The last Charleston Wine + Food Festival was held in early March 2020, right before the world was turned on its head. Last year in 2021, W+F organizers made the tough decision to cancel the event. But this year, W+F is back and looking a little different this time around.
The first major change festivalgoers will notice is the revamped and relocated Culinary Village. A W+F staple full of food, drinks, music and laughter, the Village has been traditionally held in Marion Square. Last fall it was announced the Village will move to Riverfront Park in North Charleston this year.
“I think switching locations to North Charleston is more accessible to more restaurants and restaurant communities across Charleston,” said Jacques Larson of Wild Olive and The Obstinate Daughter, who recently joined the W+F board.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the new set-up and what it will look like in regards to The Lawn/Culinary Village,” Jake Wood of Lawrence BBQ in Durham, N.C., said. “One of the issues I saw when I was there in 2020 was the access to Marion Square right there in the heart of the city, it was just hard loading in and out.”
With its new, larger location, Culinary Village will be split into two parts: The Lawn and The Pavilion. The Lawn is the traditional ticketed event, while the neighboring Pavilion will be one of W+F’s first free events, playing host to a variety of local food trucks that showcase the Holy City’s mobile talent.
Of the waterfront location, Larson added, “It’s such a beautiful area and it’s nice to make the festival more accessible to non-ticket holders.”
“I look forward to seeing the new layout of the Culinary Village and being able to cook on the water,” said Stephen Goff of Jargon, the New American restaurant in Asheville, N.C.
Perhaps the biggest difference between 2022’s and previous years’ festival will be the strict precautions to the event. W+F updated its health and safety standards, requiring all guests, vendors, staff and talent to provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide a negative COVID-19 test, taken within 72 hours of each attended event.
These changes, though, haven’t stopped the excitement among the local and out-of-town chefs. City Paper talked with a handful of chefs both binyah and who “come from off,” to see what excites them.
“I am very excited for the festival to be in person again, and we look very forward to it every year,” said Danetra Richardson of Swank Desserts in Summerville. “At the end of the week, I always feel so inspired, which is important for me as an entrepreneur because it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of running a business.”
“I’m looking forward to teaming up with chef Maryam Ghaznavi for a dinner to celebrate our global culture and share delicious Indian and Pakistani food with festival goers,” said celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan.
The Charleston culinary community has changed significantly in recent years due to COVID-19, with many restaurants closing. Long-established restaurants including Monza, Basil and experimental food hall Workshop are no longer with us. Yet at the same time, promising new venues like Brasserie la Banque on Broad Street, and Bodega and Share House on Ann Street are joining the fold. Plenty of new local culinary talent will be attending the festival for the first time, eager to meet new people and experience everything it offers.
The Local Talent
“Being new to Charleston and hearing so much about Charleston Wine + Food in the past, I’m excited to participate in my first festival with guest chef, Mike Cooney [of New American restaurant Ember & Iron in St. Johns, Florida] and bring my love of Mexican cuisine to the festival’s guests,” said Brett Riley of Maya, the King Street Mexican eatery.
Maryam Ghaznavi and husband Raheel Gauba of popular Pakistani restaurants Malika in Mount Pleasant and soon-to-be-open Ma’am Saab on Meeting Street will attend this year’s event for the first time as participants and guests.
“This is completely new to us,” Ghaznavi said. “But it’s exciting and going to be such a huge learning experience for us, getting to know the local and national culinary talent.”
“The best thing I can compare this to is the first day of high school or college,” Gauba added. “The excitement is there. The thirst to learn is there. It’s something beautiful that the who’s who of the culinary world is going to be there and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”
“What we’ve been through the past two years with opening two restaurants and all the ups and downs, I cannot wait to compare notes and hear everyone else’s journeys,” added Ghaznavi “It’s priceless.
Lindsey Williams, owner of the newly-opened Charleston Wine Co. on South Market Street said, “It’s funny. My husband and I go every year as guests, so this is going to be the first time as a vendor.”
“I’m very excited to get together and break bread with so many amazing chefs participating in the festival,” said Jeb Aldrich of Brasserie la Banque, a downtown French bistro.” Since the last Charleston Wine + Food Festival was at the beginning of the pandemic, this marks the resurgence of restaurants and all the people that make restaurants special.
“I am looking forward to meeting all the wonderful people from our industry, and just be in the moment,” said Aaron Sagendorf, the food and beverage director of The Loutrel, a luxury hotel in the historic district downtown on State Street. “All too often we are wrapped up in our day to day, minute to minute details of our profession; this is a great time to have everyone together, tell stories and share experiences while still being able to interact with guests, albeit outside of our normal surroundings.”
The Visiting Talent
The first-time experience doesn’t stop with Charleston locals, either. Visiting chefs will join the event — and the city — for the first time.
Masamoto “Masa” Hamaya of O-Ku in Atlanta is making his initial W+F trek to: “explore some of the culinary culture in the city and introduce my background — real Japanese culture — to people in the south in return.”
“With these kinds of events, I’m always excited to hang out with other chefs and professionals in our industry. Charleston Wine and Food will be a fun weekend to have a chance to cook with some really great chefs, connect with some I have wanted to meet for a long time, have a little fun outside of my daily routines, and enjoy the city of Charleston,” said Hunter Evans, executive chef and owner of Elvie’s in Jackson, MS.
“Last year we were pushing to announce Native Fine Diner at Charleston Wine + Food,” said chef Luke Owens of Native Fine Diner in Greenville, N.C. “It was an exciting time, especially considering there seemed to be a small light at the end of the “COVID tunnel” from March-ish 2020–’21. Of course, it was discouraging not only for our team but for everyone involved with the festival, but I’m so pumped to be back!”
The W+F Vets
W+F veteran chefs say they are especially excited for the festival’s return. It’s a chance to see old friends, make new ones and enjoy the Holy City’s rich culinary history.
“After a long time coming, I’m really looking forward to getting everyone together again,” said Mark Bolchoz of Indaco, the Italian food haven on King Street.
“The biggest thing I missed last year was the camaraderie,” said James London of Chubby Fish, the sustainable seafood eatery on Coming Street. “You get to see a lot of people from out of town who come to these festivals and just make them special and fun to be a part of.”
“Charleston is one of my favorite cities in the world,” said Leonard Botello IV of Truth BBQ in Houston, Texas. “Every time I visit, I have meals that blow my mind more than anywhere else. If I’m being honest, I’m really coming to eat!”
Alec Gropman of Uptown Hospitality, owners of Uptown Social, Bodega and Share House, added, “I am most excited for the comaraderie that comes along with Charleston Wine + Food. In a city that takes so much pride in their culinary scene, there is no better time to be a chef, bartender or foodie.”
Charleston Wine + Food Festival runs March 2 – 6, with hundreds of events hosted across the city. For the full schedule of events, go to charlestonwineandfood.com.
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