Chef John Malik

a writer trapped in a cook's body

February 21, 2017
by ChefJohn

Sourdough School

Last summer we bought the farm.

Tin Roof Farm in Piedmont, SC

I’m not kidding. And after we moved in, we set about utilizing the many opportunities that come from having acreage. Now here we are nine months later and we now have a dozen chickens, we’re looking for honey bees, and we’d like to get something a little larger next year, such as a couple of alpacas.

Spectacular sunrises are common out here.

Yet I’ve been very happy to wrangle some of our farm’s tiniest inhabitants, its wild yeast.

In case you didn’t know, yeast is a single-cell plant and it is literally everywhere. Although it can be found on your grocery store’s shelf, it can also be found on the leaves of your plants, the dirt in your yard, in your armpits, or under your toenails. However, once yeast gets into a warm, moist environment and has access to food (carbohydrates), that’s when the fun starts. As yeast dissolves carbohydrates, such as sugar, flour, grains, etc., it produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. And that gas, CO2, is responsible for so many wonderful things and yet we often take it for granted. Just for starters (baker’s joke), yeast and/or bacterial fermentation is responsible for beer, wine, Kimchee, coffee, chocolate, pickles, champagne, sauerkraut, yogurt, vinegar, and bread.

And that’s why I despise those hand sanitizers that confront us at every grocery store, bank, or doctor’s office. Our bodies are covered in bacteria and most of that is good bacteria. We need the good stuff to keep the bad stuff in check. And those sanitizers kill everything they touch which leaves the door open for the bad bacteria to reproduce and consequently leave us vulnerable to infection.

So back to yeast and our farm. We have a peach tree. And back in the fall I removed several dozen leaves and placed them in a bowl of flour. They stayed like that for 48 hours and every time I went into the kitchen, I shook that bowl. That process dislodged the wild yeast from the leaves and deposited them into the flour. Then I removed the leaves, covered the flour with water, stirred in some of my neighbor’s honey, left the bowl on the counter, and waited.

Peach leaves and flour

In about five days I had a bubbling, oozy stew. Sourdough starter. And for hundreds of years this is how bread was made. For many generations, from American cowboys to ancient Egyptian bakers, sourdough starters were created in this manner then carefully protected and carried across continents or across town. That commercial yeast in the little yellow packet has only been around for about 75 years.

Bubbling starter

Now that you’ve created a sourdough starter, you’ve got to care for it. First, keep it in a large jar, much larger than you need. Because one day it’s going to go mad and produce enough CO2 to spew a sticky morass all over your refrigerator. And if it’s in a small glass jar, it just might blow up that jar exercising its desire to travel. Second, it needs to be fed often. Much like a teenager, your starter will become sullen and mopey if it isn’t fed. So a couple of times a week it’ll need a few tablespoons of flour and water. If you’re going to make bread, it’s ideal to feed your starter the day before so it’s quite active. And if you make bread on a regular basis, you’ll need to feed this starter more often.

I keep a very large Mason jar of starter. When I feed it, I add flour and water then shake vigorously after I’ve screwed the lid on.

There is no perfect recipe for a starter because there’s so many varieties of yeast. The yeast in my pasture can be quite different from the yeast in your backyard, your water might be different, the ambient temperature in summer will cause your starter to be more active than in the winter, etc.

Now let’s make some bread.

I’ve got friends that bake professionally, on a large and small scale. Lionel Vatinet, Kurtis Baguley, Ryan Martin, Jenni Field. When they bake they do so with a commitment to proportions and scales. And I don’t do that. I’m not saying I’m a better baker, but I’m only baking for two, and I don’t charge my wife for the bread. Occasionally I give my bread away but if I were in a large kitchen, baking bread daily, I’d be carefully measuring every scoop of flour. I promise.

My good friend Kurt Baguley. He’s a pastry chef at Disney World and he owns Pane D’or bakery in Orlando.

Kurtis is the one that helped me refine my bread technique. To achieve a great loaf of bread, the dough must be stretched, then baked covered and when I started out on this sourdough journey, that’s where I was remiss. So let’s start with a basic recipe that works for me, and it might work for you. Because bread is like that sometimes.

Pour about a cup of starter into the bowl of your stand mixer. I use a Kitchen Aid because Kitchen Aid gave me this one and it’s probably ten years old and still works like a charm.

Now add in about a cup and a half of warm water, body temperature warm. If your water is too hot, you’ll kill your starter. If your water is too cold, that’s not a big deal because you won’t kill the yeast but you will increase the proofing time. Yeast like a warm, moist environment so they’ll need to warm up before they start eating the sugar and flour.

