By Stephanie Burt
Chef Drew Dzejak is no stranger to the idea of a “destination chef” or a “resort chef.” In fact,
during his career, he’s spent time cooking as a chef in the Grand Cayman Islands, at the Inn at
Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, S.C., Charleston Place in Charleston, and for four years at the
Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans. So when he settled into the job of executive chef at Alys
Beach close to three years ago, the idea of being responsible for a guest’s dining experience
while on vacation was nothing new.
“Creatively, you have to have your menu within the menu,” he said, noting that he’s actually fine
with the idea that some folks are going to want familiar over fantastical. “I have grown through
my career and watched many of those ‘ego chefs’ lose it over requests. I’ve learned to ask, ‘Is it
really important?’” he said. “I’ve also learned the ability to make a plain steak or a fish dish
–something always requested – taste good, and I’m content with being able to satisfy all my
That idea of a down-to-earth presence in the kitchen is a wonderful juxtaposition with the
fantastical architecture and luxurious space that is Caliza, Alys Beach’s signature, high-end
restaurant. It’s a place of imagination, and Dzejak’s “menu within the menu” is filled with
inventive choices, from a local shrimp dish with lima bean puree and a tamarind BBQ sauce, to
an Iberico pork loin schnitzel, with braised red cabbage, mustard greens, and mustard pork jus.
While the shrimp dish can make sense in the space (especially since Caliza is a poolside
restaurant) the latter seems an unusual choice for Florida dining. But that’s exactly what the
“That’s probably the dish that is the most ‘me’ – my Eastern European heritage. I could eat it
every day,” Dzejak said. “But we’re always tinkering, always working on dishes. We focus on the
building of flavor with the use of really good product, and then stopping, or editing. We want the
flavors on the plate to work together, not be too much.” With his direction, the menu changes
frequently as products of the seasons shift.
Dzejak uses “we” a lot in conversation, and that’s because he loves being part of a team, a
team that he sees as co-workers and comrades in the back of the house, and that kitchen
extends beyond Caliza to the other eating establishments on property. In fact, spend any time
with the chef, and it’s evident that he really likes his job and still finds cooking fascinating,
enthralling, and above all, fun.
When he’s not at work, he’s spending time with his two children and his wife Stephanie,
sometimes cruising on 30A in his restored 1965 VW Bug or ‘78 Trans Am. He has a bit of time
to relax these days – just a bit – since he’s hired most of the folks on his current team, building
that “we” through a few strong seasons as Alys Beach continues to be constructed.
“This year we’re focusing on consistency,” he added. And that consistency starts with him: a
chef who loves to cook. Who better to cook for you in a destination than that?