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The Toast of Tybee

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The Toast of Tybee
Photos by Andrew Cebulka

Chef Kurtis Schumm Celebrates His Birthday with Music and Friends at His Georgia Fish Camp

Kurtis Schumm is a musician whose vocal and guitar prowess earned him a deal with Columbia Records. He’s a preservation carpenter whose precise work and grasp of historic detail convinced a recognized expert in the field to take him on as an apprentice. He’s an artist whose paintings and drawings share wall space with those done by world-renowned talent. He’s also a chef, and he happens to be cooking the best food on Georgia’s Tybee Island.

Chef Kurtis Schumm
Chef Kurtis Schumm in his kitchen at Tybee Island Fish Camp.

Slim with shaggy blond hair and a light, scruffy beard, Kurt is prone to grabbing whatever drink is within arm’s reach and sipping as he seamlessly joins the conversation taking place in closest proximity to his newly acquired beverage. Equal parts observer and participator, he’ll happily expound on his many passions given the opportunity, but he’s just as interested in what drives other people. It seems math also figures into this Renaissance man’s character: innate passion plus perpetual curiosity equals continued creative inspiration.

Kurt and his wife Sarah, herself a celebrated and sought-after designer, own and operate three island outposts on Tybee, a laidback beach community about twenty miles from Savannah. At Tybee Island Social Club, the couple’s first venture that opened in 2010, the vibe is chic beachy casual. Rustic woodwork and much of the wall art is courtesy of Kurt. Touches like paper lanterns, gilded mirrors, and a few pieces of tastefully upholstered furnishings are exemplary of Sarah’s knack for infusing even the most casual of settings with well-placed flair. The fare is elevated approachable—burgers and fish tacos commingle with ceviche and green gazpacho—the music is often live, and the crowd is a mix of old and young, tourists and locals. Meanwhile, at the Schumm’s newest and tiniest hotspot, Bo Bien Hut, Pan-Asian beach eats are fast proving a seasonal success. But it’s Tybee Island Fish Camp, which they opened in June 2014, that best exemplifies the couple’s imaginative, welcoming spirits. It’s thus fitting that it’s at this 1950s beach cottage-turned-restaurant that Kurt and Sarah celebrate his 35th birthday, replete with a summer spread, specialty cocktail, live music, and a coterie of creative friends.

Chef Kurtis Schumm doubles as talent for the evening at Tybee Island Fish Camp
Host for the evening, Kurtis Schumm, also doubles as talent.

Outside at Tybee Island Fish Camp, the wooden benches lining the wraparound porch are topped with comfy black and white striped cushions. French café chairs are scattered about, Edison bulbs are strung from live oak and cypress trees, and an oversized wrought-iron black lantern marks the doorway to the interior. Inside, Sarah’s décor is an exercise in textural and stylish contrast. The unfinished wood bar is white marble-topped and backed by shiny black subway tiles. There’s an architectural marvel of an aluminum juicer on prominent display below a large brass chandelier, and lotus leaves act as place mats (and could do double duty as chic hand-fans in the height of summer). Amid this sumptuous scene on the eve of the party, Bar Manager Will Canepa adroitly mixes his award-winning cocktails as he facilitates conversation among the eight or so people seated upon white upholstered bar stools.

This convergence of creative talent is part of what life on Tybee is all about. Waits sums it up: “You can actually make a living being an artist or musician here. It’s such a welcoming, creative community and offers a wonderful pace of life.”

Prepared by Kurtis Schumm of Tybee Island Fish Camp

To the left as you enter is the dining room, a small area with seating for about twenty, bordered on one side by a tucked-away piano. As if on cue, Zack Smith and Colleen Heine start playing their self-described “Americana” (some might call it bluegrass) on the porch. This musical married couple play weekly at the Social Club, a gig that came about because Smith used to be in a band with Kurt and his brother, Kody, when the Schumms moved from the Nashville area to Georgia in 2007. In a nod to the good old days, Kurt grabs his guitar and he and Smith play a slow, moving song. Kurt’s voice is raspy and emotive, Sarah looks admiringly at her husband, singing along to every word of this song he wrote.

Chef Kurt Schumm's signature oysters Pulaski from Tybee Island Fish Camp
Chef Schumm's signature oysters Pulaski
Chef Kurt Schumm's artful bean salad
Chef Schumm's artful bean salad (recipe below).

Kurt grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a city close to Nashville, where his musical talent was discovered at the famed Bluebird Cafe. While he was touring the country with his band, his mother relocated to Savannah. Reports from her new city often included one particular tidbit: “There’s this really cute girl here who owns a shop. I think you should meet her.” Years later, when he finally did meet this gorgeous girl, it was clear that mother really best. The two married in 2012.

On the porch now, Kurt sits one out and Jon Waits, also an Americana musician, joins in with Smith and Heine. Guests continue to trade positions, and even instruments, as the evening wears on. Meanwhile Kurt’s menu is brought out in increments: mushroom crostini, his signature oysters Pulaski, green gazpacho, octopus with boiled peanut hummus, and ceviche. Canepa’s gin and heirloom tomato cocktail makes the rounds as well. Perhaps it’s no surprise that every dish and drink is artfully arranged, texturally appealing, and layered with flavor.

Aside from the musicians, appreciative guests include Sarah’s parents, Gail and Bill Lanier, who periodically beam with pride at their daughter and son-in-law, and helpfully act as co-hosts. Smith Mathews, Kurt’s good friend who owns Savannah’s Southbound Brewery, has brought a specialty beer that he made just for the occasion. The base is the brewery’s Scattered Sun Belgian Wit, only now infused with bee pollen and fresh thyme, ingredients Kurt brought to his pal in the weeks prior for use in the beer. Anthony Palliser, a European portrait artist who has painted the likes of Mick Jagger and John Lennon, and whose artwork also hangs on the restaurant’s walls, is in attendance with his wife.

This convergence of creative talent is part of what life on Tybee is all about. Waits sums it up: “You can actually make a living being an artist or musician here. It’s such a welcoming, creative community and offers a wonderful pace of life.”

Chef Kurt Schumm of Tybee Island Fish Camp with his wife Sarah
Chef Kurt Schumm with his wife Sarah.

Between playing his songs and plating his food, Kurt continually stops to talk and listen to friends and family. As he finishes the glass of white wine that Sarah had started, someone bites into his octopus and immediately exclaims at how flavorfully tender, and not overly chewy, his rendition is. He smiles, “It’s super easy. The key is to poach it in vinegar.” He pauses, giving the group a chance to chime in, should anyone want to take the floor. When no one does, he continues, “This lady from Verona, Italy, lived in my neighborhood growing up. She was always cooking with my mom, experimenting in our kitchen. She never cooked pasta or rice or anything just in water, but used broth, stock, wine, vinegar, cream. It makes so much sense for flavor.” He shrugs. “I just pick things up here and there.” With that, he picks up the half-finished beer Smith had just placed on the bench beside them and wanders off to sing another song.


Celebrate Tybee-style at home with these recipes from Chef Schumm’s birthday bash.

Bean Salad

Hamachi Crudo