For reasons unknown to modern man, sometimes a sourdough starter gets super happy and does this.

Then a cup of whole wheat flour, and three cups of bread flour. Plus a tablespoon of salt and two tablespoons of honey. Or sugar, or brown sugar, or molasses. Or leave the sweetener out altogether. But keep the salt. The bread flour is important because it has a higher amount of protein, about 15%, than all-purpose, which is about 11%. And that extra amount of protein (which is gluten) is going to give you that crispy crust you’re looking for.

Using the dough hook and the lowest speed, mix until you have a cohesive ball of dough.

Sometimes my starter is thick, sometimes it’s a bit runny. So long as it’s bubbly, it’s all good.

Is your dough looking soupy? Add in a bit more flour. Is your dough stiff and dry? Add in a bit more water.

Now remove the dough from the mixer, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter. For how long?

I don’t know. Maybe overnight, maybe 24 hours. You got somewhere to go? After the dough has doubled in size, put it in the fridge. Remember we’re dealing with a live substance here. If you place your dough in a cold environment, you won’t kill the yeast, only slow it down. If you give the yeast a warm, moist environment, such as the kitchen counter in July, you’ll make it happy but like any wild party, it’ll quickly burn out. If it’s late February and 38 degrees outside, leave it outside for 24 hours. A long, slow fermentation will work wonders for the complexity of your bread. Just ask any brewer or winemaker. And as a bonus, that fermentation will convert the starches into sugars and alcohol which will create that characteristic sour notes and deep flavors.

The point is to understand fermentation. And fermentation is not an exact science. Personally I prefer to ferment my bread dough for a minimum of 48 hours in the refrigerator then for another six to eight hours at room temperature.

In order to achieve an enticing crumb and crust, the dough needs to be kneaded then stretched about an hour before baking. That overlaying of the dough creates that wonderful interior. This loaf was made prior to my knowledge of the purpose and benefits of stretching. It was also shaped into a boule then baked on a sheet pan.

My first loaf was delicious but a bit too predictable and the crust not nearly crusty enough.

Now in order to create a crispy, crackly skin, you’ll need to bake your bread covered. After experimenting with different vessels, I found the container of my crockpot works the best, and as a bonus, one of my All Clad lids fits perfectly. I spray the inside with Pam first, add the dough, let it proof for a couple of hours then into the oven.

This set up works great for me.

I bake the bread at 425 degrees for 35 minutes, remove the cover, then continue baking to 195 degrees. I use a Taylor thermometer inserted into the middle of the loaf.

Turn it out onto a baker’s rack and let it cool before slicing it.

Oh who am I kidding? I slice right into that sucker then slather it with butter and honey.

After months of experimenting with the starter, I used some to make a sourdough pizza, and jeez that was amazing.

And a duck egg and cheese sandwich from a loaf of rye.

Now if you’re looking for a recipe with more precision, just click here, but watch the video below first. That’s a loaf of roasted sweet potato, cinnamon, oatmeal, pecan, and honey sourdough. Once you get the hang of a basic bread recipe, you can think of that recipe as a starting point for all sorts of wonderful additions, such as pecans, and chocolate, and raisins, and basil pesto, and…

October 20, 2016
by ChefJohn

Godspeed, Mark

The sky in front of us was crowded with angry, dark clouds. The kind that only a summer storm can produce. Clouds so low, the green tops of the surrounding pine forest threatened to skewer them as they waddled towards us. In another half mile, we would be in the thick of this storm and the only thing separating us from the asphalt was a half inch of rubber.

Deep breath. Now add up the positives.


A passing photographer caught Mark Kelly leading the group through the storm. He’s in white at the front, I’m to his right behind, third one back.

There was no lightning, the rain would cool us off, most of us had lights and it was a Sunday morning in July, near Givhans Ferry, SC, so traffic was practically non-existent.

I slipped to the outside and asked everyone to give themselves just a bit more room then tucked back in and waited. Then I reminded myself that a year ago I could barely walk, and I had much to be grateful for.

The darkness grew closer and the rain was so thick it resembled a grey curtain hanging in front of us. Well…we only had about 40 miles to go before we reached Charleston, the rain wouldn’t last forever, and Mark Kelly was on my right shoulder. If I had to pedal through this Carolina downpour, Mark’s the guy I want next to me.

Since my return to cycling in 2014, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road with Mark and I’ve enjoyed every one of those miles. Cycling is an amazing way to spend a pretty day and we happen to live in a very beautiful part of the country with a vibrant cycling community.

