Five Highlights from the Charleston Wine + Food Festival
Five Highlights from the Charleston Wine + Food FestivalMarch 4, 2013
As the dust settles in Marion Square and the out-of-towners board their planes home, we’re taking a moment to look back on the whirlwind weekend that was this year’s Charleston Wine + Food Festival.
(Photo: Margaret Houston)
The weekend was filled with highlights, from Ayden, North Carolina pitmaster Sam Jones’s impressive rendition of “Stand By Your Man” to the delicate plates at McCrady’s New + Notables Dinner to the ungodly amounts of pork at Sunday’s Rigs, Pigs, and Swigs barbecue blowout.
But the overarching theme of the get-together was gratitude. This was a weekend of tributes, from the lavish dinner in honor of Southern-cooking pioneer Frank Stitt to the Southern Foodways Alliance tent, where the stars of some of the organization’s documentaries held forth on their crafts. Below, five highlights:
The Lee Bros. Charleston Dinner
William Gatewood finished building his beautiful brick house on downtown Charleston’s Legare Street in 1843. On Friday, current owners Ozey and Sarah Horton welcomed 75 guests into the dining room for a meal that, despite its antebellum setting, was not at all stuck in the past. New York chefs Michael Anthony and Chris Bradley worked with Matt and Ted Lee, authors of the just-released Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, to create dishes that paid tribute to Lowcountry traditions in fresh ways.
Following rounds of kumquat gin cocktails and benne seed wafers, we sat down to plates anchored by savory bites of smoked shad, peanut-crusted oysters, and roasted sheepshead. Dessert kept the tribute to Charleston going: Sweets were laid out in a side room alongside glasses of Madeira, the 18th-century drink of choice in Charleston. We walked out satiated, with the flavors of the Lowcountry still on our tongues.
Biscuits & Beer Brunch
It’s a rare thing when Blackberry Farm packages its Tennessee terroir and takes it on the road. But that is just what the Walland, Tennessee-based resort did for a group of Garden & Gun Club Secret Society members on Saturday morning.
Chef Joseph Lenn and his team came to town with crates of fresh ingredients in tow. Eggs, greens, and even the beer came from the farm, and all were presented in the delicious haute-Appalachian fashion for which Blackberry is known. The bourbon-based Bloody Mary was an eye-opener. The farm egg that opened the meal was flawlessly tender following two hours of poaching. Lenn’s biscuit bread pudding is still making mouths water here in the office days after we tried it.
The Southern Foodways Alliance and Jim N Nick’s Barbecue Coronation Supper
When pitmasters Rodney Scott and Sam Jones—both crowned barbecue royalty at Wine + Food festivals past—handed Brownsville, Tennessee’s Helen Turner her crown and scepter on Saturday night, a few eyes in the room went misty.
Turner, whom the SFA has designated the 2013 king, er, queen of barbecue, had never boarded a plane before she traveled to this year’s Wine + Food festival. By the time of the dinner, though, she had spent most of the day cooking with the seasoned Scott and Jones, to whom the humble Turner shot a sheepish smile when the crowd rose to its feet in applause at her coronation.
Yes, Miss Helen’s pork shoulders were delicious. The drinks, featuring 10-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, were fit for barbecue royalty. But the most moving thing about the dinner on Saturday night was the outpouring of love and respect for Scott, Jones, and Turner, three small-town pitmasters who have been smoking pigs the old-fashioned way since long before it was hip in Manhattan.
Crispy, Spicy, Crunchy: The World of Fried Chicken at Hominy Grill
This year, Nashville’s Prince’s Hot Chicken will receive the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics Award. Anyone who has tried the fiery fried chicken understands why. The place is an institution, with chicken that inspires near-religious devotion.
Among the restaurant’s many fans is Hominy Grill’s Robert Stehling—a fried-chicken god in his own right thanks to his restaurant’s Big Nasty, a chicken biscuit smothered with cheese and sausage gravy. On Saturday night, Stehling teamed up with Josh Walker, chef at Asian comfort-food restaurant Xiao Bao Biscuit, for a tribute to Prince’s owner Andre Prince Jeffries and her hot chicken.
Deploying seasonings and techniques from around the world, the duo presented a night of spicy fried-chicken bliss. Luckily, local breweries COAST and Westbrook were on hand with cold beers to keep the heat under control.
Food and Wine with a View: A Tribute to Frank Stitt
Before Sean Brock, Mike Lata, or Hugh Acheson, before Southern food was the stuff of white-tablecloth restaurants, there was Frank Stitt. The Alabama-based chef behind Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega, and Chez Fon Fon began serving upscale takes on the foods of his Southern childhood decades ago. He has been a mentor in the years since to many of the pioneers of new Southern cuisine.
“We’re all simply standing on his shoulders,” said Brock, in the video (below) shown before the dinner held in Stitt’s honor on Saturday night. Brock was just one of the chefs whom Stitt chose to cook at the dinner—he shared the kitchen with Lata, Acheson, and fellow heavyweights Linton Hopkins, Ben Barker, and Karen Barker. A loaded roster of culinary talent, and the sweeping view from the private penthouse where we sat down to eat, made for a tribute worthy of the chef who laid the foundation for today’s Southern culinary renaissance.