Charlestonians have been known to grumble about invaders from the North. They were even suspicious when Robert Stehling, a North Carolina native, slipped into this genteel South Carolina seaport and transformed an old barbershop into the Hominy Grill. Once they tried Stehling's updated versions of local favorites like hominy stew and buttermilk pie, however, they bestowed on him their highest honor: They'll wait in line for a table.
Robert now calls Charleston home, but his roots in North Carolina run deep. Growing up in rural Kernersville, he and his younger brother, Johnan acclaimed chef in his own right as an owner of the Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, North Carolinahelped their parents grow organic vegetables in a bank of lean red clay behind the house. And they were put to work in the kitchen at a young age. "Ever since we were old enough to hold a vegetable peeler," Robert says, "Mama made us cook one meal a week."
Much has changed for the Stehling family. That red clay, after many years of composting, is now rich black soil and the envy of Forsyth County. Their father is the one lending his sons a hand, delivering stone-ground grits to their restaurants every month from an eighteenth-century water-powered grist mill near Greensboro, North Carolina. (He spends his days working at a brick-oven bakery, after retiring from the insurance business three years ago.) And the Stehling boys have gone from once-a-week cooks to professional chefs.