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Charleston: So fresh your mouth won’t know what hit it

This weekend I took Courtney to my favorite city in South Carolina, Charleston. I was blown away by the local food movement in Charleston and wanted to share my experiences. Courtney and I were in Charleston to visit Cameron, a sous chef at Oak Steakhouse. As soon as we arrived to the charming city, Cameron took us to dinner at the Macintosh off King Street, the Oak’s “sister” restaurant. Chef Jeremiah Bacon was destined to be a chef. Everything is better with bacon, right? He is doing some amazing things at the Macintosh and strives to incorporate local ingredients into his unique Southern dishes. We ordered multiple appetizers and one of my favorites was the pork ravioli with South Carolina creamed corn puree, charred corn, onion and basil. I was ecstatic to meet Chef Jeremiah Bacon, who is a genuine person dedicated to providing fresh, homegrown food to his customers.

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On Saturday morning we strolled through the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square. The produce was abundant at the market and I enjoyed walking around talking to the farmers. Not only does the Charleston Farmers Market offer fresh local foods, they also support local businesses. You can purchase anything at the market from South Carolina themed coasters to goat cheese!

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While at the market, I finally got my Roti Rolls fix! Cameron has been raving about Roti Rolls for weeks, a food truck dedicated to the “farm to table” movement. Roti Rolls is Charleston’s first “farm to truck” and offers a local, fresh, and seasonal menu. Imagine wrapping Asian, Indian, Caribbean, Latin and Southern cuisine in roti bread. We tried multiple Roti Rolls and I was impressed with the creative food. My roti roll had some unique toppings like homemade pimento cheese and curried potatoes. Southern met Indian in my roti roll, something I didn’t think could happen in such a delicious manner! I also enjoyed the side of fresh watermelon, which I’m sure Corey and the Roti Rolls gang purchased from the farmer’s booth right next door.

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After spending the morning at the Charleston Farmers Market, Courtney and I hit the beach at Sullivan’s Island. The weather was gorgeous and after getting sunburned we definitely needed a beer. Poe’s Tavern conveniently had two open seats at the bar. We posted up and ordered a local Mt. Pleasant brew, the White Thai from Westbrook Brewery. The White Thai is the perfect summer beer and was brewed just a few miles from where we were sitting. How refreshing and local!

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We made our way to Bowen’s Island Seafood for dinner. I had the frogmore stew, a traditional Charleston dish. I already know what you’re thinking…no, the dish doesn’t include frog parts! Frogmore stew is a dish made with sausage, shrimp, potatoes and corn. The shrimp is caught a few miles from Bowen’s Island Seafood and tastes extremely fresh. For 13 bucks, I had enough food to feed a small army. I recommend eating at Bowen’s Island Seafood if you want delicious food and a great view of a famous Charleston sunset over the water.

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For Sunday brunch we paid a visit to one of Charleston’s most popular restaurants, Husk. Husk’s menu changes daily and the local meats, produce and products are listed on a large chalkboard next to the hostess stand. Husk purchases local foods from farmers in South Carolina and also offers other products from North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia when needed. One of my favorite appetizers was the grilled crostinis with pimento cheese and bacon jam. Not only is the food local, the plateware is too!

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It’s easy to support the local food economy and you can see this in full circle in Charleston. Farmers, restaurants and businesses are working together to provide people with fresh, local products. Take a stroll through the Charleston Farmers Market and I guarantee you’ll witness what I’m talking about. I enjoyed my trip to the beautiful city of Charleston. I promise you can’t keep me away for too long!

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Chef Jay Pierce: Local Food Rock Star

 

I remember the first time I met Chef Jay Pierce at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Greensboro. I was planning a local food Speakers Series at UNC-Greensboro for the Commissioner of Agriculture. Why wouldn’t I talk to Chef Jay? He is passionate about cooking with local ingredients and has greatly impacted the Greensboro community. He strolled out of the kitchen wearing the coolest chef pants and his long brown hair was tied back in a pony tail by using pieces of food-safe materials. Chef Jay enthusiastically told me about the Grillades and Grits dish I was devouring; slowly braised pork shank and braising liquid served over a bed of delicious cheddar cheese grits. Not only could Chef Jay make my mouth water as he described the cooking process, he was able to tell me that the grits were from The Old Mill of Guilford and the pork was from Cane Creek Farms. He truly takes the time to get to know farmers and producers throughout North Carolina. He has a huge network of people involved with food and agriculture due to his philosophy about purchasing and serving local food at Lucky 32.

