Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

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Introducing The New Charleston Chef’s Table

Voila! She’s Finally Here and A Cookbook Give Away

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited. It’s been a very busy and wonderful year.  In addition to a new cookbook (number nine), I have a now sixteen month-old  puppy named Rocky (Rocken Roll) and have been enjoying writing press and news for a large Charleston restaurant group.

I deem The New Charleston Chef’s Table “number nine” with some hesitation, as I’m not sure exactly what to call a new edition of an old book (the original Chef’s Table came out in 2009). Is that really a new book? But since it’s essentially an 80% new book, that is almost all of the old book was pulled and new restaurants, chefs and recipes were added, I’m going to go with number nine.

The reason so much of it is new is that Charleston went through yet another massive restaurant renaissance during the past decade. What was delicious got even more delicious and the boundaries for types of food and restaurant locations and styles got even broader. Increasingly, Charleston taste buds veered farther from formality and more towards casual ethnicity diversification, but always, always with a demand for outstanding cuisine. Because, if it was not delivered, those restaurants went away in short order.

Reluctant at first to take on such a huge task, I was glad I did, and am grateful for the opportunity from Globe Pequot Press. The New Charleston Chef’s Table truly reflects the Charleston of now, which was my intention. I pursued recipes that were less structured and more adaptable for the home cook. Some of my favorites include Leon’s Whole Grain Spoon Salad,  Fig’s Classic Arugula Salad,  Crust’s Chilled Summer Corn Soup, Lewis’ Hatch Green Chile Corn Pudding, The Ordinary’s Fish Schnitzel, and The Daily’s Buttermilk Rhubarb Fool.  In this book, more than in the original, I let the book morph with the commentary and thoughts of the chefs. For example,  Matthew Niessner at Halls Chophouse didn’t want to share just one recipe, but an entire meal catered to this audience, just as he likes to do for groups when they come to Halls. So he shared recipes for creamed corn, iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, and how to perfectly prepare a restaurant style ribeye. Meanwhile, at Mex 1 Coastal Cantina I surfed with Ryan Jones into the Baja, California peninsula and cool surfer mentality with cantina chicken tacos and stewed lima beans slow and steady with Martha Lou Gadsen of Martha Lou’s Kitchen.

The design and editing team did a beautiful job of designing the book, which is verdant and fresh with lots of green color and beautiful photography, and has an equally more casual and modern look, reflecting an ever morphing Charleston.

New Charleston Chefs Table book coverThe book was released this past week and is available at major bookstores and online now. I’m offering a signed cookbook to one of you. Just click like on this post or elsewhere where you see it  and I’ll do a randomly picked number search on June 4 and announce the winner that day.

Wishing you a beautiful and soulful Memorial Day!

Holly

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A Night to Remember – Supper at Sumter

In the middle of a week riddled with the specter of  dangerous Hurricane Irene and the reality of a 5.9 earthquake felt along the East Coast (including Charleston), the fate of last night’s Ultimate Critics Dinner seemed as shaky as Ft. Sumter’s dark days dating back to its April 1861 Union occupation and subsequent Confederate take-over.

Painstakingly planned by the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival staff and board, and mightily supported by local chefs and the Charleston community, the first ever after-hours gourmet supper and fundraiser was in peril of weather-related postponement right up to the final hours before its “ultimate” impeccable and delightful debut.

The evening featured the food of five chefs (Marc Collins of Circa 1886, Mike Lata of FIG, Jacques Larson of Wild Olive, Sean Brock of McCrady’s/Husk, Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca, and Emily Cookson of Charleston Grill) to be paired with wines selected by “ultimate” sommelier, Clint Sloan of McCrady’s. “Ultimate” Host Mickey Bakst of Charleston Grill kept the crowd informed and entertained. All of the above were the highest scoring winners of a best-chef/F & B survey completed weeks ago by a panelist of food writers and critics (myself included, it should be noted). Considering the extreme logistical complexities and cooking limitations presented by cooking in the middle of a large port/harbor in an antiquated antebellum fort with virtually no electricity, what they accomplished was nothing short of a coup.  Bravo, bravo, bravo to all involved!

