Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greater Charleston Restaurant Association - a Weekend of Food and Cultural Delights

The Greater Charleston Restaurant Association (GCRA) hosted three great events this past weekend. Taste: Iron Chef was held at the Culinary Institute downtown; Southern and Sweet was staged at Harborside; and the annual Taste of Charleston soiree at Boone Hall rounded out the three day schedule. Being a big fan of our local food culture, I was excited to attend as many of these as possible. We were only able to attend two, and here is the drill down from the weekend.

Taste: Iron Chef

The Iron Chef competition was an unexpected treat. As we arrived, we were directed into the TV viewing areas where heavy hors d'oeuvres were displayed. Tables filled with chocolate truffles, mousse and bite sized desserts surrounded the entry way. As we pressed further into the dining hall, we discovered burners warming meats from the smoker. Schnitzel sandwiches, a simple combination of fried pork filets and Sriracha slaw, were the first bites that melted in our mouths as we meandered through the line. Beef brisket, so tender it was falling off the forks, sat alongside a fall vegetable salad, consisting of sweet potatoes, red and green peppers and white potatoes. Along the other side, a smattering of German themed dishes lined the tables. Sausages, German potatoes, corndogs and more were a nice welcome for the upcoming Oktoberfest festivities. The students had obviously expended a large amount of time preparing for this event, and it definitely showed.

The competing chefs arrived via limousine and were escorted into the ampitheater. Waiting for their secret ingredient to be revealed, the announcers introduced them to the judges. We watched from a televised viewing area, but there were many who bought tickets to watch the competition in the ampitheater seating area. Hosts offered swag bags to lucky attendees throughout the show. Sean Brock, chef at Husk, acted as one of the hosts and held us captive with his repertoire. Unfortunately, we did find it a little hard to follow the chefs' feats, as it was quite noisy in the outer areas. I can easily understand how the ampitheater sells out so quickly!

As it were, Taste: Iron Chef is probably one of my favorite new events. I've always been a big fan of the original Japanese version, and this was an excellent and fun way to bring some friendly competition to our favorite local chefs. I can't wait to go again next year.

Southern and Sweet

We headed to Southern and Sweet at Harborside East on Saturday. Getting there a bit early, we were able to see the chefs prepare their amazing dishes of the day. Having had rain almost daily for the past month, we were a little concerned about having this outdoors. Luckily enough, we arrived to find the area covered with tents and just a light drizzle of rain. The view was spectacular of the harbor! Looking out, the Ravenel Bridge stood magnificently as a backdrop for the occasion. Music was provided by Hank Futch and Phillip Lammonds, and their fun and funky style was welcomed by all. There could not have been a better choice of entertainment for the occasion.

Delicious desserts were presented inside the main building and were crafted by the Culinary Institute's students. Bite sized carrot cakes, snickerdoodles and pecan diamonds didn't last long. The sweet treats were carefully displayed along delicate event decor arranged by Ooh! events. Tea candles lit up the room, and lovely flowers brightened up the wooden bar. Bartenders lavishly poured wine and beer, along with other non-alcoholic drinks, to the many people who flooded the event. Porters, browns and Oktoberfests with wines of all colors were available at the open bars inside and out.

Three tents representing local food fare were set up. We were lucky to sit with a nice couple of ladies who had ventured down from Spartanburg, so we compared notes with each sampling. Here is the breakdown of what we had.

- Middleton Place

Shrimp and grits were Middleton Place's dish of the day. Presented beautifully with a bread and butter pickled okra accessorizing the top, it was nearly perfect. I was at first a bit skeptical of the combination, as the chef blended tasso ham with a tomato base. I couldn't have been more wrong, as the grits simply kissed the grits while marinating in the delightful gravy. Taking bites of the okra, we were delighted to have sweetness develop on our tastebuds when we were expecting something along the lines of dill. The choice of adding pickled okra to the dish enhanced the sweetness from the tomato based gravy and enhanced the dish. Small bites of tasso ham snuggled up to the shrimp and added just the right amount of flavor.


Graze offered catfish stew with homemade sausage and some of the best damn cornbread I've ever eaten. The stew was heavy on tomatoes, which I love, but my table mates didn't find it as delicious. There was little taste of catfish to the stew. In my opinion, that was perfect as it avoids the strong flavors that often accompany catfish. Hoppin John was served on the side along with a nice square of sweet cornbread. The Hoppin John was pretty flat but went well if added to the stew. Otherwise, it didn't really speak to us. Sorghum butter, made from sweet sorghum grass, added a lovely touch to the moist cake-like cornbread. A couple of hits at this table, but sadly we all agreed there was a miss with the Hoppin' John.

-Swig and Swine

The lines to this table were tremendous! Once we got to speak with the chef, we found out why. Swig and Swine brought out their powerhouse smoker and served beef brisket, patted with salt and pepper only, that had been smoked for 16-18 hours. Juicy pulled pork, on the smoker for 14-16 hours melted in our mouths. A dry rub of brown sugar, chili powder, salt and pepper gave the pork a sweet crust. Every bite was a little taste of Heaven, and we enjoyed every mouthful. A nice but heavy macaroni and cheese with collard greens made this a true meal. Many people enjoyed the macaroni and cheese, but I found it to be a little heavy. It was good though. The collard greens were a little too vinegary but still tasted all right. The lovely combination of meats with the generous sides were enough to make sure everyone in attendance left with a belly full of good food.

Would I go back to this event? Absolutely! Every year, we get to sample great food on the Harbor from some of the best chefs in town. You never know what you're going to get, and the entertainment is always spectacular. Having a great bar service, such as Snyder's, doesn't hurt either.

No comments:

Post a Comment