By all accounts, Shane Whiddon was a model husband and father, with a passion for flavors and food. The Glynn County native pursued his dream of being a chef and excelled at it, preparing food on Sea Island for years before moving on tothe upscale Charleston restaurant Virginia’s on King.
He and his family, which include his wife and two children, built a happy life for themselves in the city. But on a day in late August, all of that changed in the blink of an eye. A gunman and former restaurant employee entered the establishment and took hostages. By the end of the day, Whiddon was dead — the only fatality in the event. The gunman was wounded and arrested.
As the events unfolded, Dan Meyers and many of Whiddon’s other local friends watched in horror as news reports rolled in. Soon, their worst fears were confirmed: Whiddon had been murdered.
It was a heart-wrenching and tragic turn of events. But since that time, they have all taken comfort in focusing on Whiddon’s positive qualities. Meyers enjoys remembering the gracious and giving nature his friend always displayed.
“Shane was a doting father, a loving husband, a Georgia Bulldog and a heck of a chef. Shane had a passion for fishing and life in the low country, and it definitely inspired his dishes. While Shane was a rising star in the (food and beverage) world, he remained humble,” Meyers recalled.
Professionally, Whiddon pushed others to shine and be their best.
“He was a great mentor to many; hard, but fair. He would push those he worked with to achieve a standard most wouldn’t have accomplished on their own,” Meyers said.
“While expecting perfection, he was not one to look down on those who faltered. Constantly giving those around him a second chance, he would coach them through their mistakes.”
Heath Porter, the former Sea Island wine and spirits director, now owner of Uvaggio and No Name Chinese in Miami, agrees, adding Whiddon did not have a malicious bone in his body.
“Shane was as genuinely nice a person as I ever remember being around. In an ultra competitive and sometimes very cold profession, I never recall him losing his calm demeanor or making others feel inept,” Porter said. “Actually, I think it was quiet the opposite, as he would lend a helping hand and give directions and assistance without belittling others or showing arrogance.”
Meyers noted that in addition to preparing high quality dishes, he was also quick to offer his skills to serve the less fortunate.
“Shane was committed to giving back to the community. He would often be found cooking for the homeless, or less fortunate. One of his favorite events was Hogs for a Cause,” Meyers said.
It was that type of spirit that prompted Whiddon’s friends to step up and do something for his family. Chef Jason McKinney, Sea Island and French Laundry alum, had the idea of creating a small-scale food festival to raise money for the family. McKinney assembled an all-star casts of chefs, featuring countless stars of the local culinary world. Ryanne Carrier, who currently works as Sea Island’s wine and spirits director, also lent a hand to help.
The result is not one but two food and spirit events — one on St. Simons Island and one in Charleston. Locally, it is called Whiddon’s Hometown Hootenanny, planned for Oct. 24.
“McKinney posted on Facebook the idea of a ‘chef’s dinner’ and the response was overwhelming. So much so that there is a dinner in Charleston on Oct. 23 and one on St. Simons Island on Oct. 24,” Meyers said.
The Hometown Hootenanny will begin at 6 p.m. at Certified Burgers, 44 Midway Square, St. Simons Island. The cost of admission to the local event is $100 per person, but that will allow them full access to all of the food and drinks at the event. Seven food and spirits experts from various locations will lend their talents to the event. All of the proceeds will go directly to the family.
For Meyers, the way that all the chefs and the community as a whole came together says a lot about his friends.
“It speaks volumes about Shane when so many were ready to travel from all over the U.S. to help put this on. We also wanted to put this together as a united front. The kitchen is a safe space where people from all walks of life come together to form a family, a dysfunctional family, but a family, still,” Meyers said.
“Our safe space was pierced by the violent acts in Charleston,” he added. “This is a way for us to get together, as a family, and grieve; to celebrate the life lost, and to celebrate a world we are passionate about.”
“Food was his passion and his outlet and he was a great chef and mentor. This would have been the type of event Shane would have thrown for any of us in the same predicament or for anyone he didn’t know,” Porter said. “He was a true professional, a genuine human and most importantly a great father and husband.”
Of course, that is what the event is about — supporting the Whiddon family.
“Shane left behind a widow and two young sons. We are doing this for them. The money raised will help ensure those boys have a way to pay for college. It’ll give their mother a piece of mind knowing she has some financial security,” Porter said.