After 12 years in the kitchen at Magnolias, Kelly Franz is finally taking the helm as executive chef. “The future of Magnolias is in my hands,” she says. “I think this is ridiculously positive for the restaurant.”
Franz began working at Magnolias during her second year of culinary school. She started in the pantry “just like everyone else,” she says. “Magnolias has a way of training, where you learn each station and move up.” And Franz moved up quickly. In the summer of 2005 she was named sous chef. “It changed my life,” she says. “I was working nights and learning the business aspects of the restaurant.”
After three years as sous Franz took over the role of chef de cuisine where she became more involved with the menu planning and the creation of specials. “I make the specials every day. I try to keep things fresh and seasonal, while staying true to the original menu’s staples,” she says.
Franz has been working closely with former Executive Chef Don Drake for years now, and she’s excited about both of their new roles (Drake will now take over as culinary arts director for the Hospitality Management Group, parent company of Magnolias, Blossom Cafe, and Cypress). “This [transition] gives Don more time to do what he needs to do,” says Franz. And with two chefs de cuisine as well as two kitchen managers, Franz is freed to do what she needs to do, too — namely, keep things fresh and creative.
“I definitely can have a fresh perspective,” says Franz when asked if 12 years at the same restaurant has hindered her creative streak. “We have a constant rotating student staff. One of my kitchen managers is 21, and I’m always picking his brain.” With three lunch and four dinner specials every day, Franz says that she’s always looking to create recipes out of anything that pops into her mind.
“My favorite part is creating and testing recipes,” says Franz. “I currently have all kinds of jars, things are pickling, there are specialty oil.” She notes that she’s always happy to give her fellow chefs something “fun” to work with.
Franz isn’t the only one feeling celebratory — Magnolias celebrates 25 years in the biz this year, an impressive feat for any restaurant in Charleston’s competitive culinary industry. Following The Post and Courier’s harsh review earlier this year, Magnolias may be trying to find footing on solid ground. “I’ve gotten so much positivity from everyone, and from everyone who’s worked with me, but the press isn’t alway so friendly,” says Franz.
With the release of Don Drake’s cookbook, Uptown Down South Cuisine, earlier this year, Magnolias is sharing over two decades of food that Chef Franz calls “consistent, beautiful, and delicious.
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