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VOL. 38 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 14, 2014

Nashville chefs wow crowd at Charleston Wine + Food Festival

By Jennifer Justus

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For a newcomer at the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival, the schedule can be overwhelming – in a good way.

You can bop from tastings, demos and discussions throughout the day on the festival grounds and sign up for special breakfasts, lunches, dinners and even wine-tasting cruises around the harbor. Then you’ll probably want to squeeze in a taste at the many fabulous Charleston restaurants between events and hit a few after-parties that go into the night. Whew.

The festival draws hundreds with about 20 authors, 15 culinary experts, 20 farmers and purveyors, more than 100 drink makers, 60 guest chefs, 20 pastry chefs and 15 pitmasters all bringing their best. And, as in years past, Nashville’s own made us proud by bringing a bit of Music City to the Holy City.

On the festival’s second day (Friday, March 7), Chef Charles Phillips of 1808 Grille at the Hutton Hotel prepared food for a Passport to Pairings event at the Gov. Thomas Bennett House. It’s just what we needed on a cold, rainy afternoon: homemade cavatelli pasta with a mushroom cream sauce, roasted quail, a bit of julienned basil and Tomme cheese.

On Saturday, with the sun shining and a huge crowd in the Grand Tasting tent, Phillips handed out 600 portions in the first 80 minutes of a dish he created especially for the festival: tuna cured 40 hours with bourbon and spices and tossed with kale, a touch of peach preserves, micro tangerine greens and peanuts.

At the Lambs and Clams after-party that same night, Chef Andy Little of Josephine represented our city. Chef Sean Brock, who opened Husk in Nashville and had returned to the site of the original restaurant in Charleston, showed the love by sporting a Josephine hat at several of the events over the weekend.

And speaking of Brock, another highlight included the teaming of chefs Tyler Brown (Capitol Grille at The Hermitage Hotel) and Steven Satterfield (Miller + Union in Atlanta) at McCrady’s restaurant. Brown and Brock worked together at Capitol Grille several years ago before Brock moved to Charleston.

In the honeyed glow of a formal dining room under crystal chandeliers, the team wowed us with a more relaxed family-style meal featuring a bevy of vegetables, some of which had come from the Hermitage Hotel farm.

Starting snacks along with Matthiasson wines included Brown’s cornmeal beignets over collard greens dabbed with apple butter. Brown had raised the corn for the meal on the farm.

We tasted hominy salad from Brock with pickled garlic and Meyer lemon vinaigrette and plates of magenta beets with radishes and walnuts, walnut oil and sheep’s milk soft cheese. Butterbeans came with chow chow, grilled cabbage with tomato gravy and pones of cornbread that arrived at the table for slicing.

The starring protein of the dinner came from Dickson County’s Double H Farms with beef Brown had raised and dry-aged and served simply with flecks of salt melting into the meat.

After the dinner, Brown told the group he hoped the beef had helped start conversations around the table. And as Husk Nashville Pastry Chef Lisa Donovan added to that point, the connections made with people over the weekend are as important as the food. “You’re working in a community,” she said.

In addition to long hours in the Nashville restaurant, Donovan had spent several hours baking cakes and arranging for their transport to Charleston. She then spent several hours preparing the layers of the Lane Cakes, a tradition most familiar to Alabama, with Angie Mosier of Atlanta in the McCrady’s kitchen before serving them at yet another location.

At the heart of these festivals, she said, is the feeling of “being amongst your own for a minute to make all of those long hours of being completely wrapped up in your own processes so worth it.”

“It’s a homecoming. It’s a family reunion,” she said. “It’s a ‘Thank God, there are people out there as crazy and as impassioned and as in love with all of this as I am.’ It helps your work grow, and it helps you feel normal for even just a moment.”

And so finally, at the Alabama Tent Revival Dinner at Nick’s Barbeque the night before the festival’s end, we celebrated with pork smoked by Archibald’s team from the Southern state. The pit’s smoke scented a section of King Street, even luring Charleston resident Bill Murray by to see what was up.

But at the dinner by the Southern Foodways Alliance and Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, the theme focused on the hard work it took to make that meal and carrying on the traditions of the pit and the kitchen.

After the barbecue and plates of shrimp and grits from Brock, Donovan’s cakes arrived dramatically on their stands for serving family-style with guests passing plates and working together for a taste. Julian Van Winkle of Old Rip Van Winkle distillery delivered a toast before we sipped his 20-year aged bourbon.

The band picked back up and the pitmasters took to the mics for a short set. And then we all sang I’ll Fly Away.

*In the food business, being “in the weeds” means being super busy. And that’s also how we would describe Nashville’s booming restaurant scene. In this column, Jennifer Justus, journalist, author and food culture writer, keeps us up to date on food, dining out and trends with bi-weekly reports from the table.

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