Chef BJ Dennis is a local boy through and through. His great-granddad was the man who ferried folks from Daniel Island to the peninsula back before there were big bridges connecting all the islands. He grew up unaware of how rich and deep his local Gullah culture is, but that changed when he realized, cooking in downtown kitchens, that the food sold is quite different from the food that’s eaten in local homes, particularly African-American homes.
Today, he’s a professional chef who prides himself on turning people on to the local foods that he grew up eating.
At a pop-up dinner this Thursday at Butcher & Bee, his first in a year, he’ll be frying up local shark, a staple in the Gullah community, and serving it with red rice. He’ll also break out some conch, an oft-ignored bycatch, which will show up in his Charleston-style gumbo, a savory okra and tomatoey stew of shrimp, squid, shark, and half a blue crab.
Dennis loves his local veggies and has a bunch of options for the vegetarians in the crowd, including a swiss chard, okra, and eggplant stew made with homemade coconut milk and chili peppers. Then there’s a butterbean salad, barbecue-braised stew peas, and baked yellow squash with Geechee peanut sauce. Opt for a veggie plate, and you can try all four with a side of white rice.
Dennis says the local shrimp hasn’t been all that great this season, so he’s planning to do a shrimp and okra stew with chili peppers, garlic, and ginger. He’s also planning a barbecue plate with smoked chicken breast, beef, and pork. For an appetizer, he’s serving a trio of Lowcountry fritters — blackeyed pea, shrimp and rice, and zucchini — with homemade tomato jam, a sweet and zingy mix of tomatoes, garlic, ginger, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar that’s cooked down to a ketchup-like consistency. South Carolina pears from GrowFood will be turned into a cobbler for dessert.
Dennis says he’s got the students from Ira Hill’s culinary class at Burke ready to help in the kitchen on Thursday. We recommend you make your reservations now. The plates will be sold alacarte (prices range from $5-$25), and it’s BYOB.
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