— Hunter Boone (@HunterBoone) March 7, 2015
First up: MC Brooks Reitz, a.k.a. the Justin Timberlake of Charleston, as Obviouslee Marketing owner and Parliament member Lee Deas introduced him. Reitz, as we’d anticipated, proved an excellent host — like a cross between goofy Jimmy Fallon and sarcastic Tina Fey, he kept the mood light, clearly enjoying lapping up the laughs like a best-in-show pup. Reitz got things started by introducing his friend, Michael Shemtov.
The owner of Butcher & Bee, The Daily, and Mellow Mushroom took participants through a time-lapse video of a day in the life of a restaurant owner. “You find yourself eating an orange and a beer for dinner,” he said flashing a slide of his empty home refrigerator. All illusions of restaurant glamor were dismissed during the 6 minute 20 second speech — from the staff who arrives at 4 a.m. to bake the bread, to the clean up crew who mops and polishes his restaurants as the sun comes up.
Amy Robinette, a.k.a. The Cake Farmer, spoke next. As we wrote in our Dirt feature on Robinette, she runs a pie CSA wherein sweet or savory treats can be picked up monthly at The Royal American. Robinette’s baked goods are as locally sourced and fresh as possible and the chef is a Dirt Works trained farmer too. The audience laughed when she showed a slide of her next goal, a perfectly brown pie crust featuring a doughy marijuana leaf in the middle. Robinette’s not saying she’s baking those yet, but you better believe she’ll be ready to when it’s legal.
City Paper‘s cover boy this week, David Thompson, came on after. One of Charleston’s most prolific restaurant architects, Thompson explained how each building he works on is an opportunity to share a story, be it transforming The Ordinary — once a grand bank then a former shabby Bank of America complete with hideous drop ceiling and nasty carpet — into a shining oyster house to The Grocery, where Thompson expanded Chef Kevin Johnson’s focus on pickled goods with an open kitchen/pantry concept. The enlightening presentation showed the thought and care put into some of the city’s most recognizable eateries.
The surprise of the evening, however, came from festival director Gillian Zettler, or as Reitz said, “The most stressed out person here.” The fact that Zettler even agreed to add speaking in front of 600+ people in the midst of the festival to her busy schedule would be reason enough to be impressed, but then the event planner went ahead and laid bare what must have been one of the most difficult topics a person could discuss: her miscarriage at 7 months pregnant which happened shortly after she was hired last year. Using a fitting metaphor, Zettler described the experience as losing her appetite. It was only after generous hospitality was shown to the new director that she began to feel it come back, which drilled home a message that has become her mantra: patience, gentleness, and kindness. The sobering talk was brave and beautiful.
Act I finished on an uplifting note as filmmaker Thibaut (that’s pronounced Tee-Bow) Fagonde shared his four-year documentary project, Overalls & Aprons. To Fagonde, a Charleston transplant by way of France and Canada, the project has been more than just about meeting chefs and farmers and explaining the hardships of sustainability. It’s been his key to becoming part of Charleston.
And that’s what the night was all about. Inspiring citizens to find their passion and invest it back into the Lowcountry, in the culinary scene or otherwise.