By Helen Mitternight
(Editor's Note: Charleston is such a foodie town that food and beverage superstars are hiding in plain sight, out of theJames Beardlimelight, but still very much creating and serving amazing food and drinks. This series profiles Charleston’s “hidden F&Bs.”)
Technically,Micheal Sparksisn’t hidden. His talent and expertise led to aCultural Collaborationspeaking event at theJames Beard Foundationlast summer. He isn't a Charleston chef, either, living in Richmond, VA. But he brings his mysteriousUnderground Kitchen— lavish dinners where the location isn't revealed until 48 hours prior — to Charleston and works with Charleston chefs as well.
Unfortunately, the dinner planned for March 12 got Corona-postponed. But he isn’t letting a little virus dim this Sparks’ spark!
Favorite Kitchen Tool or Gadget: MyKitchenAidwith all its attachments gets more use than anything else in my kitchen.
In My Refrigerator (3 Things): Refrigerator or freezer? I have frozen venison and a bottle ofKetel Oneand in my refrigerator, I always have organic half-and-half.
In My Pantry (3 Things): Arborio rice, cornmeal, gluten-free flour.
Favorite After-work Hangout: Drinking champagne and working in the garden.
Comfort Food: I love a good chili, I love a good paella and a good Matzo ball soup.
Favorite Smell: It’s two things: boiling chicken for stock reminds me of home, and lavender is my Zen moment.
Favorite Drink: The Southern part of me is coming through.Belle Isle Moonshineis a neighbor of ours at the office, and I love their moonshine.
Number of Hours You Work a Week: I’m a workaholic. We’re in the middle of so many productions, I would say about 14 hours a day.
Customer Pet Peeve: If you are a picky eater, Underground Kitchen is not for you. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. If you are not one who explores new foods and techniques, Underground Kitchen is not for you.
Most Under-rated Ingredient: The innards. Liver, tripe, oxtail. We have a no waste policy and we’re getting some amazing things from our chefs.
Favorite Meal to Cook at Home: Chicken and dumplings.
Best Advice From A Mentor: In fashion, I had a boss, Jean-Pierre. He was a designer. He said to be true to your brand. And that is always in my head.
What’s Next? We bought anAirstreamand we’re renovating it. We’re working on production of a TV show; and we design our own dishes and plates, so probably merchandising. Check out Underground Kitchen atUndergroundKitchen.organd check back atCharleston Gritto see when the Charleston dinner is rescheduled.
Want more? Check outEpisode 18 of the Hidden F&B companion podcast with Micheal!