Cycling is also about suffering. There’s hills and mountains to climb, faster riders to try and stay with, and goals to achieve. My racing days are well behind me but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to push myself. And in 2014 when I asked Mark Kelly to join myself and Bill Englert in the Ride to Remember, I was hoping he would push me.


Bill Englert, Mark, Father Bob Chiles, and myself

In the three or four months we had to get ready, we got to know each other on a deeper level and our friendship grew as strong as our legs. While riding, Mark is the guy that forced me to go just a bit faster, climb a bit harder, push myself a bit longer. And when we lined up for that first Ride to Remember, even though I didn’t feel ready to ride across the state, Mark convinced me that I was.


Brian Hale, Mark, Bill, me, Emily Banks, and Kate Plumer at the start of the 2014 Ride to Remember. We called ourselves the Coast Busters and at this point we had each raised an average of $1800.00 for the SC Alzheimer’s Association.

Three days and 250 miles later, we crossed the Ravenel Bridge into Mount Pleasant and stopped at the top for a photo. A lady that was jogging past asked us if she could help and when Mark handed her the phone, she asked us where we had ridden from.

“Greenville” he replied.

She raised one eyebrow with a look of disbelief. “Oh isn’t that nice.” She handed the phone back and quickly jogged off, convinced she was in the company of two delirious drifters.


Mile 251 of the 2014 SC Ride to Remember. With Mark Kelly at the top of the Ravenel Bridge.

In the last three years we’ve shared a lot of miles and sweat. We’ve marveled at God’s hand in creating the Upstate of South Carolina, and treated each other to espressos and the occasional doughnut or cinnamon roll. And wouldn’t you know, he’s usually been faster than me.

On one ride up North Carolina’s daunting Skyuka Mountain road, Mark gained a thirty second advantage on me. Which was fine. About half way up this five-mile climb, a gentleman in a pickup truck passed me as he was headed down. He stuck his arm out the window and pointed up the road and encouraged me with “That fella’s just around the next corner.”

I smiled and thanked him. “Yup. And that’s where he’s gonna stay.”

At the top of Skyuka, we spent a few minutes enjoying the San Francisco style fog. His enthusiasm for the ride, even though our view was obscured, was unabated.


Mark Kelly at the top of Skyuka Mountain looking down at the Green River valley.

Looking back, I wish now I would’ve been able to stay with him. That would’ve given me a few more minutes in his company and perhaps another memory to share and cherish.

Last week Mark told me he’s moving to Washington, DC. He’s a professional whose knowledge is highly sought after in the higher education field and he’s been presented with a significant opportunity to share that knowledge with a broader audience. I’m happy for him and his wife and if I were in his shoes, I would’ve made the same decision. That doesn’t make parting any easier.

After the shock of the news wore off, we made small talk about how much we both love DC and that it’s only a short plane ride away. And how much he and his wife love Greenville and naturally they’ll return as often as possible to visit friends. In that moment I saw us on the road, three years prior, shoulder to shoulder, facing a torrential downpour and he’s there to provide a few calm words of reassurance.

Life is dynamic. We learn, we grow, we live and love and in so doing we’re often presented with opportunities. And in those moments we either press on, or we pull over. Perhaps to seek shelter, perhaps to wait out the metaphorical storm. Mark is the guy that presses on. Because on the other side of that storm we were greeted with sunshine and a gorgeous Carolina sky. And now Mark has an opportunity to press through a storm of change and he’s moving forward.

Damn. I’m really going to miss him. My rides won’t be the same because every time I look over my shoulder, I’ll look for his confident shadow and his calm presence.

Godspeed and keep the rubber side down, my friend.


Good luck, my friend.




August 15, 2016
by ChefJohn

Helicopters in The Sand

The big, twin rotor helicopter thundered down our beach. My son, all of three, with his mop of curly brown, salt-crusted hair, was mesmerized. As it passed in front of us, the gentleman in the doorway in his olive drab uniform and glistening white helmet, waved a giant’s wave.



“Oooh Daddy!” was all my son could say.  His eyes glowed as we watched this enormous machine, rotors beating the air, turbines whining, march steadily north. When it slipped out of sight, I grabbed a stick and drew a helicopter in the sand, big enough for the two of us. I gave him the stick and the pilot’s seat and we lifted off from our little piece of beach and flew out over the ocean. We dipped and dove and chased seagulls, dolphins and the setting sun. For a few minutes we enjoyed a perfect fantasy, a father and son moment of fleeting magic as pure as the sparkle of those tiny fish that glide through the breaking surf.

