Discover Charleston

Chef Kelly Franz’s Guide to Charleston

The newly named executive chef at Magnolias and former contestant on “Cutthroat Kitchen” talks about her career and her favorite places in Charleston.

Kelly Franz moved to the Lowcountry 13 years ago for culinary school and has been here ever since. From working at Magnolias to competing on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” she certainly knows a few things about cooking, seafood in particular. Below, she shares her favorite spots around the Holy City and her experience on Food Network's “Cutthroat Kitchen,” in which she finished as the runnerup in an episode this season.

What made you want to become a chef?

I have been very interested in every aspect of food since I was a child. I started waiting tables when I graduated from high school, and it just wasn’t the right fit for me. My favorite part of the job was chopping parsley! The manager took a chance on me and let me move into the prep kitchen. I learned a lot very quickly and actually enjoyed going to work every day. I decided to move to Charleston to attend culinary school.

What is it like being on “Cutthroat Kitchen”?

I learned a lot about television production, and I got to spend a few days in Hollywood and see the sun set over the Pacific for the first time. I went into it thinking of myself as a contestant on a game show, and that allowed me to just have fun and laugh at the crazy sabotages given to me.

What is your favorite thing to cook?

In Charleston, we have access to beautiful local fish and fresh local produce straight from the farm. I get to create daily specials and new recipes using these amazing seasonal products every day.

What is your greatest achievement?

Achieving respect and success in the kitchen is a long, uphill battle full of willing sacrifice and instant gratification. I am very proud of what I have accomplished as a chef, and as a woman in this industry.

What is the best memory you have of the Lowcountry?

I think the first day I moved to Charleston, I knew I was home. I moved around a lot as the child of a military family so I will never forget that feeling. I remember that day so vividly I can still recall the first time I caught a whiff of the plough mud on James Island!

Kiawah Island near Charleston, S.C.
Lounge on the beach at Kiawah Island (©Jason Tench/Shutterstock)

What is something that every visitor should put on his/her to-do list while visiting the city?

Go out on a boat! Tour the harbor, hit Kiawah Island, go fishing  and grab a drink at the Crab House right off the dock. I try to get out at least once a week in the spring and summer.

What do you never leave home without?

Chap stick/lip gloss. It’s ridiculous. I will stop somewhere on my way if I leave without it.

If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would it be?

My best girlfriend moved to Italy with her husband a few months ago. I can’t wait to visit!

What is your most cherished treasure from a trip?

I have some trinkets from yearly trips to visit my parents in Florida with a dear friend that passed last summer that still make me emotional every time I see them. They are just gas-station junk, but they’re priceless to me.

Folly Beach, Charleston, S.C.
Take a walk on Folly Beach (©Melissa Blanco)

What does your perfect day in Charleston look like?

Summer solstice on Folly Beach with clear skies and great friends. Perfect.

Kelly Franz's Favorite Things in Charleston

Angel Oak, Charleston, S.C.
Visit Angel Oak (©Nagel Photography/Shutterstock)

Favorite thing to do: I am a beach baby. I go to Folly or Beachwalker Park every Monday all day and often at night with my dog, friends or all by myself. There is not much I would rather do.

Favorite date spots: My favorite date nightspots are McCrady’sCypressRue de JeanFishWild Olive.

Favorite girls-night restaurants: For more casual restaurants to get together with friends, I head to Santi’s, RarebitBarsaBasil, and there are so many more places I love to eat in Charleston! 

Favorite places for brunch: On the rare occasions I am not working brunch, I go to the Bear-E-Patch in West Ashley (I am a little obsessed with the raisin toast, and I am not ashamed of that) or Sweetwater Café on James Island for the huevos rancheros. I would go to Magnolias for brunch every week if I could. We have one of my all time favorite menus right now.

Charleston waterfront
View Charleston from the waterfront (©Climber JAK/Shutterstock)

Favorite view of Charleston: The view of the water and downtown on the James Island connector bridge from the car brightens up my day every time. I also love the view from the rooftop at the Market Pavilion Hotel on East Bay Street on a clear day.

Favorite things to recommend for tourists: I think every tourist should experience Middleton PlaceMagnolia GardensAngel Oak and Boone Hall Plantation. All four places are just gorgeous, awe-inspiring and worth the short trip.