Dawn Brantley spent the last few days at the Special Operations Wounded Warriors “Takin Bacon” hog hunt in North Carolina.
It wasn't the same without her longtime friend and colleague Eric Wagner.
“He would have been there all week with us," Brantley said. "He should have been there."
Wagner, a former Horry-Georgetown Technical College culinary arts professor, ice sculptor and well-known caterer, died Feb. 15 from heart complications, Brantley said. He was 56 years old. Wagner leaves behind his wife, Jennifer, and a son, Reilly.
He taught cooking classes at HGTC from 2013 until 2017, and most recently was the Executive Chef at The Isles Restaurant and Tiki Bar in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. until they temporarily closed due to COVID-19 last year.
Brantley and Wagner worked together in the early ‘90s at the Balsams resort in New Hampshire. Over the years, they ended up on the Grand Strand, living with friends in a condo near Restaurant Row.
“He opened up a couple places [restaurants] and I’ve worked with him for over 30 years,” Brantley said. “He’s Uncle Eric to my children. He was a wonderful person.”
Brantley said that Wagner was involved in the Special Operations Wounded Warriors charity for years. The “Takin Bacon” hunt was special to him. After the event, Wagner organized a wild game dinner for between 350-600 people.
“He was the creative force, heart and love behind the food,” Brantley said. “He’s just that person. Everybody loves him.”
Earlier in his time on the Grand Strand, Brantley said Wagner even spent a short traveling as the personal chef to the then-owner of the Cincinnati Bengals.
His later involvement with the American Culinary Federation (ACF) of Myrtle Beach “really defined his life,” Brantley said. The nonprofit promotes camaraderie in the culinary community.
Kathleen Hassett, former coworker at HGTC and fellow ACF member, said Wagner held a position in the ASF for many years.
“He was kind of the glue that held it all together. He was typically the go-to person that did a lot of organizing and getting things going,” Hassett said.
He also owned Ice Sensations, where he carved ice sculptures and catered events.
In addition to teaching students at HGTC about kitchen fundamentals and the classical foundations of cooking, Wagner specialized in vegetable displays.
“He was as talented with vegetables as he was with ice,” Hassett said. “He loved his students, he loved doing what he did. They truly enjoyed having him as an instructor – a very kind and giving individual who always put other people ahead of himself.”
Hassett said she would always remember Wagner's humility, his love for his family and his passion for cooking.
Tom Mullally met Wagner 26 years ago during his first month on the Grand Strand. They remained friends ever since.
“Eric was a great guy and a talented chef, having a reputation for being the best ice carver in town as well as the best fruit and vegetable carver in town,” Mullally said.
Mullally remembers Wagner as an extremely hard worker, saying the chef was “always up to something.”
“He was a culinary animal to say the least,” Mullally said. “Very sad and unfair how he was taken just … too soon.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Wagner’s family to help with funeral expenses. It can be found HERE.
A memorial service will take place Saturday, March 14, find details at the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1519030865154859/?ti=ls