Raskin Around: Kevin Johnson of The Grocery takes dinner in the field
Hanna Raskin – Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Diners have become accustomed to on-farm eating since Outstanding in the Field popularized the concept, but Kevin Johnson of The Grocery says cooking outdoors still poses serious challenges for chefs.
“You’re not only outside of your kitchen, you’re outside of any kitchen,” says Johnson, who this month guest starred as chef of an Outstanding in the Field event at Thornhill Farm, the culinary roadshow’s first area appearance since 2010.
According to Johnson, The Grocery’s crew was confident about its Thornhill set-up until organizers made a last-minute decision to stage the reception and dinner on different parts of the farm, requiring two mobile kitchens.
“It was like, ‘Oh, hey, where’s the Maldon salt?,’ Johnson says of the complexities of keeping two ad hoc, alfresco kitchens correctly stocked. “We have to plate the lamb, and I’m insisting on Maldon salt, because those are the things chefs care about.”
With the mixed grill of Border Springs lamb nearly ready to serve, Johnson sent one of his staffers on a quarter-mile sprint back to the reception kitchen for the British sea salt.
Although farm dinners have become commonplace in recent years, Johnson says he doesn’t think the concept’s ubiquity strips it of meaning: Like pioneering farm-to-table chefs, Outstanding in the Field has been forced to hone its techniques rather than rely on the novelty of its offerings.
Johnson was initially worried about ticket sales, with only 100 seats sold. But an organizer helpfully reminded him, “dude, it’s Thursday at 2 o’clock, almost an hour from Charleston.”
Even with a modest crowd by Outstanding in the Field standards, the event provided an opportunity for Johnson and wife Susan to close their restaurant and invite their staffers to Thornhill Farm. Four servers and eight kitchen staffers worked the dinner.
That’s a lot of Bull
Bull Street Gourmet & Market, which this summer shuttered its original namesake location, is planning to open another store in a forthcoming apartment building on Meeting Street.
According to a press release, the shop will take up 1,200 of the 7,000 square feet designated for retail in the Elan Midtown complex at 441 Meeting St. The only other commercial occupant thus far announced is financial investment firm Edward Jones.
The deli will sell breakfast items, sandwiches, soups, salads, prepared items, wine and beer. A lower King Street location of Bull Street, opened in 2011, will remain open.
A leaderless Republic?
It’s indisputable that I recently had a really lousy meal last Monday at Republic Reign. What’s unclear is who was responsible for it.
Three days after my visit, Eater Charleston reported that the razzle-dazzle watering hole, which looks like the backdrop for an MTV show shot in Miami, had lost its opening executive chef. But a publicist last week was unable to say when Benjamin Harris left the five-month old lounge, meaning it’s impossible to know with certainty whether the poor quality of the food predicated his departure or resulted from it.
Online clues point to the latter explanation: According to a Saturday update on Harris’ Facebook page, the 26-year old chef, who previously worked at Poogan’s Porch, has accepted a position with SERG Restaurant Group and is relocating to Hilton Head.
Publicist Grace Newland didn’t have any information regarding replacement plans.
My meal at Republic included greasy fingerling potatoes crammed with duck confit, soggy French fries and whipped mascarpone presented as hummus. We didn’t order the local fish lettuce wraps after learning the local fish was tuna.
“Tuna?” I asked. “I know,” my server said sympathetically, adding that she wanted to press the chef on the choice but feared she’d be chastised for asking too many questions. (Of course, there are always black pots and black kettles in restaurant kitchens: When we later requested an itemized receipt, she handed me a ticket she’d fished out of the trash.)
“The culinary team is in flux right now,” Newland writes, adding that menu updates are in the works.
In an event that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, a local bakery is competing on food television to win $10,000 for its cupcake.
Cupcake DownSouth, which has stores in Charleston, Mount Pleasant and Columbia, will appear on Saturday’s episode of the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” an elimination challenge judged by a cupcake mogul and online macaroon company chef.
Four bakeries are featured in the showdown, which has previously produced winning entries such as a “Salted Caramel Cupcake with Pecan Coconut Brittle Crumble and Caramel Swiss Buttercream” and a chocolate chip cookie dough cupcake.
The show airs at 8 p.m.
The Southern Foodways Alliance earlier this month honored and celebrated women working in every sector of the Southern food world.
The symposium program featured lectures about Eugenia Duke, who launched a mayonnaise empire; Patricia Barnes, the Sister Schubert behind a frozen dinner roll line so successful that daily production is counted in the millions; and civil rights fighter Joan Marie Bonton Williams, an ardent collector of cookbooks who pointedly stored her Junior League cookbooks in the bathroom.
Speakers also highlighted the work of the nameless female domestic workers, farmers and restaurant servers who play an integral role in getting Southerners fed. But the highest accolade was reserved for Lowcountry champion Vertamae Grosvenor, the Hampton County native who in 1970 captivated readers with her take on instinctual cooking, “Vibration Cooking: Or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.”
The freewheeling memoir-cookbook made a strong impression on a diverse readership, including, according to presenter Tamar Alder, David Bowie and her great friend, Nina Simone.
In awarding the organization’s Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award to Grosvenor, food writer Ronni Lundy said of her classic, “It gave life to and nurtured for many of us a whole new way to come to the table and talk about race. It did so by filling the table with food, and telling that food’s story.”
Mind your c’s and q’s
Lake High is coming to The Alley later this month to shoot a segment for the Travel Channel based on his new book, “A History of South Carolina Barbeque.” That’s “barbeque” with a “q” — a stylistic decision that’s likely to inflame partisans of a tradition that prizes debate as much as deliciousness.
Barbecue, as the Associated Press Style Guide prefers it, is commonly abbreviated as BBQ, Bar-B-Q and just plain “Q.” As Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, last year wrote in a blog post for the Southern Foodways Alliance, such shorthand is so popular with pitmasters that “I once asked Aaron Franklin if he spelled out the name of his Austin brisket temple, Franklin Barbecue, on purpose. He confirmed that it was intentional: “ ‘BBQ’ just sounds like you’re in a hurry.
“We use a ‘q’ because the letter ‘c’ when sounded out reminds people of seafood and the sound ‘q’ reminds people of barbeque,” says High, president of the South Carolina Barbecue Association. “Plus, we use the ‘q’ with a palmetto tree as our logo.”
Cook It Raw sold out
Got your ticket to BBQ Perspectives, the first-ever public component of Cook It Raw?
If not, it’s now officially too late.
The last of the 550 tickets to the upcoming Bowen’s Island bonanza was sold last week, according to an organization publicist.
Buzz about Cook It Raw has been relatively muted in national food media circles, perhaps because the supremely exclusive event doesn’t fit the standard food festival format.
Although Cook It Raw has changed slightly with each iteration since debuting four years ago in Copenhagen, the basic framework involves sending a dozen or so young chefs into the wilderness to kill and collect ingredients for a meal that’s supposed to capture everything they’re thinking about the surrounding landscape.
The process stretches out over days, which also feature presentations from local culinary experts.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.