Carolina Characters

Local celebrity chef’s dishes come from childhood memories

Andreann Geise, a celebrity chef living in Socastee, explains the importance of homegrown herbs and vegetables in her culinary creations.
Andreann Geise, a celebrity chef living in Socastee, explains the importance of homegrown herbs and vegetables in her culinary creations. jlee@thesunnews.com

There is something about Andreann Geise that seeps into your soul — that’s if you are fortunate enough to explore her culinary universe.

It is a vast world filled with spices, herbs and flavor to savor.

“Cooking is truly second nature to me,’’ Geise said. “I was an only child, and I spent much of my childhood in both the home kitchen and the restaurant kitchens of my parents and other family as well. I was a very inquisitive child, wanting to know the why and what of almost everything.”

Food always was at the forefront, and Geise was a pioneer never tiring of exploring its many trails. The award-winning chef, personal trainer, former veterinarian and past college instructor has a passion for anything you can plate: poultry, pork, lamb, beef, seafood, more ocean life, and vegetables and fruits of various sorts.

At her core, Geise, 46, is a home cook who never lets her foot off the gas for the sake of gastronome delights. She loves on you by feeding you. She loves on you by treating you to the best her kitchen and garden has to offer. Meet her, and you’ll likely want to plop your bottom on one of her kitchen seats.

Her dishes are culled from childhood memories, moments with her mom and late dad, and a lot of time spent in her own kitchen preparing food for family and friends.

Moussaka moves her. While growing up, her mom, a native of Kefalonia, Greece, would often make the pasta-free, lasagna with layers of baked potato slices, fried eggplant, a hint of cinnamon, from-scratch tomato sauce (cooked slowly and naturally sweet), and creamy béchamel sauce placed on top and baked until golden brown.

“Every time I make or eat this dish, I can picture my mother cooking it and me in the kitchen wanting to help with every step,” said Geise, whose mother, Maria, lives with her, along with her husband, Rick, and their five cats.

As a treat for being her able and enthusiastic sous chef, her mom would save her some béchamel sauce that she would top with a wee bit of sugar.

“I still make moussaka exactly as she taught me, although I must say I have my own versions that I make sometimes, especially in the summer when the garden is full of wonderful fresh ingredients,’’ she said. “I have been known to add some zucchini and to even grill my vegetables at times giving them a bit of a smoky open-flame flavor.”

Occasionally when vegetarian friends visit, she will prepare a roasted tomato sauce sans meat for a savory take on this mainstay dish.

It is standard for Geise to go to her front or backyard to retrieve the freshest and ripest treasures her gardens have to offer.

If you want she-crab soup, she will hook you up. If you want barbecue pork, get ready to lick your fingers, one by one, without shame or hesitation. Be it savory or sweet, your mouth and your teeth will greet Geise’s creations with unadulterated admiration.

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She can grow any herb and vegetable, and she understands how to incorporate what she knows and grows into whatever food she pleases. Plus, she is a master of layering flavor upon flavor in dishes of her wishes.

That sage plant she just transferred will take center stage real soon, as will the varied plethora of eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and other edible vegetation growing up in her field of greens.

Eyes are impressed by the herb harem strategically growing in designated spaces in her front yard.

“I love to experiment with many new ingredients and flavors,” she said. “However, there are things I just always have to have in my pantry. Garlic has to be one of my favorites — it is bold, gives a lot of character to a dish and depending on its application, it can be sweet or spicy, subtle, or clear and conspicuous. It can be used raw, sautéed, roasted, pickled or even candied. It can be used whole, sliced, minced, grated or even in a paste. Yes, I love garlic.”

Green herbs also have her affection because their freshness and brightness give her food waves of intensity palates appreciate.

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This lady knows good food has transformative powers super heroes couldn’t touch.

Geise will tell you that on its most basic level foods create the building blocks our bodies need to “survive, grow and heal.” The emotional aspect is real, too. The mere recollections associated with preparing and cooking certain dishes can place peace and pleasure in any person. Of course, there is the undeniable social aspect of food that like music unifies humans effortlessly in a universal language we all speak fluently.

“Sharing a meal shows friendship, acceptance, respect, caring, and love,” said Geise, who composts any scraps left over after cooking. “And I feel that making sure we use all of an ingredient with little-to-no waste shows respect to that ingredient and to our planet. … Energy is neither created nor destroyed so the food we eat becomes a part of us in some way, shape, or form.”

Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.

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