Wild fowl and venison. Oyster roasts and open fires. The cuisine we associate with the annual Southeastern Wildlife Exposition veers more Man vs. Wild than Chef’s Table. But nothing is more outdoorsy than locally grown produce prepared by the area’s top cooks. For this year’s South Carolina Department of Agriculture kitchen demo stage, curated by Matt and Ted Lee, the brothers say that SEWE weekend, “We are pushing this into new territory, including some institutional chef talent, like College of Charleston’s chef Tonya Mitchell … along with James Beard winners and local favorites.”
The through line of this year’s kitchen stage is that every demo includes a chef preparing a dish along with the farmer or fisherman or producer who inspires them. We’ve highlighted a few of the demos we’re excited about, but just hang by the Marion Square Dept. of Ag tent as long as you can (allowing breaks for DockDogs, of course).
Friday, Get Your Greens
“Mustard and turnip greens with a twist”
Chef BJ Dennis with Joseph Fields of Fields Farm and Germaine Jenkins of Fresh Future Farm
“I think I’m doing a mustard and turnip green salad,” says BJ Dennis of his Friday noon demo with farmer Joseph Fields and Germaine Jenkins of Fresh Future Farm. “For me, working with Germaine and Fresh Future Farm is important because she is feeding a community that has been neglected for years. I have been on board with her since the beginning.”
Dennis is no stranger to highlighting the forsaken — in April 2018 we wrote about the chef, an inveterate champion of Gullah/Geechee cuisine and culture, and Hill Rice, a lost variety of West African rice that was grown by enslaved African people in America.
“This was the rice enslaved people grew,” Dennis said at the time. “Here you have a rice that’s indigenous to the cultural roots of a society of people. It’s not just African. This rice goes through India. There’s thousands of grain varieties of rice world wide [in] Bali, Indonesia. But we’re just talking about people here and who brought rice culture. Who brought rice culture to the Americas was West Africans.”
While we’re excited to taste, undoubtedly, the most expertly prepared greens in the city this Friday, we’re even more excited for Jenkins’ and Fresh Future Farm’s inaugural S.C. Black Farmers Conference, being held Tues. March 26. The day-long event will bring food expert activists from across the country to North Charleston to share and learn new practices with established Palmetto state growers, and attendees will learn the practices of African and African-American farmers in the Lowcountry and the contributions their farming has provided for modern agricultural practices. Dennis will be onsite during the conference, providing lunch along with chef DelJuan Murphy.
Get a preview of the conference for zero dollars at the SCDA kitchen stage.
Saturday, Sea Stewards
Corrie and Shuai Wang of Short Grain + Jackrabbit Filly with Caitlyn Mayer of Charleston Oyster Farm
Shuai Wang says that one of his first dates with Corrie was at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City. “We had an oyster stew that’s stayed with me ever since.”
The team behind untraditional Japanese pop-up Short Grain and soon-to-open North Chuck restaurant Jackrabbit Filly will be making this memorable stew during the last demo slot Sat. at 4 p.m. with “Oyster Queen” Caitlyn Mayer of Charleston Oyster Farm. While the Wangs and Mayer have not officially met, Mayer says she’s excited to work with them, “they’re the kind of team we look for in business. Fun, passionate, creative, and appreciative of the relationship between the environment and locally, sustainably sourced foods!”
“I never thought I’d live in a place where I could make [the stew] with local oysters. Especially of the quality that Caitlyn grows,” says Wang. “Since day one, Short Grain (and soon Jackrabbit Filly) has been all about working with local farmers and fishermen. More than the produce, fish, and meats, being so much more delicious than anything you’ll get shipped to you from across the country or from around the world, our local farmers are stewards of our natural landscape. I was just reading [Charleston Oyster Farm’s] mission statement which talks about promoting healthy ecosystems, environmental awareness, and local mariculture and restoring the working waterfront along the Southeast. I mean, it doesn’t really get more important than that right now.”
Sunday, Beans Baby
“Refried soybeans with salsa macha, cotija, and crispy alliums”
Chef Brandon Carter of FARM Bluffton with farmer Josh Johnson of Old Tyme Bean Company
Beans, the most humble of produce. Chef Brandon Carter of FARM Bluffton, one of five S.C. Chef Ambassadors for 2019, knows that even legumes can have star power. Especially when they’re refried.
At FARM, Carter usually makes his refried bean side dish with butterbeans from Old Tyme Bean Co., but as they’ve been in high demand, they’re going with soybeans for the SEWE demo. “We make this really nice salsa called salsa macha that showcases a lot of toasty spice and roasted garlic and a little bit of acid, some warm spice and allspice — it adds really interesting nuances to the beans.” During lunch service, Carter says the refried bean side dish is often “the star of the show.” The Bluffton chef says he’s excited to come to Charleston during SEWE, even though the exposition is not as food-centric as, say, Wine + Food Fest. “From a restaurateur/chef perspective that has more value to me than people flying in from New York,” says Carter of the audience at SEWE at these free to attend demos. “These are real people who might come down to Bluffton and eat in our restaurant.”