Good Eats

Five Fall Favorites: Travis Grimes

By Jed PortmanOctober 31, 2012

The menu at Husk, in Charleston, South Carolina, changes daily depending on what’s available from local farmers, foragers, and fishermen. The man who writes that menu most days—the man whom executive chef Sean Brock calls his "clone"—is Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes. Over years spent cooking in the Lowcountry, he has developed and refined an encyclopedic knowledge of seasonal meats and produce and how to use them.

When we met Travis in the walk-in cooler behind Husk to ask for his favorite fall ingredients, he made it clear that he wanted to look beyond the usual suspects. "A bright, peppery first cutting of arugula is more exciting to me than a pumpkin," he said. Here are his five fall go-tos, imparted as we zipped around the cooler admiring bivalves, examining chestnuts, and dipping bites of tender greens in fresh pepper mash and barrel-aged hot sauce.

1. Oysters. "It’s always exciting when oyster season comes back. Maybe not for the person who has to shuck them all night, but for the rest of us. We get our oysters from Dave  Belanger, who’s also known as 'Clammer Dave.' He’s a wild man, but he brings the most beautiful products. His clams are great, and we get those all year round, but when oysters are in season we go crazy. We’ll go through tens of thousands of oysters this fall and winter."

2. Chestnuts. "We roast chestnuts over an open fire, just like in the song. After they’ve been on the fire, they’ll peel easy. Then you can do a variety of things. You can braise them in apple cider, turn them into purees, add them to soups. A lot of possibilities with the chestnut. We also use the shells. When we’re doing pork ribs or barbecue pork butts, we sprinkle soaked chestnut shells onto our coals to impart a little bit of that chestnut flavor."

3. Heirloom tomatoes. "Everybody thinks about pumpkins and chestnuts and apples when they think about fall, but, given our location here, I consider the heirloom tomato a fall ingredient. We have two tomato seasons. In the summer, when it’s too hot to grow tomatoes here, we get them from the mountains of North Carolina. Then, in the fall, the Lowcountry farmers bring in a harvest. So we’re seeing that second harvest right now, and it’ll continue on into December."

4. Kales. "We have all different kinds of greens around here in the fall. My favorites are the kales. People think of kale as the inedible leaf that’s used as a garnish in your typical restaurant. And the kind of kale that most restaurants use is pretty inedible. But there are so many other varieties—baby Tuscan kale, young lacinato, red Russian kales, and so on. They’re tender, they’re peppery, they have bite. At Husk, kale is a star, not a garnish. Sometimes the meat garnishes the kale. Around here, people cook the hell out of greens. But if you get greens when they’re nice and young, and just barely wilt them down, like spinach, they can really stand out in a dish. You still taste that kale or collard flavor. It’s not drowned in ham hock or bacon."

5. Apples. "North Carolina apples are great. We have Pink Lady apples now. The Honeycrisp have passed their season, so now we have to move into other varieties. You can chase the season a little bit, you can run from North Carolina mountain apples into Virginia. But once Virginia’s done, we’re done with apples. Right now we’re dicing them up and throwing them in brown butter, then adding bourbon and flaming the bourbon on there, so you get the nuttiness of brown butter with the complex flavor of bourbon and the sweetness of the apple."