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Peeling Back The Layers

Chef reveals career path to success

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Chef-owner Tim Henderson of Vidalia and Grapes brings tapas to the top of the dining experience and small portions with big taste to the table. When Vidalia and Grapes opened five years ago, Henderson made his mark in what is most likely considered to be the first tapas restaurants in town. Today, he considers his success all part of a growing process.

"The satisfaction of knowing I created this, and that after five years it's still alive and growing, is a tremendous hurdle to get over," he reveals.

Before opening the restaurant, Henderson stewed on the idea for four years.

"While I was in Hilton Head, I saw a restaurant called Simply Tapas, where everything was in appetizer form. As a chef, you just want to see and try everything, and I thought that was the greatest idea in the world."

Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, Henderson's interest in the culinary field began at the age of 15 while working in restaurants to make extra money. After high school graduation, he went on to attend the University of Kentucky, where he cooked in the faculty center of the university. There, Henderson was inspired by another chef to change his college path and move into the culinary field.

"He just kind of made me aware of what food can be," notes Henderson. "It was taking it from the chicken finger level up into the decorative, the sauces, the plates and the buffet displays."

Henderson didn't waste any time and enrolled at Johnson and Wales in Charleston, where he found that "if you do what you truly love, then you will undoubtedly excel and that is what it is all about.

"I planned to follow in my father's footsteps and be the administrator. Once I got bit by the bug, I realized I couldn't sit behind a desk and do that kind of work. I need to be interactive, moving and working with my hands. Not the physical aspect of a job, but the art aspect."

Initially, Henderson wanted to own his own catering company and gained experience while working for a catering company called Steven Dugal in Charleston.

"They really showed me the ins and outs and what it takes to do catering. After dragging things in and out of houses — six floors, no elevators — I decided that I should be involved with on-premise catering."

After Johnson and Wales, Henderson took a job in Hilton Head at the Colleton River Plantation, an upscale private club where he stayed for about a year as the Executive Sous Chef.

"It was beautiful property, but it was really slow in the beginning because they were private and it was boring. I spent a year there really just pounding my head against the wall, really just needing somebody to cook for."

Henderson spent a brief period back in Charleston and then Hilton Head after he received the Executive Chef position at the South Carolina Yacht Club. A little over three years later, he came to North Carolina to work for the Peninsula Club through a connection.

There, Henderson met his wife, who was the club's accountant. But after two years at the club, he was still searching to find his place in the culinary world. It was then that the timing was right for Henderson to finally open his tapas restaurant, modeled after the one he had seen four years prior.

Today, Henderson's decision to pursue what he loved is paying off. He balances his time between staying at home with his 19-month-old son and planning new endeavors.

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