Bourbon always makes me think of Eartha Kitt, namely, her song “I Wanna Be Evil.” The sex kitten’s purr of “I want to wake up in the morning with that dark brown taste / I wanna see some dissipation in my face” was exactly how I felt last night at my first event of 2015’s Wine + Food Fest, Charleston Brown Water Society’s Bourbon Hour. Surrounded by uisce beatha of varying ages, I wanted nothing more than to throw a couple back. But, as the mirror behind Charleston Distilling Co.’s bar reminded me, that would not be happening. At seven-and-half-months pregnant, the only water I’d be having was that of the spring variety.

Which is to say, there’s no dissipation to speak of this morning, and that’s OK. Here, instead, are a few hangover-free recollections from last night. 

After not drinking any bourbon, I made my way to the Festival’s VIP party at the William Aiken House. Guests, already dressed in evening gowns and tuxes, mingled amongst the grounds of the 1810 home. It was all very dapper and in keeping with the urban estate, though I suspect the original owner, Mr. Aiken, would have never guessed displays of charcuterie on a stick would one day fill his garden. There was cheese on a stick too. And a whole hog. You know, finger food.
I had to snack and dash though in order to change costumes for the Festival’s Opening Night Party. Returning to Marion Square, the sounds of a ragtime band emerged from the giant tent. Inside, chefs stations lined the space, but before I could grab a bite, guests were greeted by two wine-glass bedecked ladies. In this instance, bedecked is not a figure of speech. The women were actually wearing metal contraptions of wine glasses — Scarlett O’Haras with hoop skirts on inside out. Later, I asked one server how she would get out to use the bathroom. She said: “I’ll fly out.” Fly must be code for “cry for help” as later I saw her anxiously standing in a corner as a volunteer with what looked like pliers released the coupé glass captive.  

But onto the food. Hands down the best dish of the night goes to Charleston Grill executive chef Michelle Weaver. Weaver served up country captain that was surprisingly warm (no easy feat in at an tented event) with just a hint of lemon. Excellent dishes were also to be found from Red Drum’s Ben Berryhill — his shrimp and corn pudding with green chile butter was absurdly good — and Nate Whiting, of the forthcoming 492, created an equally great bite, komba-cured cobia.

Whiting shared that 492 is still under construction and a few weeks out from opening. It was clear the chef is more than a little anxious to get back into his own kitchen, but he’s obviously using his time well. His cobia was a play off Charleston and Morocco’s shared latitude and a touch of fennel, grapefruit, and Maghrebian chili paste harissa made for a perfect three-bite dish.

Sean Brock was on hand as well, and his calico scallops were on point. Served with Carolina Gold Rice porridge, the dish was topped with a celeriac that Brock was furiously foaming when we popped by. It looked like zombie spit, but tasted damn delicious.
I ended the night with a sweet bite from Lauren Mitterer — apricot cheesecake to be exact — and would have taken a picture if it hadn’t been inhaled in two bites. There’s a reason that woman is up for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Baker award; she’s got mad pastry skills.

It was at this point that I realized my feet felt like they’d been bound in the Chinese lotus tradition, so I waddled my way to the exit and soberly made my way home.

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