It arrived in a coffin cooler. That’s what the bartender at The Dewberry’s Williams Sonoma Charleston Wine + Food after party told me Saturday night. He was talking about the elephant in the room. Well, actually, the 700 pound bluefin tuna in the room.

Stationed on a giant sheet of ice, the huge fish sat naked next to a sushi chef making personalized rolls. The fish was flown in by Ian Purkayastha’s Regalis Foods and, in addition to the overflowing display of uni, caviar, and stone crab, served as the biggest talking point of the evening.

But at 1:30 a.m. when I rolled out of the decadent party, the beautiful fish still sat there, largely intact. On the ride home I couldn’t help but wonder what would become of it. Would it just be thrown out, another victim of Gilded Age-style fete-ing? Thankfully, the answer was no.

This moring One80 Place homeless shelter took the big fish home.

“The Dewberry was amazing and cut it down for us,” says Angie Dupree, One80’s Director of Operations. “I was like ‘Oh no. How are we gonna do this?’ I didn’t have my truck. They broke it down and we’ll freeze some of it. We’re going to do tuna salad and some seared tuna steaks. Tuna casseroles.”

Dupree plans to start using it immediately to help serve the shelters’ daily 500 meals for the homeless.

But the tuna was just one great catch today. In addition, One80 Place managed to rescue 4,000 pounds of food from this weekend’s Charleston Wine + Food festival.

“We got clams and mussels to work with too. We went to Duvall and got a refrigerated food truck. And lots of condiments and produce — about 500 to 600 pounds from them,” she says. “For the bulk, we backed the U-haul up at the Culinary Tent where we probably got 1,000 pounds in just meat.”

Dupree’s team will work for the next day to break it all down and freeze the meat — which should last the shelter up to five months — while sorting and taking inventory of the rest.

But for the instructor of One80 Place’s culinary training program, the best part is the variety of foods from the fest. Now her students, made up of shelter residents and veterans, will have an opportunity to work with produce beyond the typical carrots, onions, and celery. “We got micro greens, apples, oranges, papaya, avocados,” she says listing off the bounty. “This adds such a diverse, creative element to teaching. Sometimes the students just cut carrots all day. When you can bring fresh fennel and butternut squash and beautiful fruits and vegetables, they get to see so much,” she says.

Every five-weeks the culinary program gives eight students the opportunity to learn in a commercial kitchen and Dupree says that her new recruits, who officially started today, serendipitously signed up for the best season of the course thanks to the Charleston Wine + Food spread. When they complete the program, they’ll receive a W+F sponsored knife kit, apron, and chef jacket to use in their externship at a local restaurant.

“We launched the program in 2016 and as of today have had 82 graduates,” says DuPree. “Ninety-eight percent are placed in restaurant.”

If it all sounds a little like the loaves and fishes parable, it kind of is. One 700 pound tuna will not only help jobless locals learn new skills to find work in Charleston kitchens, it will also provide hundreds at the shelter with nourishing meals to help them get back on their feet. 

“I can’t wait to start teaching tomorrow,” says Dupree.

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