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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Charleston Food and Wine Festival


Charleston Food and Wine Festival

I have been able to benefit from my culinary externship/internship in ways that most students just wouldn’t understand and the ones that do understand would kill for the experience.   I’m being tutored by a James Beard nominee (twice) and charcuterie master.  In addition, we get to break down pig and beef carcass on a regular basis and I’m schooled in the arts of preparing, preserving and presenting these proteins in numerous and varied ways that most joints just can’t do because of space, expertise, ambition, fear and an utter lack of stones. Let’s face it, I’m in an enviable position to be getting instruction from a kitchen master and staff that possess all these qualities and then some!

On top of all this fantastic learning; I’m also privy to Charleston’s culinary happenings and this blog is focused entirely on the Charleston Food and Wine Festival.  This event is a big deal in the lowcountry as it raises a ton of money for the area, highlights green, sustainable, local and organic endeavors as well as drawing a wide array of talent from across the globe.  Folks come from magazines (Bon Appetite, Southern Living, Conde Nast Traveler, etc.), the James Beard Foundation, Frommers, Zagat, Michelin …. well, you get the idea.

The first event I was able to help out with was held at the Charleston Aquarium and proved exciting for me.  I was able to get out of the kitchens of Cypress and peruse the local folks and soak up some culture as well as enjoy the view supplied by the aquarium itself.  

Ceiling sculpture above the atrium

Stars of the show

Bob prepping for the event

We first start by getting everything packed into Chef Deihl’s truck and then headed out for an eventful ride of about 1 mile.  I say eventful because Craig is a bit heavy footed on the gas pedal and we also made a stop at the local Harris Teeter (a grocery market for you Yanks) to pick up a case of  brew.  After all, the patrons aren’t the only ones who should enjoy themselves right?

Chef"s Bob Cook and Craig Deihl

The Atrium

Upon arriving; I was eager to help unload our contents onto the golf carts helping us traverse our goods to the back docks of the event.  In my haste I spilled the scalding water in one of the coolers all over me - - much to my surprise - - chef left out the detail of what was lurking within its contents.  My hopping around like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest was very amusing to my fellow culinarians.

Cylindrical Tank

We arrive at our spot on the second floor passing by the exhibits along the way; I begin to feel like this may be a fun time and it was.  Seeing the visitors all dressed up in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes always adds panache to any party.  It’s true, Southern women are very conscious of the way they look and they look wonderful in Charleston!  I thought I was smack-dab-in-the-middle of a fashion runway and I ain’t complaining if you know what I mean?

Native to the waters  of Charleston, SC

Craig's cookbook and ipad showing pics of his food

We begin our set up which consisted of crab roe soup and pan roasted oysters for garnish, this offering was absolutely delicious.  I had a great seat to view all the goings-on as I was situated directly behind Chef’s Bob and Craig cooking the oysters (not very difficult) and gazing out onto the crowd.  Craig and Bob gave us ample time to roam and snap pics of various exhibits and party happenings as you can see.

Little-bitty submarine-cam

Taking a breather

The second event that I was able to help with was an after-party at our own Cypress restaurant.  First there was a dinner hosted by Craig Deihl and Cypress; he was assisted by guest chefs Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon restaurant (James Beard winner – New Orleans) and Christopher Hastings (an Iron Chef challenger who won!); very good company indeed!

Waiting to get into Cypress

Chef's wife and a friend

Folks enjoying themselves at the after-party

Chef Deihl talking with guests - the woman on the left is from the James Beard Foundation

 The menu was out of sight with:
Hors d’oeuvers
*Breasaola + Oysters
*Beef Tartare

*Mirliton Salad
(Shrimp, celery & grapefruit)

Wood-Grilled Boudin Stuffed Rabbit
(Baby cabbage & pickled peppers)

Roasted “Border Springs Farm” Leg of Lamb
(Root vegetables, garlic-greens, lamb bacon, black olive oil)

Roasted Strawberries
(Fromage Blanc, funnel cake, red wine syrup)

The bar was packed!

The guests really enjoyed themselves

Chef Don Drake of Magnolias restaurant and friends

I think the folks got their money’s worth don’t you?  In addition to the dinner and after-party was a carving demonstration by Chef Craig Deihl and a tutorial on dry-curing meats followed by a tasting of his most recent creations for the lucky passers-by.

First removing the skin & bone

Craig preparing prosciutto

The deft skill of a master
Spreading the salt

Packing the salt for proper cure

Craig and his minions

The guy in the jacket is from Bon Appetite magazine

We all worked an average of 13-14 hours that day and it was well worth the effort.  I never had so much fun bouncing from one station to the next.  I came in at noon and started to make dough for dinner rolls then make brine for pickles then chop the beef for Chef’s tartare
 Hor d’oeuvers then mass assembly of plates then…well there’s too much to get into but along the way I was able to snap some pics as you can see.

Setting out plates in the upstairs kitchen

Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon restaurant (James Beard winner – New Orleans)

Christopher Hastings (an Iron Chef challenger who won!)

Nola's dynamic duo

Every detail counts on a night like this

A view from the bar looking down on the kitchen theater

The main course - not bad eh?

Roasted leg of lamb w/ (Root vegetables, garlic-greens, lamb bacon, black olive oil)

This event was my favorite as this venue had a band (and a good one too) that played everything from Motown to classic rock to pop…I loved it and it showed as I couldn’t stop moving my feet and hips to the sounds pulsating from stage right.  I may have even garnered a few fans as a small (very small) group of women stopped by to get some grub from the “Dancing Chef”.  I told them I was just a student but enjoyed their company as they were “easy-on-the-eyes” as my grandfather Okolovitch would say.

Setting up

Waiting to begin the night w/ John, Ashley and Craig

Craig's still waiting to begin the night........
 This was one of the last events of the festival and the venue was a converted garage where the buses pick up all the tourists for historical rides through Charleston.  Whoever was in charge of decorations did a bang-up job as the place resembled that of a hip uptown club scene reminiscent of New York.

Nap time is over and raring to go!
The party is in full swing
Just part of the scenery
The band was outstanding
The clientele was much younger and adventurous.  A lot of dancing and scantily-clad folks were in attendance on this very overcast and wet evening.  It rained the entire time and folks still poured into this party with a passion to let loose.  My grandfather would have loved being here for the “eye-candy”.  He loved coming up with phrases (not really his) to compliment the fairer gender.

Craig devised a fantastic open-faced sandwich with his own dry-cured pastrami with arugula, remoulade, capers and olive oil along with seasonings of salt and pepper.  It was delish!!  Folks taking part in his creation gave it a unanimous two thumbs up!  There wasn’t one negative word uttered when describing this delicious small-plate offering.

These ladies made the BEST cannoli's

End of the night is capped off with chef recognition

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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