Southern Living magazine partnered with the Charleston Restaurant Association this year for the first time to present an expanded Taste of Charleston. Returning guests found an entirely new culinary village with even more tents housing chef demos and tastings, a free photobooth where you could put your mug on the cover of Southern Living, and even shag lessons. Most of Charleston’s fine dining restaurants were represented, and a few new players seemed to find the expanded festival to be a great way to introduce locals and tourists to their cuisine.
The Fat Hen served pork confit over truffled apple fennel grits with a dollop of slow-roasted tomatoes. When a brief downpour of rain erupted, I cozied up in the Fat Hen tent as the band smoothly jumped into “Purple Rain.” The Ocean Room brought big gun Nathan Thurston and served the ultimate locavore patty melt: beef from MiBek Farms, Benton’s bacon-onion jam, Sweetbay Farms lettuce, “comeback” sauce, colby/cheddar cheese, and Geechie Boy Mills white cornmeal for the brioche. Whew. I would drive all the way to Kiawah just for that burger. Newcomer Eurasia served a beautiful tuna tartare with a seaweed and rice salad and crispy wontons. Many of the other restaurant offerings were pork-centric, but we Southerners are quite used to that.
In the Infiniti tent, Southern Living chef Norman King demoed several recipes that the magazine had featured when they worked with Charleston’s high holy trinity of chefs: Robert Stehling, Mike Lata, and Sean Brock. Eyes popped and palates got excited when individual portions of Stehling’s buttermilk peach pudding were passed around. King loved working with the chefs on the recipes and summed up their personalities nicely, describing Lata as “smooth, mellow and cool,” Stehling as “old-school and soulful,” and Brock as “the mad scientist you wish you could be.”
With the partnership with Southern Living, the festival got more media exposure than ever, and both days were wildly successful, making the Taste a real destination event and worthy of a weekend road trip (or certainly the drive to Boone Farm, all quirky and dressed up for Halloween).