We came in for a landing when we were told it was time for lunch. When we returned to our helicopter, the tide had washed it away. No matter, I assured him, I would carve a new one. But our imaginations had moved on to something else and we never flew another helicopter.

Fifteen years later, I’m on that same stretch of coast line. And all I see is beach, and sand, and salt water. A helicopter approached from the south and buzzed past.

Then I carved a helicopter in the sand and for a brief moment he was three again, and we climbed into that sandy patch of magic and took off. We buzzed the tree tops and seagulls, boats and dolphins, pirates and whales until she asked: “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

I sat down in my helicopter and waited for the water to wash away my sins. And I saw moments in time; of tempers flaring and patience lost, of rash decisions and time stolen, and I asked for forgiveness, from him, and God. And I asked for one more flight with that little sandy haired boy in that magical helicopter.

One more flight.

And my answer was a salty wave that washed across my toes, streaked across my face, and carried my helicopter out to sea.




August 11, 2016
by ChefJohn

Where Have All The Good Cooks Gone?

From the minute I walked into my first professional kitchen, I knew I was meant to be there. I loved everything about it. The pace, the intensity, all the insane foods that I’d only read about and the impossibly high standards set by a larger than life Parisian-born Chef. You did not question his methods, authority, or technique but you observed, you learned, then emulated. Every day in the kitchen of Christian’s was an immersive experience and every day I learned something new, every day I got better, faster, cleaner, more efficient and more respectful of my Chef, the ingredients and the experience that diners were paying for. And what I found was joyful. Unlike many other occupations, people arrive excited to see you. Who loves going to see their attorney, dentist, or their mechanic? You may love the level of service you get or the job your mechanic performs, but dropping off your car for a day or more isn’t exactly the highlight of your day. I think the world of my attorney and doctor friends and value their abilities immensely but the thought of a professional visit to their office isn’t on my list of weekly highlights.

Aah, but being a professional cook in a sophisticated downtown bistro or an up and coming brasserie on the East side; that’s a different story. Dinner at a new or established restaurant? This is an experience we look forward to, plan our week around, post on Instagram about. And to be able to provide that sort of expectation and experience is a feeling of value and worth that’s tough to put a number on. So how come no one wants to cook anymore?

Paul, Daniel, John

The Lazy Goat, Fried Green Tomatoes, Firebirds, Diggers BBQ, Adam’s Bistro, Eggs Up Grill, Bacon Brothers, and the list goes on and on. All of these restaurants are looking for cooks. And now as summer rolls to a close and a lot of short term help heads back to school, the skilled labor situation will just get tighter. Is the labor market for the culinary arts so precipitous that Greenville could see another high-profile restaurant such as Breakwater, close its doors, too?  Many in the hospitality field are quick to blame the current labor shortage on Greenville’s recent growth spurt but I’m not sure this is the case.  In my younger days, when I was running kitchens and cooking, it was no different. New Orleans, Charleston or here in Greenville, there was always a shortage of good cooks, and restaurants were always on the lookout for a solid pair of hands. Why?

Well there’s several reasons but I think the most obvious is that the skills required haven’t evolved much at all. Sure there was a brief flirtation with high-tech machines and molecular gastronomy but for the most part, a professional kitchen still relies on flames, pots, pans, knives, and steel. Those basic pieces of equipment aren’t going away any time soon, either. So while other industries may have evolved and moved forward, professional cooking’s evolution has taken place not in the kitchen but rather in procurement. We all want to know about the local tomatoes, chicken, mushrooms, etc

Also, in the past ten years or so, Greenville has attracted a new crop of high tech manufacturing, marketing, and IT firms that source their own labor force. Positions with these types of firms pay quite well and that can up the cost of living in an urban area like Greenville’s. Naturally there’s going to be entrepreneurs that want to take advantage of a growing customer base but the average chef/cook in the Southeast US makes about $36,000 annual. If you’re a cloud-based IT firm that’s just wrapped its hands around a 50 million-dollar investment, you’ll have no trouble attracting, and paying, top talent. If you’re the local Southern bistro that’d like to feed those folks, well you can’t afford to attract top talent if you’re only offering 13.50 an hour. The real advantage of cooking at a creative or innovative restaurant is not monetary, but rather because the owner or chef provides an avenue to entrepreneurship or promotion.

