Charleston Wine and Food: The Hot Topics



The ribs have been stripped, the oysters shucked and the grits and biscuits polished clean. Charleston Wine and Food Festival just managed to pack years of delicious into just five days. Five days of gumbo, shrimp, fish stews, pork, oysters, rices, corns, heirloom grains, BBQ, hot sauces and somokers - you name it, it was Southern eatin’ at its best.

Pic by Andrew Cebulka.

On top of feeding the hungry food lovers who flocked to Charleston, the festival managed to quench a growing thirst for knowledge about food, with talks from producers, chefs, purveyors, protectors and researchers. Among the drinks - the fruity cocktails and sharp ryes - and between the smoking stands, there were talks taking place across a number of different topics, from the importance of biodiversity in the ecosystem to the issue of living wages within the restaurant industry.

Below is a round up of some of the Hot Topics discussed during Charleston Wine and Food Festival 2018.

Pic by Adam Chandler.

Heirloom was the talk of the festival as chefs producers and purveyors all promoted the virtues of heirloom varieties, from the rich and diverse taste they provide to the important role they play in ensuring biodiversity in our food chain.

Heirloom radishes, heirloom rice, fresh heirloom Johns’ Island Tomatoes and heirloom grains were plated across the festival site and across Charleston’s restaurants. It’s great to see a strong movement supported by so many different players in the supply line: chefs were on stage discussing their virtues, consumers learned about them and were also able to taste the difference. Learning through eating is effective.

With this in mind, Anson Mills and La Farm Bakery presented Corolina Gold Rice as a Sourdough bread baked by the famous baker, Lionel Vatinet. They also hosted an ancient grains tasting that allowed visitors to sample rare varieties and learn more about how businesses in Charleston are working together to revitalize heirloom crops.

Pic by Anson Mills.

There was a fascinating conversation that should warrant the attention of anyone working in the culinary industry. This was an idea pushed by Katie Button during a debate hosted by Heritage Radio- Button was joined by a group of industry professionals as she spoke about her efforts to sign on to support a living-wage scheme for the staff inside her restaurants.

This means agreeing to pay staff above and beyond the minimum wage required, pledging to fall within a set of guidelines put forward by a third party organization. At a time when the industry is debating minimum wage increases in a number of States and the tipping structure constantly under debate, it was interesting to hear that some chefs are now working to improve standards without the need for law changes.

Gavin Kaysen also weighed in on the issues of improving kitchen standards, speaking about his own efforts to balance work and life but also how chef's now have a responsibility to provide a better balance for their staff

Much of what was discussed played into the idea of The Sustainability of The Chef.

Pic by Adam Chandler.

John T. Edge led one of the most interesting and impactful conversations during he festival as he was joined by Diep Tran, Johno Morisano, Ashley Christensen and Mashama Bailey for a discussion that looked at the social and cultural changes that still need to take place within the industry.

They touched on gender imbalances, race imbalances and how “abuse of power” within an industry is leading to examples where people are taking too much credit for the work of the staff below them.

This was an important and honest discussion that started the important debate around many of the issues that will permeate the industry for the next few years.

Pic by Elise DeVoe.

One theme that permeated the entire festival, apart from the downright juicy deliciousness of the whole affair, was the camaraderie of Charleston and the chefs who work there. The chefs worked in unison to deliver food for thousands of hungry revelers but they have also worked this way for years to help put Charleston on the map as a food destination. During one discussion, Ashley Christensen explained how her and Sean Brock will often call after eating each other's food to ask how certain dishes are made, how a sauce is so tasty, why the fries are so crispy.

Pic by Lindsey Shorter.

There's definitely something in this approach to culinary community building and it's the same style thats served places like Copenhagen in Denmark and, more recently, Lima in Peru so well. There's more to come on this very topic soon as Fine Dining Lovers get ready to follow up with some Culinary Conversations from Charleston.