Oxford American luncheon

Brock does shrimp and grits

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I made my way across town this morning, avoiding gigantic piles of horse poo (seriously, what happened to the diapers?), and showed up a little late to the McCrady's luncheon organized by the Oxford American to premiere their Southern Food Issue. I missed the discussion in the kitchen, but I arrived just in time to get a slice of Sean Brock's amazing country ham made from hogs that graze on acorns.

The lunch began with a quick talk from OA publisher Warwick Sabin, who talked about the issue and what it means to have an event like this one in Charleston.

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The first dish was Brock's version of shrimp and grits. When he came to town five years ago, Brock vowed never to make shrimp and grits. But he admits that he was foolish and perhaps ignorant of the dish's historical significance. So now he makes shrimp and grits — and I have to say it's the best dish I've eaten in the last couple of days. A warm shrimp torchon on a savory bed of grits, milled from corn that Brock himself grows, spiced with Allan Benton's sausage and peperonata. Hoo boy. It was full of rich flavor. I could have eaten a big bowl of those grits.

Next came some quail served with Brock's beloved Sea Island Red Peas along with sweet potato juice and green tomato pickles. A nice dish, but it was completely forgotten once the Pluff Mud showed up for dessert.

The Pluff Mud consisted of piles of powder, different colors and flavors, sprinkled on a glop of gooey caramel and a sweet little crisp wafer. Mind-blowing dish, particularly when it was paired with a beer from Fullsteam called Hogwash, a hickory-smoked porter.

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Speaking of Fullsteam beer, founder Sean Lilly Wilson was on hand for the event and was excited to share his brews, particularly since his brewery isn't officially official yet. There's a fantastic story on Fullsteam's mission in the OA's food issue, and it was amazing to drink his beers that are designed to "celebrate the culinary and agricultural heritage of the South." The Sweet Potato beer that was paired with the quail dish was a revelation. Beautiful color. Balanced flavor.

The best part of the luncheon was getting my hands on the Oxford American's food issue. Guest edited by John T. Edge, the issue tackles food and as he writes in the intro, "there is hope in the pages of this magazine, populated by a diversity of contributors for whom food is a caloric fuel, sure, but also a means of cultural expression, on par with music and literature."

The issue is jam-packed with stories I can't wait to read, including one written by Matt Lee and Ted Lee about Sean Brock and the heirloom benne seed that's being resurrected by Glenn Mills, David Shields, and Merle Shepard. The best thing about the OA, as John T Edge articulated this afternoon, is that it covers the modern south, the one where a guy in Austin, Texas makes exquisite sushi and a Chinese chef with a cult following sets up shop in Charlottesville. It's quirky and endlessly fascinating.

If you want to get your hands on this issue, head over to the Benne & Bourbon event going on at Billy Reid on the corner of King and Queen streets from 5-7 p.m.

See more pictures of the luncheon here.

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