If last year was all about comfort eating, this year was all about survival food. What can I eat to make me feel like I’ll make it out of the next four years alive? For me, that meant a lot of Ladles and Poke Tea House lunches punctuated by some indulgent dinners at Le Farfalle, Stella’s, Bar Normandy, FIG, and Spero. And thank god I did because I needed to keep my strength up for the shitstorm — in food news and beyond — that was 2017.
From sexual misconduct allegations to the culmination of two horrific local high profile trials, this year was a doozy. Of course, there were some bright lights of hope: South Carolina farmers managed to weather the third catastrophic storm in a row; lots of restaurants closed, but lots of great places opened; and I got to eat cheese ice for the first time.
So for this rendition of our annual top food stories, let’s take a look at the good and the bad:
Workshop debuts Charleston’s first restaurant incubator
If serial restaurateur Michael Shemtov is anything, he’s ambitious. You get the sense that the guy who opened a Mellow Mushroom fresh out of college has a hard time sleeping at night, his head is so full of ideas. Thus his latest concept: Workshop. The fancy food court was Shemtov’s answer to the problem he was seeing in Charleston — an incredibly vibrant culinary petri dish and a lack of affordable restaurant space.
Workshop opened this spring and with spots like Juan Luis, Pink Bellies, and plenty of poke bowls, it was an instant hit. Confession: The lion’s share of my work week dining dollars were spent there this year and for good reasons — convenience and variety.
True to his promise of an ever-evolving space for start-up restaurants, Shemtov kept the six stalls at the open concept food hall rotating. There were fancy grilled cheese sandwiches in May, Jewish deli brunches this summer, and even some Japanese sliders this fall. Whether the incubator launchpad will lead to any of these upstarts opening their own brick-and-mortars is yet to be seen, but as diners, we’re still digging the Workshop concept.
Sean Brock makes his sobriety public
“Sean Brock went to rehab.” That was the opening line of Kim Severson’s July 3 New York Times’ story that revealed Charleston’s most famous chef’s fight with addiction. “I was concerned about killing myself not by my choice, but by being unhealthy and miserable,” Brock said in the story. As Severson explained, Brock, known as much for his critically acclaimed cuisine as his bourbon collection, gave up alcohol after his closest friends staged an intervention. Within a week, he was booked at The Meadows rehab center in Arizona and today joins a group of F&B leaders encouraging a sober lifestyle within the F&B industry.
Brock’s reveal dovetailed with Charleston Grill GM Mickey Bakst and Indigo Road Managing Partner Steve Palmer’s launch of Ben’s Friends, a food and beverage alcohol and drug addiction support group. And with Ben’s Friends help, the 2017 Atlanta Wine + Food Festival opened a chill space, which at the fest for sober industry members to get away from the traditional party, a spot Brock called “the safest I’ve ever felt.”
After being synonymous with the party chef lifestyle for the bulk of his public career, this new Brock seems more clear-headed than ever. In just the past month he’s opened Husk Greenville and has Husk Savannah on the way, and we can’t help but hope his coming forward encourages others struggling with addiction to do the same.
Chef Shane Whiddon murdered at Virginia’s on King
The unthinkable happened in August. Following a hostage standoff inside Virginia’s on King, it came out that a disgruntled former employee shot and killed Executive Chef Shane Whiddon. The coroner’s office didn’t release Whiddon’s name until late that night, but messages of love and support from Charleston’s tight-knit F&B community began almost immediately. Just as they have in tragic times before, F&Bers took action, organizing memorials and fundraisers for the slain chef’s children resulting in a GoFundMe campaign that raised $140,816 for Whiddon’s family. “He was one of those people who was loved and admired by everyone they encountered,” said one former co-worker. He won’t soon be forgotten.
City Paper celebrates 20 years of covering food in Charleston
In case you missed it, this year we celebrated the paper’s 20th birthday. That’s right, we can almost drink. Of course, we’ve been underage imbibing for years (for research, naturally) as part of our food coverage.
For 20 years we’ve reported on Charleston’s restaurant scene, from a sleepy Southern afterthought to a world leader. We’ve tracked the progression of the beer boom, explained the history of boiled peanuts, broken stories on state liquor legislation, and asked tough questions about the future of F&B as gentrification swallows affordable housing on the peninsula. It’s not a stretch to say that what this city is eating (or what’s eating this city) is our bread and butter and we’re committed to covering food for years to come.
Top Chef comes to Charleston
With Southern Charm and now RelationShep bringing fantasy Charleston to the cable-viewing masses, it was only a matter of time before Bravo’s Top Chef hit the Holy City. Last year Tom Colicchio and crew landed in the Lowcountry and two of Charleston’s own chefs made the competitive cooking show’s cut. Jamie Lynch of 5Church and Emily Hahn, then of Warehouse and now of The Getaway, battled it out against 14 Top Chef newbies and vets. Neither would go on to win the big prize, but the two did get a lot of face time when Lynch fell on his sword and sacrificed his immunity to keep Hahn on the show during a team challenge — becoming the first contestant in Top Chef history to do so.
For the most part, the show did right by Charleston, highlighting local ingredients like shrimp, Carolina gold, and oysters in addition to area legends such as Southern food pioneer Edna Lewis. But there were also missteps. The show staged an episode at Boone Hall that barely gave a mention to slavery, prompting a Twitter feud with the show’s host when one viewer tweeted, “Nobody would ever suggest filming Top Chef at Auschwitz.” Then Colicchio took umbrage with our own reporting when an episode failed to give credit to local farmers. That story resulted in Colicchwhoa calling yours truly “Very Trump like.”
In the end, the show crowned Brooke Williamson the winner and Hahn and Lynch got back to work.
Artisan Meat Share and Cypress shutter
Eighteen downtown restaurants closed on the peninsula in the first six months of the year. But nothing hit Charleston harder than the surprise shuttering of Artisan Meat Share and sister property Cypress. The East Bay fine dining institution was the first to go in May following a rumor reported by Eater. But then, just a week after the news broke, Hospitality Management Group, Inc. planned to close Craig Deihl’s charcuterie kingdom Artisan Meat Share too. Let me tell you, you have never seen a sadder scene of sandwich lovers crying into their Tuna Nicoises than on that final week at AMS. Some of AMS’s most loyal fans might have been on suicide watch had it not been for the June 1 announcement that Artisan Meat Share Chef de Cuisine Bob Cook would take over Edmund’s Oast. The bearded meat set breathed a collective sigh of relief … at least until Cook nixed the pickled shrimp toast on EO’s menu. But you’ve heard enough about that.
Another year, another storm
Joaquin, Matthew, Irma. Three years, three storms. That’s a lot for the average citizen to take let alone the farmers, but after getting walloped by Joaquin and Matthew, Irma was kinder and gentler to the Carolina coast. For farmers like Jimmy Hagood that meant his heirloom rice crop, which he lost the past two years, survived. Here’s hoping this whole catastrophic storm trend takes a holiday in 2018.
Charleston F&B talks sexual misconduct
With tawdry tales of sexual harassment bubbling up from every work place in America, no one could escape some self reflection this year. And following allegations against New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh, the #MeToo discussion reached Charleston. In our story, “You Too?” writer Enid Spitz talked to F&B leaders about what this moment means for Charleston’s culinary scene. The answers varied but the takeaway was the same: We all must do better, work harder, and speak louder in defense of safe work spaces no matter what the industry.
And finally, a 2018 prediction
2018 will be the year we reach peak pizza. How many pizza places can one spit of land contain? If it’s Charleston, 15-plus and counting. With two high profile pizza pushers on the way — Renzo and Melfi’s — that’s our burning question for 2018.