Michael Sibert, Chef Mike as he is known, owns White Wine and Butter in Greer. Traditional Cajun and Creole flavor combined with high-end food preparation and authenticity are the hallmarks of his unique restaurant concept. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of the Carolinas at Greenville Technical College, Sibert has created his path to success in his career and life by learning, taking risks, staying true to himself, and, oh, making an appearance on the Food Network.
Sibert found an early love of food through the kitchen and cooking experiences shared with his grandparents. All of their family gatherings were centered around food, and with a variety of backgrounds and styles of cooking in the family, his grandparents helped him love it all. His grandmother introduced him to the Food Network. They would watch it all day, and when his grandmother saw something she liked, they went shopping and made it the next day.
“My earliest memory of being in the kitchen is watching my grandfather cook outdoors on his big grey barrel grill and seeing him mopping sauce over different cuts of meat and whole animals, primal style,” says Sibert.
Once Sibert started experimenting with food and cooking on his own, he quickly began using his intuition and artistic talents to create dishes that were outside the box. It started when he and his best friend would have cooking challenges of who had the best fry seasoning and sauce or the best macaroni and cheese recipe or sharing a pizza lunchable and each eating one with the ingredients it came with and then creating a third with condiments and whatever they could find in the refrigerator to make it unique. “My first restaurant job was at Ruby Tuesday, where I quickly learned each position in the kitchen. The staff loved me to make them food not on the menu with stuff we had in-house,” says Sibert.
Thirsty for culinary knowledge while in school at the Culinary Institute of the Carolinas at Greenville Technical College, Sibert had the opportunity to work at the Westin Poinsett Hotel, where he trained under Chef Curtis Wolf and learned how to prepare food for thousands of people at a time. “That experience helped me gain confidence, and shortly after, I was offered my first Sous Chef position, which nearly overnight became the Executive Sous Chef position. Those opportunities helped me to grow in the culinary field and led to me taking Executive Chef positions in several country clubs as well as the opportunity to study under a German Michelin Star Chef and a BBQ Pitmaster,” Sibert says. During this time, Sibert wanted to take his talents to the next level, and meeting his wife, Samantha was exactly what he needed to make this happen and explore opening his own restaurant. Says Sibert, “She showed me that we could successfully work for ourselves, and she kept me focused and motivated to be better and not complacent. Jumping off the cliff is the hardest leap to take. She introduced me to New Orleans, set me up with several chefs, and more importantly, Maw Maws (cajun grandmothers) who taught me how to make authentic Cajun food.
After opening his first restaurant, Sibert was given the advice, “Stop and smell the roses because you only get to open your first restaurant once.” He took that advice and realized that not only did he and his wife build a brand from scratch, but they created a culture and avenue that allowed them to support others who also saw their vision and could trust the process.
When asked to describe his culinary style, Sibert considers himself an abstract chef. He prefers a more artistic side of the culinary world, where he stays true to himself and finds his own way of creating dishes. “I always ask myself, “Why not?” Even if a dish is traditionally done a certain way, I like to combine techniques from all the backgrounds I’ve worked with,” notes Sibert.
While cooking may be his expertise, grazing tables is Sibert’s zen. “When I take a couple of 12-foot live edge wood boards and create a masterpiece featuring Cured Italian meats, imported cheeses, fresh fruit, assorted spreads, crisps and more—it’s not just meat and cheese. It’s a display and organized chaos. It’s also my personality extended with food.”
Sibert’s culinary journey has been far from a cakewalk. There have been many challenges, but he was taught to take challenges as opportunities. Says Sibert,
“I’m grateful for the challenges that have made me tougher and grateful for not having state of the art equipment since leaving culinary school and working with what I had because that empowered my creativity and adaptability. I’m grateful for the opportunities I got to work in other chef’s kitchens and even more grateful for the opportunities I didn’t get. Most importantly, I’m grateful for the people I’ve met through my culinary journey.” Sibert acknowledges that there is nothing easy about the culinary field, but when you love it, you never work a day. He encourages aspiring chefs to know you better have a purpose and a commitment to the field because you can’t be in it for the money. “Just like teachers, chefs pour into people so they can become the best version of themselves. You must be a sponge and never stop learning. You have to put the work in and don’t expect to be a chef on Monday and Tuesday but not on the weekends or holidays. Everyone must eat, and that’s the service industry. Never lose sight of that,” Sibert says.
On July 19th, Sibert had a full circle moment when he made an appearance on the Food Network show Guy’s Grocery Games hosted by Guy Fieri. Sibert has watched Fieri for years and admires the way he describes food to the point you can almost taste it through the television. “Meeting him in person solidified how great of a “Guy” he is, and I respect what he has done for our industry using his platform to not only help people in need but to also promote and uplift fellow chefs in a cool, unique way, notes Sibert. Of the experience on Guy’s Grocery Games, Sibert says, “No matter how much practice I did for the show appearance, nothing can prepare you for the big lights except experience. Even then, it can still get the best of you.”
Sibert’s objective was to enjoy the experience and live in the moment while also expanding his network. “I got the opportunity to put the city of Greer and my home state of SC in the spotlight and be the “Hometown Hero” for a day. That’s something no one can ever take away from me,” Sibert says.
To learn more about Chef Michael Sibert and White Wine and Butter, visit www.whitewineandbutter.com.