Treylor Park is becoming a must for those visiting Savannah and a favorite among locals. The restaurant is infamous for its wacky combinations that somehow create deliciously complex flavors that scream southern comfort. With menu items such as the Low Country Flat Bread, Shrimp and Grits Tacos, and Grilled Apple Pie Sandwich, we wanted to dig deeper and meet the mind behind the madness.
Enter Executive Chef Marvin Sterling III. He is a Savannah native who turned his life around from jail time to being nationally recognized for his creativity in the culinary arts. We sat down for an exclusive Q & A.
Q: Where were you before Treylor Park?
A: I was born in Savannah, GA, grew up in Miami, FL, served prison time in New Jersey, and finally ended up back in Savannah. I prefer Savannah, because it is the perfect medium between large city and small town.
Q: How did your time in prison affect your culinary career?
A: I learned a lot of trade skills while in prison. I learned to cook, weld, and I received my bachelor’s degree. When I got out, I had to find an employer that would hire me with my record. I bounced around starting off, like anyone else, washing dishes.
I’ve worked in and eventually managed four famous restaurants here in Savannah, and landed the job at Ruth’s Chris on Bay Street. I worked there for six years and was executive chef for four and a half. While I was there, I became one of the only chefs nationally to have their dish on the menu. It was the Low Country Boil tossed in a butter sauce instead of traditionally boiled and seasoned. After Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, I came to Treylor Park.
Q: Why did you choose Treylor Park?
A: Trey Wilder is the owner, and I related to the back story behind the restaurant. The name started while Trey was living in New York, and his friend’s called him “Trailer” making fun of him for being from Southeast Georgia. He branded the name and started the restaurant.
I wanted to branch out creatively, but I was limited at Ruth’s Chris. I talked with Trey, he told me his idea for the restaurant, and it was a match made in heaven. He wanted me to use ingredients that you would find in a trailer and put a twist on it. So I set out to create a twist on typical southern food like with the shrimp and grits tacos.
Q: What is the thought process when creating those unorthodox menu items?
A: There was a base menu in place when I came on. We completely replaced that, and I made it my own. I would remember what my family used to eat when I was a kid, and when we were broke and inject that into my cooking. We have had a lot of beta phases. While thinking of a new dish, I created this concoction using Spam. I fed it to the staff, and they swore it was a Pâté. That’s what we aim to do. The crazier the item sounds on the menu, the better it is. So you should get it.
I want people to leave Savannah and say “you’ve got to try the Shrimp and Grits Tacos or PB & J Wings from Treylor Park” and not just the shrimp and grits that you can get anywhere. We serve comfort food. Everything is made in house except for the bread… From the ranch to the biscuits to the pancake mix to pecan butter for the PB & J Wings.
Q: You are one of the few chefs in Savannah on social media. How has that allowed you to connect to customers? (Follow him @treylorparkchef & @treylorparksavannah)
A: We promote the restaurant through social media. It’s our own bit of advertising instead of paying thousands for print and TV ads. New menu items get posted on there. I’ll take a picture and send it to Trey, and he uploads it to our Facebook and Instagram. We’ve had over 10,000 views for free.
For me, it’s feedback from the regular average Joe. Someone posting our food lets us know we are doing a good job. It’s honest feedback. If they like it, they say so. If not, then they say so.
Q: On your off days, what restaurants do you frequent?
A: The Grey, Allure, but I mostly cook at home for my roommates and I.
Q: Is there anything new that readers should be looking out for?
A: We are always looking to make the menu better. A dish on the menu is actually my favorite to make, the Trailer Park Pot Pie. Why? It is the most challenging to do to take a pot pie dough, fry it up, and put it all in a burrito. It’s a hidden treasure. Once you cut it, it just flows out onto the plate.
There is a new Treylor Park location coming soon, and I am also gearing up to be on one of the Food Network’s cooking competitions. What I do here is great practice for that show.
We really enjoyed picking Chef Marvin’s brain. His story shows that you can improve from a bad situation by staying true to yourself and doing what you do best.