Geoff Rhyne has an innate taste and ability to source the freshest food. He grew up in the South, dividing time between the salt-water marshes of the Low Country in South Carolina and in the 1,300-acre farm of his great grandparents.
If Rhyne wasn’t blackberry picking along the red dirt road of the farm, he was casting a net, crab line or fishing pole learning early in his childhood to catch only what you can eat and clean on your own. While traveling with his grandparents, who were editors and photographers of farm magazines, Rhyne was taught to respect the integrity of food and the earth.
Such early taste memories of eating just caught fish or vegetables picked that morning set the bar for Rhyne – and the standard that he brings to SugarToad as chef de cuisine.
Rhyne’s food at SugarToad is farm-focused, inspired by the purity of ingredients. Adhering to using no more than five ingredients in a dish, Rhyne’s goal is to allow the star product to shine with the other ingredients playing a smaller supporting but integral part.
His style of cooking developed as a young cook- using the best and freshest ingredients, the correct preparation (perfect sear or a gentle braise, for example) and seasoning it appropriately – proved to be a natural outcome of his upbringing and culinary training.
Rhyne was on the road to playing professional baseball as a pitcher while attending the University of Tampa on an academic scholarship. But during a recruiting visit and a break from school, he got his first restaurant job in Charleston, SC., and a culinary awakening just shy of age 20.
For the next five years, he worked at some 10 restaurants, absorbing operations, cooking techniques, and sourcing products before moving on to the next “classroom.”
Some of most formative lessons came from working with James Beard Best Chef Mike Lata at Fig and acclaimed Chef Bob Carter of the Peninsula Grill, both in Charleston and known for regional American cuisine.
Rhyne’s most recent stint prior to SugarToad was at the esteemed La Bastide at the Country Inn, a renowned resort by the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina. His responsibilities as the chef de cuisine included working the restaurant’s nearby 10-acre organic farm.
For Rhyne, moving to the Chicago area two years ago to work with SugarToad’s opening executive Chef Jimmy Sneed completed the circle. Sneed, who gained national acclaim for his restaurants including The Frog and the Redneck in Richmond, VA., advised Rhyne in his early 20s to work with Lata and inspired him to never stop learning.
“It’s really about continuously challenging yourself to get better,” says Rhyne. “Fig and Mike Lata gave me that. So did La Bastide. So has SugarToad. Jimmy laid out the path, something that I will always be grateful for.”
Rhyne, 30, continues on the path of learning through local farmers and artisan purveyors in his quest to find and provide guests at SugarToad food prepared with the best ingredients.
In his spare time, Chef Rhyne enjoys giving cooking classes, discovering new dining experiences and spending time with his fiancé. He a founding member of Slow Food Upstate in Greenville, S.C., a member of American Institute of Wine & Food, and a guest lecturer on sustainability.