And that’s the secret that Anthony Gray, Executive Chef and owner at Bacon Brothers, tries to remember and reinforce daily. “If I get a good one, I’ll try to do anything to groom that person to grow with the restaurant. The ones that stay have an appreciation for quality ingredients and hard work, it’s (Bacon Brothers) not an easy kitchen to work in.”

Good cooks aren’t going to move here from Austin, San Francisco, or New York to make 13 or 14 dollars an hour. Those good cooks are going to come from your local labor pool. And even though an ad for a cook may get a dozen applicants, maybe more, the challenge is finding the right set of qualities.

Jeff Kelly, Executive Chef at the Peace Center believes his “biggest challenge is finding people that can produce consistent results. And there’s drive, integrity, passion and they need to have the willingness to put their heads down and learn.”

The Peace Center

Photo courtesy the Peace Center

It’s a natural tendency to label one’s own generation as better than a succeeding generation but Jeff Kelly believes this latest generation has little respect for the traditions of the kitchen. “It’s not like it was when I was coming up. So many of these young cooks think they deserve a (salary) position without paying their dues.” And paying dues means learning how to make a proper Hollandaise, an aromatic veal stock, handmade pasta, or a smooth and creamy veloute’ before you plop grilled local asparagus on a plate with a sprinkle of salt and proclaim it as innovative.

On the other side of town, Chef Brian Province works in Greenville’s health care field and he believes the key to retention is no different. He’ll receive dozens of applications for a single cook’s position, maybe phone interview a quarter of those, then set up one on one interviews only to have a handful even show up. “That’s the worst problem.”  His key to retaining cooks? “Your people have to feel needed and have an ownership mentality.

Cooking is a tough, physically demanding job and if one is going to succeed in the culinary arts, one must be willing to give up a lot. Weekends, holidays, birthdays, and healthy knees are all casualties of this business.  Yet its rewards are multi-dimensional. And while other industries may succumb to out-sourcing, robotics, and high tech downsizing, a professional cook will never lack for work and with a lot of hard work and diligence, will have the opportunity to make their own way in this industry.


Chef Anthony Gray of Bacon Brothers

The restaurant business has always been, and always will be challenging. Slim profit margins can get even slimmer when rent, or the cost of that local asparagus goes up. Your favorite chef-driven bistro probably has a profit margin of about five percent so the question of “why not pay better” isn’t an easy option. The restaurants that survive, and thrive will be the ones that do everything just slightly better, including attracting, retaining, and motivating their staff.

And if you enjoy my writing, perhaps you’ll enjoy my novel, Doughnuts for Amy. Published by Winter Goose Publishing early this year.


























July 28, 2016
by ChefJohn
1 Comment

Help Wanted

Many years ago I was the Executive Sous Chef at the glorious Mills House Hotel in Charleston. When I took this position, I really thought I would soon be their Executive Chef. During the interview process the Executive Chef repeatedly told me he would soon be headed to a hotel in the Caribbean. His position in the Caribbean never materialized, and I left the Mills House after 18 months. He was still there ten years later.

I loved being a part of this hotel. Its location, architecture, the team I worked with, the steady influx of interesting visitors, and its numerous quirks (the ghost on the fourth floor that liked nothing better than scaring a housekeeper) of this 140 year old grande dame all made for a memorable 18 months. My main responsibility was the gorgeous Barbadoes dining room and upon accepting the position I was told to “make the customers happy.”

Mills House

So when I saw an ad for Executive Chef of the Mills House, my heart skipped a beat. Wow…should I apply?

And then I read the ad in its entirety. After a very short job description, the ad rolled through the “fundamental requirements” of the position, most of which I’ll share with you. The BOLD is all mine.

Work with other F&B managers and keep them informed of F&B issues as they arise.

Keep immediate supervisor fully informed of all problems or matters requiring his/her attention.

Coordinate and monitor all phases of Loss Prevention in kitchen areas.

Prepare and submit required reports in a timely manner.

Monitor quality of all food product and presentation.

Ensure preparation of required reports, including (but not limited to) Wage Progress, payroll, revenue, employee schedules, quarterly actions plans.

Oversee all aspects of the daily operation of the kitchen and food production areas.

Respond to guest complaints in a timely manner.

So reading between the lines, one would think the Mills House is a hornet’s nest of problems. Notice all the negative words and connotations? The first requirement is to handle “issues” which we all know is code for “problems.”  The second requirement is to tell your supervisor about your problems. The third requirement is to keep an eye on your staff because they’re going to steal, or allow food to spoil. The fourth requirement is to fill out reams of paperwork detailing the theft and problems in your kitchen, the fifth requirement is to “monitor” quality and food presentation. So if the food looks terrible but I monitored the process to make it look terrible, I’ve fulfilled my requirement, correct?