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Take a walk through the Piedmont Triad Farmers’ Market and I’ll bet money on it that the farmers will rave about Chef Jay. He consistently visits the market to fill up an old London taxi cab with produce grown in the Greensboro area. Did I mention the Lucky 32 taxi is decorated with produce and farm animals? Not only does Chef Jay work with farmers, the producers also have a tie to this local foods enthusiast. For instance, Chef Jay works directly with Jammin’ George who sells locally produced jams that Lucky 32 provides for their customers on the weekends. Chef Jay helps George think of new flavors for his jams like apple bourbon and cranberry tangerine. You can see the local foods movement in full circle in the Greensboro community, and I feel a big part of that is due to Chef Jay. He has proven how important it is to support your local farmer and eat at restaurants who do the same.

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(Photo Credit: Chef Jay’s Twitter)

Now let’s talk about Chef Jay’s food. I think this Louisiana native and Oregon trained chef has a good chance at winning Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad. Not only has he lived in numerous places throughout the United States, since 2006 he has been putting a unique spin on North Carolina ingredients and creating some outrageously delicious food. Lucky 32’s menu is filled with eclectic Southern dishes using locally grown products. Don’t you think this dish below looks like a jalapeno popper? But wait! It’s really a crab-stuff okra served with truffled heirloom popcorn. Who does something that creative and tasty? That’s Chef Jay for ya!

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Chef Jay really isn’t scared to take chances. Last night I went to the Highland beer school at Lucky 32. Guess what was on the menu? Local lengua on rye with slaw and funky cheese, served with a Highland Kashmir IPA. Yes, lengua is cow tongue. He made me a cow tongue believer; it was seriously the best cow tongue I’ve ever eaten and the meat reminded me of a tender pot roast. Chef Jay is also known to change up a menu the day of an event. For example, he was in the kitchen yesterday and decided he didn’t want to serve up the usual chocolate peanut butter pie, he wanted to add a unique spin- goat’s milk. Oh boy, that pie was rich and heavenly tasting. It will be interesting to see what Chef Jay comes up with during Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad because he’s excellent at being creative on the fly. Plus, his knowledge of local ingredients is immense.

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If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting such a remarkable chef who is a local foods rock star, attend the American Cheese Society’s panel on Saturday at 11 AM in Raleigh about the rise of local food in the Triangle. Chef Jay is a speaker along with Portia from Chapel Hill Creamery and Colin from The Fearrington House to discuss why the Triangle has embraced the idea of local food on a whole other level.

I’m sure by now you want to purchase tickets to Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad. Chef Jay Pierce and his team compete in the first round against the chefs from Bistro B, which is on August 13th. Each chef will be given a secret North Carolina ingredient the day of the competition and must make three unique courses for diners. What’s awesome is that diners get to be the judge! Hurry and buy your tickets because it’s definitely going to sell out. Click here to buy your tickets now: www.competitiondining.com/events/fire-in-the-triad.

Learn a little more about Chef Jay:

1. A food I can’t live without:  pork – carnitas, sausage, head cheese, ribs
2. My favorite Lucky 32 menu item: cornmeal-crusted catfish with creamy grits and collard greens
3. My must-have Carolina ingredient: Homeland Creamery buttermilk
4. My drink of choice: Bourbon
5. When I have a day off I’m: reading about food
6. Open my refrigerator at home and you’ll find these three things: miso, sriracha, salsa
7. The music blaring in my kitchen: Rolling Stones
8. Favorite smell: Chicken stock
9. My favorite North Carolinian, living or dead, real or fictional, is: Thelonious Monk
10. If I could cook for anyone, it would be: Edna Lewis

*Note: Question adapted from the Charleston food blog

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