The Spirit of the Lowcountry, a mostly open-air boat, ferried 130 eager guests across the harbor from the South Carolina Aquarium, where re-enactors in period dress greeted all who came their way. A hush seemed to descend upon the entire audience as we approached the historic fort. Dolphins frolicked in the water just ahead, as the vast expanse of the Atlantic waved just beyond and the proximity of Morris Island, James Island and Sullivan’s Island – where so much Civil War bloodshed occured – closed in tighter and tighter, until finally the fort which looms so large from the peninsula seemed suddenly fragile and exposed, yet somehow all the bolder for the bravery it and its inhabitants enduring for four long, embattled years.   

Refreshed with the exceptional first-course appetizers provided by Marc Collins, including a mouth-popping salmon jerky drizzled with creme fraiche and fresh herbs and “Leftover Libations,” a potent brew of bourbon and fresh peach infused syrup, guests descended to greet the night – the first ever of its kind at Ft. Sumter.

A post-thunderstorm brilliant sky of puffy white clouds and waning afternoon sun set the stage for sparkling wine and Pickled Brown Shrimp, Vermillion Snapper Roe & Heirloom Roe, prepared by a straw hat-capped “incognito” Mike Lata (pictured right)  and his staff on the upper level of the fort, overlooking breath-taking, 360 degree views of the harbor and ocean. The vinegar bite of the sweet shrimp seemed to cut the sharp breezes, while the crunch of the pickled vegetables and smooth butter lettuce cooled the last breaths of the late afternoon August heat.

Several courses would follow, each expertly paired with wine. Clint Sloan greeted guests at all of the tables explaining the logic of the pairings, while chefs intermittingly described the extensive thought and research they put into their original dishes, all of which had been inspired by the mid-19th century and authentic Charleston dishes/ingredients from that period. 

For example, Jacques Larson’s toothsome and satisfying Carolina Rabbit with Barley, Mepkin Abbey Mushrooms, Balsamic and Black Truffles (pictured right), reflected the heavy consumption of both game and barley by Charlestonians of the time and also focused on local mushrooms, foraged and consumed as they have in days past and increasingly do now in our local restaurants. Larson jokingly conceded that black truffles and balsamic vinegar would likely not be on the menu then, but he felt that guests deserved a little something extra special to help justify their $300 (each) passage to this special fund-raising event.

The delicious food just kept coming. My cheerful table-mates and I couldn’t help but notice that each dish seemed to trump the last, but maybe it had something to do with the wine. I think there was magic in the air, too. It was mystical, taking a breath and a moment between bites and sips to look up at what had become a star-filled, cool evening and scan the remnants of this formerly formidable fortress and imagine the voices that once echoed here, the feelings that were felt here; love, fear, pride, hunger, and what must have been, at times, panic. The pathos of war was palpably embraced by the late summer night and the humbled walls of the historic fort. Yet, all around there was joy and an irrepressible sense of community. Witnessing Charleston’s amazing chefs help each other plate their respective dishes and laugh in genuine fraternity was a heart-warming sight to see. It was a night to remember, indeed.

As I prepared to put my head on my pillow before I retired last night, all of these emotions kept washing over me which was a sweet lullaby for someone who loves Charleston, history, and delcious food as much as I do. The final note before slumber, though was the memory of Ken Vedrinski’s Lightly Cured & Smoked Grilled “Deckle” of Kobe Beef, Warm Lobster, Peanut Potato Salad, and Barolo Vinaigrette. The fork-tender beef held the smoke of the grill that was buffeted with something silky and so smooth, quite probably olive oil. A background of acid in the vinaigrette, firm/tender buttery new potatoes, and swaths of lobster – it matched the night in every ounce of its perfection.

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FOODIE’S NOTE: Tickets for the world-class BB&T Charleston Wine and Food Festival go on sale next week for next spring’s festival.  For more information and to order your tickets, go to www.charlestonwineandfood.com

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