And notice the seventh requirement is to respond to guest complaints in a timely manner? Monitor, problems, comply, reports…shall I keep going?

What Debbie Downer wrote this job description? And who’s going to respond to this in a positive manner?

Come on, people! This is one of the best known hotels in the South, in one of our country’s most heralded food cities. So why wouldn’t you look for someone that can “excite your guests” or “lead a staff of dedicated professionals” or “spot and encourage excellence in your team” and “define and interpret the lowcountry cuisine of the Mills House”?

Think about this the next time you’re looking for help in your company. What corporate picture will your job description paint? Will your candidates see a Pollack-like abstract of chaos with problems, distrust, and paperwork or will they see an opportunity to join a cohesive, goal-oriented team and the chance to make a difference?

I’ll be staying in Greenville for the foreseeable future. And while I’m here, if you’re looking to inject a little spice into your company, especially if you write job descriptions for Wyndham Hotels, perhaps I may be of assistance?

July 14, 2016
by ChefJohn


My alarm will go off at 5:00 am but I’ll probably wake up at 4:00. My team is coming over for breakfast at 6:00 am and we’ll spend an hour trying to shake off our nervous energy. I’ll bake an egg, potato, bacon and cheddar cheese casserole and make some sweet potato waffles. My wife will bake a batch of blueberry muffins and we’ll eat until as much as we can stand. One cup of coffee for me and a small one at that. Lots of water, juice, and some electrolyte tablets.

We’ll all make one last bathroom visit, fill our water bottles and load up. When everyone’s here, we’ll probably go over our bike’s chain, air pressure, brakes, etc. one last time.

It’s a 25 minute ride to Heritage Park, the start of the #SCRTR, and we’ll want to be there at least an hour before the start. And while we’re there we’ll make another bathroom stop, and even though we just did it, we’ll check our tire’s air pressure, and our brakes, and our gear.


L to R: From 2015. Brian Hale, Mark Kelly, Julian Loue, Emily Banks, Steven Banks, me, Tudor Malik, Scott Roark, Brian Kenna. Scott and Mark are riding with different teams this year, Daniel isn’t in this photo.

There’s four riders on this year’s Coast Busters team, and five volunteers. Myself, Brian Hale (electronic engineer for Gulfstream Aviation in Savannah), Julian Loue (insurance adjuster for Allstate Insurance), Daniel Soloway (process engineer for GE Turbines) and myself. Brian Kenna (pharmaceutical rep), Emily (Physical therapist for AnMed) and Steven Banks (self-employed plumber), Bethany Loue (aesthetician), and my wife Amy (Events coordinator at Christ Church) will volunteer. And that means sitting under a thin shelter, in July, on the side of a secondary road for hours on end. The #SCRTR provides water stops every 15 miles and those stops typically have two or three folks.

We’ll have a boatload of TV coverage this year with live remotes by all of our local stations, plus we’ll have one of the stations providing aerial coverage.


We’ll sign in, say hi to a lot of other riders, stock up on food and probably drink more water. at the start line we’ll line up according to average speeds, and we’ll all start at the front. We’ll have a few last-minute instructions from Ashton or Aundi (SC ALzheimer’s reps), we’ll be led in prayer by Reverend Bob Chiles of Christ Church and then we’ll be waved off.

310 Riders this year. That’s a lot of spinning metal. In my experience, you’re prone to being involved in a crash in the very beginning (lots of nervous, excited folks in tight quarters) or towards the end of a long ride when you’re exhausted, dehydrated, and low on common sense and decision making ability. So at the start we’ll all stick close to one another and hopefully avoid a slow-speed entanglement with a too-nervous rider. It happens.

After the first couple of miles, things start to shake out and we’ll pace line with a group of probably 40 other folks. If I get dropped, so be it. I’ll pick up with the next group of riders that comes behind me. And I’ll settle in and enjoy the ride. The route to Newberry is quite pretty and has very little climbing and it’s the shortest day at 67 miles. I’ll probably roll into Newberry at noon.

The trick to a multi-day event like this is to constantly eat. So while I’m riding I’m eating for tomorrow. Day two is the tough day at 89 miles. We’ll spend more time in the sun because we’ll spend more time in agricultural areas so that means less tree-lined roads. The last 30 miles into Orangeburg can be brutal. It’ll be scorching hot, humid, and we actually climb into Orangeburg so we’ve got some hills in front of us. And I need to finish day two with enough in my tank to pull off a 100 mile ride on day three. So my jaw will be sore from chewing and eating and drinking.

