The Grand Tasting Tent at the Culinary Village in Marion Square
I picked up my badge at the Charleston Wine + Food Media Center at the SieMatic store on King Street this past Friday. Cole Poolaw of Barsa was serving up tapas while the most sublime Viognier was being poured for the journalists buzzing around the store. Italy. New York. Chicago. California. This festival is a big deal. Next to me was a photographer from Atlanta for the Wall Street Journal. We all received a free copy of Charleston Receipts cookbook. How very Charleston. Charleston food is playing on a very large screen, folks.
The first event I attended was the Pecha Kucha evening at the Charleston Muisc Hall. Pecha Kucha is a presentation format in which several speakers present on a topic of their choice as 20 slides of their choice progress on a big screen. The speakers have 20 seconds to explain each slide. The results are humorous, informative, and even inspiring. This year, we got a peek inside the inner workings of a busy restaurant (Butcher & Bee), the musings of a creative bakery start-up (The Cake Farmer), as well as the perspectives of a French filmmaker who produced a film about Charleston farming (Thibaut Fagonde). But the speech that really brought the house down was that of veteran chef Frank Lee of S.N.O.B. Lee is a a wise, witty, affable guy. During his 20-slide segment, the chef presented fun older photos of himself as a young chef from the '70s and '80s (read: large afro) while he preached the need for more women, more people of color, and better wages and benefits in the restaurant industry.
Saturday's Wine + Food fun included the Culinary Village in Marion Square, which, by all accounts, was the best Culinary Village in festival history. The square on the corner of King and Calhoun was tranformed into a small city of its own. A center stage housed back-to-back musicians. There was a cigar tent. A beer garden. An artisan tent. A gardening tent. And lastly, my favorite, the Grand Tasting Tent—the home to all things wine!
So what were my impressions of Charleston's food and wine scene from my time at the festival?
1. We are still very much rooted in our Southern and coastal heritage, with fried chicken, BBQ, okra stew, oysters, seafood, and cornbread.
2. Beer, wine, and small-craft liquors are a major part of our culinary landscape.
3. Charleston has become a major player in the international food scene.
4. The leaders in Charleston's food world are producing tradional Southern food that has been updated with a more progressive vibe, using fresh, local ingredients and unexpected twists on old favorites.
As a gluten-free blogger, what were my impressions? We still have a long way to go, but we have come very far. I spoke with a woman from Zagat who is gluten intolerant. We discussed how easy it is in large metropolitan cities to find safe kitchens who know how to serve non-contaminated, gluten-free food, but how tough it can still be here in Charleston to safely dine out. Education is still needed, the economic benefits of gluten-free food service need to be demonstrated, and cross-contamination measures still need to be implemented for the millions of people who medically need gluten-free options.
But all in all, we live in an incredible city for food. I, for one, am so glad to be a part of it.