Chef Q&A: Meet Derick Wade of The Darling Oyster Bar

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The executive chef dishes on The Darling’s culture, his love for Southern food and the fascinating science of oyster farming

Written by MARGARET DANIEL

(Editor’s Note: The Savannah location of Darling Oyster Bar is now slated to open in spring 2024.)

Can’t wait any longer? Satisfy your cravings at The Darling Oyster Bar pop-up at Thompson Savannah’s Bar by Fleeting 5-9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays in March and April 2024. Darling’s Executive Chef Derick Wade will be taking over the kitchen thanks to an initiative led by Thompson’s Executive Chef Victoria Shore to spotlight Savannah’s culinary innovators.

THIS SUMMER, after more than a year of supply chain delays, The Darling Oyster Bar is finally opening at 27 Montgomery St. Helmed by owners Ben Russell-Schlesinger and Robert Young and Executive Chef Derick Wade, a culinary maestro with international experience in far-flung locales like Russia, Alaska and South America, the swanky Charleston oyster bar is ready for its debut in the Hostess City. 

Fanfare proceeds both the menu and construction, with the restaurant taking home a 2023 Historic Savannah Foundation Preservation Award thanks to the efforts of Bobby Young of B&B Savannah, LLC, Andrew Lynch of Lynch Associates Architects and Choate Construction Company

Here, Wade dishes on The Darling’s incomparable culture, his undying love for Southern food and the fascinating (and sustainable) science of oyster farming.

ON THE DARLING’S SECOND ACT 

In Savannah, we are sticking with the same concept as our Charleston restaurant, so we will still have all of our big sellers: our lobster roll, oysters, local clams and our shrimp and grits.

We’ve also been doing R&D over the last year and a half with some new items that we are looking to put on the menu that are a little more distinct to Georgia.

The overall reception and attitude are very welcoming in Savannah. I’ve worked all over, and some areas aren’t so welcoming to newcomers, but Savannah has been very open and hospitable. It’s been a breath of fresh air.

Chef standing in a dining room
Photo courtesy The Darling Oyster Bar

ON THE MUST-HAVES ON HIS MENU

For cocktails, our Captain Bloody Mary is a lot of fun. It’s got hush puppies, pickled shrimp, a crab leg and lobster claw in there, and our oyster shooters are a great way to start brunch.

For dinner, oysters are what we do the best. If you want to experience The Darling, get the plateau and sample four or five types of oysters from North Carolina up to Canada. 

For dessert, our Key lime pie is a huge hit. It’s one of our main desserts that will definitely be going down to Savannah.

ON SOURCING LOCAL

I’ve had the opportunity to go out to every farm within the Lowcountry area and work closely with oyster farmers. When I’m getting oysters for the restaurant, they’re getting pulled out of the ocean in the morning and delivered to the restaurant that day. I feel the love the farmers put into their work and what they are trying to do for the environment. 

We are one of the largest recyclers of oyster shells. We collect them for the Department of Natural Resources, and they put them back into the coastlines to help future oysters grow. The more oyster farms we have, the better the coastlines are. One oyster filters about 50 gallons of water per day. 

Being a part of something like that is awesome. We’re not just serving food. We are contributing to the future growth of different oyster species and sustainability.

There’s no better way to learn about a person’s culture than through their food. You could live a million lifetimes and not even scratch the surface of what food is. It is constantly evolving; it is not some algorithm or computer system you can learn fully, it’s 24/7.

Chef Derick Wade

ON HIS FOOD-CENTRIC UPBRINGING

I grew up with a big family, and we spent a lot of time at my grandma’s house. She owned a restaurant called the Sundown Diner in Poplar, Wisconsin. Between her having a restaurant and cooking at the house, I learned at a young age that communal family times were always centered around the kitchen. 

There’s no better way to learn about a person’s culture than through their food. You could live a million lifetimes and not even scratch the surface of what food is. It is constantly evolving; it is not some algorithm or computer system you can learn fully, it’s 24/7.

ON BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER

I really enjoy the communal aspect of the South and the way people eat — the oyster roasts and Lowcountry boils. When you live in Wisconsin, half the year it’s freezing, and you can’t really go outside and do too much. But here, the year-round outdoor activities and communal aspects of the culinary community are great. 

The Darling hosts a bunch of oyster roasts and Lowcountry boils. Everyone gets in there with their hands, and it opens up a layer of social interaction that leads to better community. We are all about that at The Darling. Even the way our raw bar and high tops are designed — there are no reservations. You can sit down and watch the oysters being shucked in front of you as you talk to the shuckers and then be sitting next to someone you might otherwise never cross paths with. But you have this opportunity to engage in conversation on an equal playing field. It’s a lot more fun than fine dining — a little less pretentious.