And if I even think for just one second about how miserable I am, I’ll turn to the rider next to me, smile and say “Hey I’m John. Tell me your story.” Because that’s what my Mom would expect of me.

RTR 15

I’ve raised my money, and I was an integral part of our sponsorship committee that brought in $75,000. I’ve encouraged others, offered enough advice to newbies, and helped organize a team. What’s left?

I’ll ask for your prayers for safety and encouragement. But I’m prepared to fail. I might crash, I might collapse. It’s entirely possible. If I do, I’ll do so giving my all for a worthy endeavor.

Thank you for your donations, your encouragement, and your prayers. I hope to return them all, with interest, this Sunday afternoon.  And if you’d like to make a donation in my name to the SC Alzheimer’s Association, just click here.

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” ~ John Green

July 13, 2016
by ChefJohn

Umm…May I borrow your bathroom?

Hydration. That’s the buzz word amongst cyclists.

“Are you staying hydrated in this heat?”

Geez, am I ever. I’m putting away the water like an Egyptian camel at the beginning of tourist season. And not just on rides but constantly. We all know that our bodies are made up of 93% water (who else has never believed that?) but no matter the actual figure, water plays a critical part in many of our body’s functions. It keeps your muscles working properly, your brain functioning properly, lungs, kidneys, etc. So it’s critical to keep the right amount of water and the best way to do that is keep drinking. Last week I quit alcohol and I’m only having one cup of coffee. And I’m dieting. Sort of. Lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, lean meats, easy on the salt and fried foods. And lots of ice cream. 😆

Since making my #SCRTR commitment less than 30 days ago, I’ve ridden almost 500 miles and lost 8 & 1/2 pounds. And I’ve probably stopped at every rest room between Simpsonville and Asheville.

The bathrooms at QT and Chick Fil A are always clean. For some reason the smaller, family run convenience stores still haven’t caught on to the idea of a clean bathroom.


The Ride to Remember is the largest fundraiser for the SC Alzheimer’s Association. It’s a 252 mile bike ride across South Carolina and we depart on Friday, July 15th. Like to come along? Click here and make a donation and I’ll even memorialize your loved one on my bib.


July 9, 2016
by ChefJohn

39 in a 35

Yes, that’s 39 miles per hour. That was my maximum speed attained on this past Thursday’s ride.


I’ve gone faster. I’ve actually hit 55 mph (that’s a story for another day.)

And yes, I know it’s dangerous to go that fast on a bike with only a thin layer of lycra as protection. I also know that there’s almost 40, 000 people killed in traffic accidents, almost 80,000 from diabetes, almost 600,000 from cancer, over 600,000 from heart disease and almost 100,000 a year from Alzheimer’s.

I know, you’re still shaking your head and calling me crazy. Fair enough. It’s a crazy I’ve chosen.

To many of us, adrenaline is like coffee, we need it to complete our day. Personally  don’t ride like that on a daily basis. I might only hit that kind of top speed a couple of times a month and I don’t do it when I’m riding with strangers or the weather, my bike, and road conditions aren’t perfect, or close to it.

So what’s this got to do with the whole Alzheimer’s thing?

Cycling to me is more than a hobby. It’s a way to connect with this earth, my inner self, my friends, and my Savior. When I put in the miles, I see everything. The green of the tree line set against the blue of the sky, the song of dozens of birds, the undulations in the road, the mechanical chatter of a friend’s bike, the steady hum of  my tires. When one is on a bike, you’re exposed to the elements and if you can get your mind past the danger, the rest is gravy. It’s great aerobic exercise, easy on the knees, it’ll take you places you can’t get by running, you can get out in the countryside, the camaraderie…cycling is so much more than exercise.

And one weekend a year I get to participate in a fundraiser for a dreadful disease while cycling across the state.  And when I reach the top of a long climb and the rod starts to lose height and my speed builds, that’s when I’ll count my blessings, absorb myself in the moment, and thank the Good Lord for giving me the opportunity to rush across the face of the earth at 40 mph.

The Ride to Remember to support the SC Alzheimer’s Association departs in five days and I’ll be ready. Care to ride along with me? Just make a donation in my name by clicking here.

July 8, 2016
by ChefJohn

Going Up?

I got out of the house early today because I knew the afternoon temps would be unbearable. And by 9:00 am I was in Traveler’s Rest and headed for Paris Mountain.

