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 T onion powder
1/2 T garlic powder
(2) 28 oz cans whole tomato
8 oz. chicken stock
(4) 15.5 oz cans cidney beans
1/2 T Tabasco
1/2 T Worchestershire
In a large pot, sweat vegetables over medium heat until translucent. Add tomato paste and cook while stirring until sweet aroma develops. Add spice mixture and stir together. Crush canned tomato and add to pot along with chicken stock. Bring ingredients to a boil. Add ground turkey and stir to break up the turkey. Allow pot to simmer 25-30 minutes, skimming any excess fat on surface. Add cooked/canned kidney beans, tabasco, and Worchestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Craft met his now-wife, Marissa, right out of high school. They married four years ago and have two young children, a 2-year-old daughter, Eleanor, and a 6-month-old son, Callahan.
Marissa’s best friends moved from South Florida to Greenville, and that’s how the Crafts fell in love with the Upstate and started looking to make the move in fall 2020.
Craft is a fitness enthusiast. If he weren’t a chef, he would want to combine his fitness and need for routine into a career as a firefighter.
The Crafts have two Great Danes, Arlo and Roux. Roux, named after the foundational French cooking technique, is deaf.
Craft’s go-to for homecooking is turkey chili: “I like to clean out the fridge of everything that needs to be used.”
His guilty snacking pleasure: Layered Talenti gelato pints. His current favorite is mint chocolate chip.