By Helen Mitternight
If you’re paying attention to the foodie world of Charleston, you may have heard: Sean Brock has left the building. And whatever is Charleston going to do?
Well, Travis Grimes, who’s now heading the kitchen at Husk, where Brock made his name, isn’t bothered at all. He’s not exactly, “Sean who?” but he’ll tell you he’s been carrying on at Husk for a long time, which makes sense, given that Brock was often on television shows and food event stages being the celebrity he is.
That’s not to say Grimes isn’t appreciative of all that he’s learned from Brock. He watched him move from the obsession of “molecular food,” when food may not even resemble its ingredients, to a different take.
“We removed the traditional boundaries of cuisine. And then, being there with Sean, I watched him realize maybe we should tone it down, maybe we should grow our own food, maybe we should dive into preservation. That realization of what food really meant to him was really impactful on my perspective, as well, and it informs how I cook today. I was so lucky to be able to work side by side with him and his charm and his obsession and his passion.”
When Brock moved to open Husk in 2010, Grimes was in and he took over as executive chef five years later.
Grimes brought his own pedigree, having moved to Charleston when he was 9 and, by age 10 or 11, teaching himself to cook through reading cookbooks and making treats for his parents when they got home from work. He started as a dishwasher, but was soon attending Johnson & Wales culinary school and that education combined with “a little bit of influence from older black ladies cooking butter beans and collards and yelling at me that I was doing it wrong,” led to him developing his own expertise.
From the early days at Husk, Brock was letting Grimes run the show, so the menu post-Brock isn’t noticeably different.
Sometimes, the menu will seem almost Asian rather than “Southern,” but Grimes says that’s defining Southern too narrowly.
“I basically cook what I want to eat at any given time based on the ingredients I have to work with,” Grimes says. “If there happens to be some Asian influence, so be it. We’re making our own misos, getting great soy sauce from Kentucky. All of these wonderful products we have available to us from the South. We cook what we want to eat and as long as we are sourcing Southern products then isn’t that Southern food?”
“I never really had meetings with him about what I wanted to put on the menu,” Grimes says. “I put things on the menu and they worked and I would evolve it. And if it didn’t work, well, we change the menu every day, so tomorrow it would be gone. That continues to this day. The menu itself is more driven by the farmers than anything else. My relationship with farmers. At the end of the day, I use little bits of advice from Sean over the years about the menu. If I have a question about anything, I can reach out and ask him. He’s my mentor and that will never change. He’s certainly the biggest influence on my career.”
Grimes doesn’t see Husk going away anytime soon, even without the great Sean Brock.
“We continue to stay true to the philosophy of working with farmers and serving the best food we can. Simple food. If I can find a turnip that tastes like no other turnip, I can make people appreciate how good that turnip is. Or a good strawberry. I believe that as long as we continue to do that, Husk will stay relevant for years to come.”