[image-1]When we published our Gullah Geechee Dish issue in 2015, it was following the closure of a handful of Gullah Geechee restaurants. In fact, it was the shuttering of Charlotte Jenkins’ 17-year-old Gullah Cuisine that gave me the idea to focus the entire issue of Dish on Charleston’s dwindling Gullah restaurant scene. Jenkin’s restaurant in Mt. Pleasant closed that fall and seemed to be a harbinger of things to come — the loss of one of the Lowcountry’s most important culinary legacies.
Jenkins told us at the time that she was contemplating a Gullah Cooking school, but that never materialized and I was beginning to think the woman who quite literally wrote the book on Gullah food — Gullah Cuisine: By Land & Sea — might vanish into retirement. But thanks to the wisdom of Chef Marvin Woods, Chef/Partner of JD Madison’s forthcoming Gentry Bar (276 King St.), Charlotte Jenkins has returned to the kitchen.
“I said ‘Listen, I want to bring you out retirement,'” says Woods. According to the chef and former Turner South Home Plate host, Jenkins was the first person he called after he agreed to join Madison’s new restaurant. And after some convincing, Jenkins said yes. Jenkins’ title will be Gullah specialist and chef consultant.
“Charlotte’s going to be my right hand,” says Woods. “I’m not so much into the title thing. But that being said, she’s a certified chef and an expert on Gullah cuisine. What we came up with was calling her the Gullah expert, but her hands are gonna be all over everything. Just this week we visited farms and fishmongers, people she knows and that she’s dealt with. She is helping me in every way, not just in the kitchen. She’s really acclimating me to a deeper education and understanding of Gullah and Geechee.”
So will the Gentry Bar & Room be a Gullah restaurant?
“That’s exactly what it will be,” says Woods.
After the closure of so many Gullah restaurants — Huger’s, Ike’s Hot Chicken & Fish, Ernie’s, Ellen Bright Hall, and Gullah Cuisine — Charleston is about to get a new Gullah restaurant smack dab in the center of King Street. Not what we expected from one of the cast members of Southern Charm.
“We’re doing a dish on the menu that’s directly from Charlotte called 10 Mile Awendaw Stew. In layman’s terms, it’s straight up Frogmore Stew or Lowcountry Boil, but there will be some added ingredients to that that makes it more modern. It’s gonna have the flavor profile of Charlotte, but I’ll tweak the presentation,” says Woods.
The chef could not be more giddy to get started cooking with the Charleston legend. “I wrote a book on Lowcountry cooking and I thought I knew a bit,” says Woods. “But I’m not fourth and fifth generation. Charlotte knows it all. It’s not just the cooking aspect or her palate, it’s all that wisdom.”
Wisdom worth saving. And so it is, in some karmic shift only the gastronomic gods could manufacture, it turns out that Charleston’s most controversial television show may actually be the medium through which Gullah cuisine gets overdue national exposure. Woods confirms that he’ll likely be on Southern Charm, which means his and Charlotte’s food can’t be far behind. How about that for a plot twist?
Gentry Bar & Room is slated to open late spring.