Over the past decade, Southern farmers and chefs have taken huge strides in patching up the South Carolina pantry. So what happens next? Low-country kingpin Sean Brock takes stock.
Pound for pound, Charleston has an insanely impressive food scene. It’s a tiny city, and yet we’re jam-packed with great restaurants. But that’s truly a recent development, because until about 2008, there was a missing link in low-country cooking: the natural, indigenous, delicious products that originally shaped this cuisine.
Farmers and organizations like the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation put in years of hard work to revitalize our historic pantry, reviving ingredients like cowpeas, benne seeds and Ossabaw Island hogs. Now that mission is nearly complete, and Charleston cuisine is the best it’s ever been.
You have chefs using low-country ingredients to showcase a wide range of cultural influences, like Jeffrey Stoneberger’s Japanese food at the 2Nixons pop-up or Michael Toscano’s Italian cooking at Le Farfalle (15 Beaufain St.). The new food hall Workshop (1503 King St.) adds even more to the pot, with stalls serving Korean, Tex-Mex and Vietnamese food.
At the same time, we have people like Benjamin Dennis digging even deeper into Southern traditions. He’s a private chef you can hire or catch at pop-ups, and he’s really committed to telling the story of Gullah Geechee cuisine—descended from enslaved West Africans—and bringing it into the future.
Selfishly, I’m very excited that Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ (1011 King St.) and Lewis Barbecue (464 N Nassau St.) came to town recently. There’s just so much new stuff unfolding. It feels like we are starting to realize how diverse Southern food can be. Fifty years from now, we’ll look back on this time period and see that we were part of something incredibly special. —as told to Jordana Rothman