Sure, you can bring your foodie friends to Charleston’s finest restaurants, but if you really want to look like you’re in the know, show them where the city cooks up its new chefs.
Bulldog Tours, known for giving your guests fun chills with their ghost tours and haunted jail tours, is stepping into fill the void left by the closing of Southern Season and Charleston Cooks with its new Taste of the Lowcountry tour, which partners with the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College to educate about Lowcountry cuisine.
The tour, offered on Thursday mornings from 9:30 am to noon, begins at Mercantile and Mash, with a light breakfast snack of Benne wafers, cheese grits (using grits from Anson Mills, known for cultivating heirloom grains) and a slice of a cinnamon bun, along with coffee or tea. The location is a nice nod to the late, lamented Johnson & Wales culinary school, which was housed at the Cigar Factory until it decamped for a nicer campus in Charlotte. Tour guides talk about the history of Lowcountry cuisine, including the debt it owes the African slaves, who combined ingredients from Spain, Britain and the French Huguenots with their own techniques and ingredients.
Tourists also will get a narrative about the local culinary celebrities whose cookbooks and wares can be purchased back at Mercantile & Mash at tour’s end, including award-winning Kelly Chu’s Cirsea ice cream, Carrie Morey’s Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, and celebrity chef Nathalie Dupree, who will cook a private dinner in her home for up to 10 tourists if it is arranged in advance (that’s an extra charge).
A short walk to the Trident campus and your guests can have a tour of the 22,000 square foot culinary institute, with its industrial kitchens, huge mixers, massive ovens, and more steel than an operating room. If your friends are food geeks, this is the part of the tour that will make their little geeky hearts pitter-patter.
Chef Miles Huff, a culinary pro with the entertainment skills of a carnival barker, leads the tour and the cooking demonstration.
Recipes will change monthly to ensure that the freshest ingredients are used in the cooking demonstration, and Huff, along with a sous chef, Frances, cooks as he chatters about the culinary life in Charleston, as well as how he came to teach cooking (“I was in nursing school, but there weren’t enough happy endings in hospitals. I wanted fun, excitement, constant change, food, girls, and cold beer.”)
Today’s recipe is fried green tomatoes under lump blue crab meat topped by a creamy sauce made from the iconic Pimento Cheese and Duke’s Mayonnaise, as well as microgreens tossed in a drop of truffle oil.
“The trick,” Huff says, “is add some corn meal into the flour, about 40/60 corn meal to flour, so you get that crunch when you fry the tomatoes.”
He shares the kind of obscure foodie facts that your guests will drop into conversations long after they’ve left Charleston.
“The traditional round chef’s hat…did you know every pleat represents a different way you can cook eggs?”
Sous chef Frances nods in agreement. “101 ways,” she says.
The Taste of the Lowcountry Tour is $60 and can be reserved at bulldogtours.com. The company also offers five other culinary tours, including including a chef's kitchen tour, a dessert tour and a tour that highlights the trendy Upper King Street restaurants.