[image-2]A hat and puffer vest do not a warm reporter make. That’s a truth I learned this morning at the opening ceremony of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.

Just a heads up, if you’re visiting the Culinary Village this afternoon, double your layers. While the Village (which looks stunning, by the way) has heat lamps in each space, an additional sweater wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

I made my way to Marion Square for the opening ceremony this morning and got a look at the Toast the Decade design. The festival team has done a terrific job expanding the layout to allow room for watching chef demos in the Third Space, tasting samples in the Grand Tasting Tent, and buying goods in the Artisan Market. Unlike past years where booths were crammed together with guests boxing each other to get their mitts on a ham biscuit (not an attractive look), the flow of this year’s layout feels a lot more comfortable.

But before I whirled around the Village, it was time for the awards. Each year the festival recognizes local culinary leaders and this year’s recipients were well selected. Mayor Joe Riley opened the occasion with his usual remarks about the Holy City’s incredible F&B scene, with his speech taking an odd turn at the end. He asked the audience to look at the new Dewberry Hotel going into the former federal office building on Meeting Street, citing it as proof that the festival has enhanced the area’s value. While that may be true, all we’re saying is the mention felt like a paid ad.

[image-4]As for the winners, Charleston magazine editor-in-chief (and my former boss) Darcy Shankland made the first announcement. This year’s Laura Hewitt Culinary Legend Award went to journalist and Culinary Institute program manager Marion Sullivan. Sullivan has been a cookbook author (she contributed to Sean Brock’s Heritage), a Post & Courier columnist, and Charleston magazine’s food editor for years. I personally worked with her on the cuisine section of the magazine for three years and can attest to the huge contribution she’s made to the local culinary community. Sullivan is a champion of CIC grads, a walking encyclopedia of Lowcountry food knowledge, and one hell of tough editor — but damned if she didn’t teach me how to edit a recipe. A huge congrats to Marion.

Taking the award for Contribution to Mixology this year was Gin Joint and Bittermilk Cocktail Mixer Compounds owner Joe Raya. Award presenter Charlotte Voisey of William Grant & Sons noted Raya’s passion for craft cocktails, while I personally thanked him for his King Cotton libation — Plantation 3-star rum, grapefruit, Arrack, vanilla, aperol, lime, and mint. Charleston is a better place because of it. Cures what ails you.

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The Marc Collins Chef Award, named after festival founder Marc Collins, went to The Grocery’s Kevin Johnson. The chef’s dedication to the Charleston food scene and his special help with this year’s fest were cited among the many reasons he was selected. 

And finally, MIA recipient Mike Lata won the 2015 Frank Stitt Award. Bestowed on a chef who has been especially devoted to quality and knowledge, Chef Frank Stitt presented the plaque himself. Sadly, Lata wasn’t there in time to accept the award. We suspect he may have been preparing for the James Island Fish Fry and Clam Bake at his home this evening. 

In honor of the decade celebration, 10 champagne bottles were sabered the 2015 festival officially begun.