Long before the days of celebuchefs, Charleston’s greatest cooks were slaves and immigrant restaurateurs — individuals University of South Carolina professor David Shields wrote about in Charleston magazine’s 2013 feature “Charleston First Top Chefs.”

In the story, Shields uncovered people like Sally Seymour and and Théonie Rivière Mignot. Seymour was a slave mistress-cum-manumitted free woman of color who owned a cook shop at 80 Tradd in the 1810s, while Mignot was a Paris-educated luxury goods trader. Mignot helped her husband open The United States Coffee House at 129 East Bay Street in 1837.

But perhaps Shields greatest archival find was the story of Nat Fuller (1812-1866), a caterer and “an entrepreneurial African-American broker of wild game.”

Fuller, as Shields writes, became the owner of Charleston’s finest 19th-century restaurant, The Bachelor’s Retreat at then-77 Church St. There he served “Lamb Mutton of rare quality, with Green Peas, Duffield Hams, Oysters in Soup, Pies and Patties, Calf Head Soup, A la Mode Beef, Chicken Pies, Ducks, Boned Turkey… with vegetables and dessert courses,” according to Shields. But his most important menu may be from the unprecedented dinner he hosted in the Spring 1865 — a mixed-race celebration commemorating the end of the Civil War. 

And on April 19 of this year, Shields, along with Chef Kevin Mitchell of the Culinary Institute of Charleston, Gullah-Geechee food specialist Chef B.J. Dennis, Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s, will recreate the feast in McCrady’s long room. The dinner is invitation only to accurately reflect the integrated demographics of the meal — a committee overseen by College of Charleston’s Dr. Bernard Powers selected 80 guests that represent “a cross-section of modern Charleston in the religious, education, and government sectors along with six guests who won an essay contest sponsored by the Post and Courier,” according to a press release. But even though only Robert F. Moss from our staff will be there, today we can get a first look at the menu. Though not a replica of what was served that evening, the following is drawn from Fuller’s culinary repertoire.

Shields research of Nat Fuller is part of a larger project — a forthcoming book called Culinarians. It will include the biographies of the 200 most important chefs, caterers, and restaurateurs in the United States from the American Revolution to Prohibition and will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016. 

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