The #SCRTR  will be a contest in endurance, man and woman against machine, with the machine being the bike. You’ve got to be able to climb on your bike and control it over a variety of terrain, roads, and weather. I’d love for this event to take place in mid May when the weather is nice and cool, but how many riders would we get and how much money would we raise? The reason we ride in summer is because, it’s summer. The kids are out of school, schedules are more flexible, free time is easier to come by and people are more likely to travel. The #SCRTR is really a five day event because you’ve got a three day bike ride bordered by travel and recovery days on either bookend. No one will feel ready to take on the world the Monday after this event. And that’s why we need to do this in summer. And it’s going to be hot, just like last summer. Damnit.


Alzheimer’s is brutally destructive, and that’s why I did three laps of Paris Mountain today. Because #ALZsucks.

I don’t want to be out in the heat all blessed day so that’s where proper training comes in. And that’s why I rode over Paris Mountain three times today. As I said in an earlier blog, sometimes it’s all about the grunt. And I need to be able to know that I can push myself and my body will respond.

On a long distance event such as this, a cyclist’s biggest fear is cramping. The medical jury is out on exactly what causes cramps but there’s preventive measures one can take and number one is training. You’ve got to go out and push yourself, find your physical limit then a couple days later, go out and exceed your limits. Do this for three or four months and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Day one starts at 8:30 am and it’s the shortest day at 67 miles. Days two and three start at 7:00 am so my goal on those days is to start at the front, stop as little as possible, and get the work done by 12:30 or so before the day really heats up. Otherwise I’ll bake in the sun and all that sweating and exertion will put me at risk of cramping.

So even though I only rode 35 miles, I got in almost 3,300 feet of climbing. And more importantly, I felt solid and strong, especially on my last trip over the mountain. I won’t do that much climbing in the entire RTR so with six days before we depart, I think I’ll be okay. I’ll have a recovery day tomorrow, a hard ride on Sunday, an easy day on Monday then I’ll hammer with my guys on Tuesday evening. Wednesday and Thursday will be very light days but I’ll eat and hydrate like nobody’s business.

Would you like to tag along with me across South Carolina? Then just make a donation to my efforts by clicking here.

July 5, 2016
by ChefJohn

See Food

The old joke of a cyclist during racing season was the “I’m on that See Food diet. When I see food, I eat it.”

And that’s how I feel right now. Last week I put in almost 250 miles and this week I hope to match that. And of course my metabolism is through the roof.  I’m always hungry and it seems like I’m always eating. My car is full of crumbs, the sink is full of dirty  dishes and my cycling jerseys are full of wrappers.


A cyclist’s snack.

That’s the thing about cycling. It’s a compelling combination of mechanical and aerobic energy. Unlike running, or crossfit, or kayaking, or surfing, or stick and ball sports, cycling has a mechanical component. So the cyclist must produce enough energy to propel his machine forward and in turn, the machine carries the rider. Consequently, the aerobic component can be significant. On last year’s #SCRTR, I estimated almost a 20,000 calorie burn.  So not only were my legs constantly spinning, my jaw was constantly moving, too. It has to be done, though. On a multi-day event such as the #SCRTR, you have to eat today before to provide the fuel for tomorrow. And if you don’t keep up with your calorie intake, you probably won’t recover in time for the next day’s ride. So that means leading up to the ride, you have to get your body to the place that it can hold that much energy; diet, water intake, and aerobic activity leading up to day one is critical.

Your muscles burn glycogen, not ice cream. That’s the fuel that your body makes out of food. Like a car at a gas station, the digestive machine of your body loads up your muscles with glycogen and the heavier you’re exercising, the more efficient your body is at converting and storing glycogen. If your body doesn’t need the glycogen, the extra calories become fat. Right now, I’m converting a lot of chicken, potatoes, broccoli, Chick Fil A, oats, and pizza into glycogen.  And at the start of the #SCRTR, I want my gas tank crammed with as much fuel (glycogen) as possible.  And when I’m loaded up with glycogen, I can sense it. Like a properly tuned car waiting for a light to turn green, my body positively buzzes with anticipation. And having the proper amount of fuel will keep me going, prevent cramping, keep me motivated, etc…

As of today I’m off alcohol, down to one cup of coffee a day (alcohol and caffeine are diuretics) and drinking a lot of water. I’ll have a few craft beers once we arrive in Charleston.

Busters 6

“Road Work”

Would you like to join me on my journey across South Carolina on the Ride to Remember? Then please click here and make a donation and your money will motivate me to ride all the way to Charleston.