In an era when most urban Americans were suspicious of food that wasn't boxed, bagged or canned, Euell Gibbons made a landmark case for plucking meals from the landscape. "Stalking the Wild Asparagus," published in 1962, was the first major foraging manifesto.
But the title, pun value aside, is slightly misleading. It doesn't take much stealth to gather wild asparagus. At this time of year, the skinny green plants are just as likely to come find you.
"It seems like they're everywhere," says chef Frank Lee, who last month put his backyard haul on the menu at Old Village Post House. It took Lee about 20 minutes to collect a half-pound of the seasonal delicacy.
Wild asparagus thrives in moist, sandy soil and, like cultivated asparagus, is best enjoyed when it's still lithe and limber. Although wild asparagus is considerably smaller than its domesticated cousin, it has the same earthy, spring flavor.
"You can see how greeny and delicious it is," says Lee, who's also been preparing wild asparagus at home. "It doesn't need much."
Lee recommends blanching the asparagus, then lightly dressing it with lemon juice and olive oil.
Other local chefs, including Jason Stanhope and Sean Brock, have served wild asparagus, but it doesn't take a restaurant trip to locate the plant. As Gibbons would no doubt say, get stalking.
Weinstein leaves Wine + Food
Randi Weinstein, who spent seven years with the Charleston Wine + Food Festival and became its most recognizable face after the resignation of founding director Angel Postell, has announced her departure.
"There is a short window for me to depart for a smooth transition, and that's now. I'm sad to go, but excited for new opportunities," Weinstein, director of events, is quoted as saying in a release from the festival. "My heart will always be with the festival, and I believe it will grow and do great things in year 10 and beyond."
The festival's executive staff has been in flux since Postell stepped down from her position in March 2013. The current executive director, Gillian Zettler, was hired last November after an extensive search, although she didn't assume the full scope of her duties until this year's festival was completed. And director of communications Cathryn Davis Zommer last month replaced Ashley Zink, who held the job for three years before relocating to Washington.
"New beginnings are always a little exciting and a little painful - sweet and sour - but we wish Randi great success as she tackles new ventures," Zettler is quoted as saying.
Former Leyla chef back in business
Vatche Meguerdichian, the opening Leyla chef who left the downtown restaurant after he was denied a shift drink, is again selling schawerma and shish tawook in Los Angeles.
Meguerdichian's new Sherman Oaks venture is considerably more casual than his previous southern California restaurant, which drew praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold. Entree prices at the counter-service joint top out at $12.
Leyla's owners recruited Meguerdichian, an old friend, to help oversee the Lebanese restaurant's launch. Meguerdichian initially intimated he would settle permanently in Charleston, but the partnership soured. The experienced chef complained of micromanagement. "I gave my 110 percent, but I saw that this was gonna be due sooner or later," he said in an email announcing his resignation.
After quitting his job at Leyla, Meguerdichian said he planned to focus on "catering; my hummus, baba ghannouj (and) garlic paste branding and distribution; and last but not least, my singing career that I had on hold since I came to Charleston," although he refused to rule out an Alcazar revival.
Alcazar Fresh Mediterranean Food is located at the corner of Ventura and Van Nuys boulevards. "Please come and check us out," Meguerdichian writes.
Sean Brock's PBS show up for 7 Emmys
The nominations just keep on coming for chef Sean Brock, who now has a chance at claiming an Emmy statuette.
Brock and April Bloomfield are nominated in the "outstanding culinary host" category of the 41st annual Daytime Emmy Awards for their PBS program "The Mind of a Chef."
The nomination prevented a Food Network sweep: Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Rachael Ray represent Brock and Bloomfield's competition.
Although many PBS stations broadcast "The Mind of a Chef" during evening hours, there are no culinary categories specifically associated with the more prestigious Primetime Emmys. But the Daytime Emmys boasts an assortment of them, and "The Mind of a Chef" fared well.
In addition to the hosting honors, the show received nominations for Outstanding Culinary Program and Outstanding Directing in a Lifestyle/Culinary/Travel Program. It was also nominated for outstanding achievement in main title and graphic design; single-camera photography; single-camera editing; and sound editing (live action.)
Winners will be announced at a Beverly Hilton Hotel ceremony June 22.
How generous are Charleston's coffee drinkers?
If you're patting yourself on the back in response to a study showing South Carolinians are the nation's most generous coffeehouse tippers, you can put your hand down now.
Quartz.com this month released an analysis of tipping data provided by payment service Square; according to the numbers, the national average tip on food and drink is 16.5 percent. But baristas do better as a rule, receiving an average gratuity of 18 percent. In South Carolina, the figure is a whopping 23 percent (although only 45 percent of customers paying via Square leave a tip.)
By comparison, the average tip in Hawaii, the state with the stingiest coffee drinkers, is 15 percent.
Even Quartz concedes the statistics are likely flawed, since they don't account for the types of businesses that use Square or the tipping proclivities of cash-paying customers.
But locally, it's possible to compare affogatos to affogatos. That's because Black Tap Coffee is a Square user, allowing a direct comparison of Charleston coffee consumers to their brethren statewide. And it's clear that the city's not responsible for driving up barista tips.
A Black Tap Coffee staffer who checked the cafe's year-to-date sales receipts reports the tips on Square transactions stand at 15.3 percent.
So folks dreaming about getting rich by pulling espressos may want to adjust their career goals, or consider moving to Columbia.
The Georgean's secret is out
Over the last month, Georgean's Caribbean Soul has quickly become a favorite of Charleston food lovers, many of whom savor the joint's relative anonymity nearly as much as its jerk seasoning. But the tiny Line Street take-out joint is likely to lose its "hidden gem" status with the arrival next month of Adam Richman.
According to Georgean's owner, Deborah Grant, producers of Richman's new Travel Channel show recently contacted the restaurant about filming in June.
"They're profiling Charleston, and they're looking for some of the off-the-beaten-path sort of places," Grant says.
Travel Channel's website describes "Man Finds Food" as the "ultimate hunt to uncover the most unique, surprising and delicious hidden food treasures in every town, the dishes you would never find anywhere else on the planet, at the places you would never expect."
The show is scheduled to debut July 2.
"I have to thank all my Yelpers for giving us such positive feedback," says Grant, explaining that the producers found Georgean's through the online review site.
Georgean's, 8-D Line St., is open Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. and Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. There's no seating inside the building, but Grant has recently installed a pair of attractive picnic tables out front. Also, every dish is cooked to order, so it's best to call 974-4148 or email email@example.com in advance of your arrival.
Five Charleston food trends
What's popular in Charleston? According to Nation's Restaurant News, cured meat, foraged greens and flavored ice cubes.
The trade publication's senior food editor, Bret Thorn, recently paid the city a visit to uncover "trends that are likely to become further entrenched across the country." Although he went looking for them in the usual places - his write-up doesn't note relative newcomers such as Edmund's Oast or Warehouse - he came up with a pretty defensible list of five things Charlestonians like to eat.
In addition to the meat, greens and ice cubes, Thorn cited "reinventing old favorites," providing Husk's pimiento cheese as an example, and "gluten-free items," an insight culled from Sweet Radish Bakeshop.
Other stops on Thorn's tour included Sugar Bakeshop, Two Boroughs Larder, Cypress and The Alley. The full list is at http://nrn.com/food-trends/5-food-trends-charleston-sc.
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