Back when Bobby Flay was the main attraction, the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival seemed to be attracting an audience that gets most of its food news from the television. Not so much anymore. For 2012, the festival is stocking its roster with some of the hottest non-TV chefs in the country. Granted, plenty of them have appeared on Iron Chef and the like, but you're more likely to see these faces in the pages of Bon Appetit and Food + Wine than on Top Chef.
We're talking Andrew Carmellini of Locande Verde and The Dutch, two of the hottest restaurants in NYC, Mark Ladner of Del Posto, the Batali/Bastianich restaurant that received four stars from the NY Times in September, and Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco, revered for its Italian influenced cuisine. This lineup will take over the People's Building penthouse for an Italian-themed Food + Wine With a View dinner, which is $1,000 a plate. And if I had to guess, I'd say it looks like Marc Vetri might be added to that lineup. On the festival website, he's listed as a guest chef with a bio coming soon. Hmmm.
On that point, Festival Director Angel Postell is keeping mum but says they've lucked out when it comes to programming the festival. "Every year, we say we're not going to top this," she says, "but whenever we go to events like the James Beard Awards and meet people, all of them want to be a part of the festival. It's a sought-out thing. The national PR people contact us now. It's really amazing."
The festival has plenty of chefs worth geeking out about, and they'll be appearing in restaurants all across town. At FIG, Mike Lata will be joined by Brian Caswell of REEF in Houston. You can bet these guys will be showcasing the best seafood the Lowcountry waters have to offer. Over at McCrady's, Sean Brock will be teaming up with the acclaimed Marco Canora of Hearth and Terroir in NYC, while his Chef de Cuisine at Husk, Travis Grimes, will work with John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss. (I have a feeling the Southern Foodways Alliance crowd will end up here). Craig Deihl at Cypress will have a porktastic pairing with Stephen Stryjewski, Donald Link's partner at Cochon in New Orleans. And that's just a few highlights of the Dine Arounds on Friday night, which are no longer called Dine Arounds but Perfectly Paired Dinners.
And I haven't even mentioned George Mendes, Barbara Lynch, Steven Satterfield, Joshua Hopkins, Tory McPhail, and Ashley Christiansen, who will all be cooking at various spots around town. Then there's the wine experts like Rajat Parr, Bartholomew Broadbent, Andrea Immer Robinson, and David Lynch,
Speaking of the SFA, they'll be teaming up with the festival for what will surely be a raucous afternoon out at Bowen's Island. Called Ode to Goat, John T Edge's Saturday afternoon party will include roasted oysters and a screening of the SFA movie about Victor "Goat" Lafayette, Bowens' oyster picker. Postell ranks this one as high on her list. "I love working with the SFA," she says. "The fact that John T. supports the festival means a lot."
Another new dinner that Postell is excited about is the one Hominy Grill is hosting on Saturday night. Robert Stehling will be the ringleader of the night with help from his pals Matt Lee and Ted Lee. Chefs Kevin Johnson (of the soon-to-open Grocery on King Street), Chris Hastings (Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham), and Steven Satterfield (Miller Union of Atlanta) will be cooking while Julian Van Winkle will be providing the bourbon and Jimmy Hagood, the barbecue.
Personally, we're excited to see the Charleston Culinary Institute Cocktail Party on Friday night. Head chef Scott Stefanelli will team up with Scott Crawford of the Umstead Hotel in NC (he formerly worked at Woodlands in Summerville) for a multi-course meal while cocktail mixtress extraordinaire Charlotte Voisey will be making drinks with Hendrick's Gin.
The biggest change for the 2012 festival comes with the marquee parties, which are moving out of Marion Square for the first time. This, says Postell, will enable the culinary village to be reimagined a bit, with an expanded outdoor grilling area and lots of events, competitions, seminars, and demonstrations throughout the weekend.
Instead of under the tents, parties will move to different venues about town. Bubbles + Bites will take place at the Restoration on King while the Thursday night opener Salute to Charleston Chefs will move to the Aquarium and take on a sustainable seafood theme. The magazine Everyday with Rachael Ray will host a Taco Turf War challenge with six (unconfirmed) chefs at Lowndes Grove on Friday afternoon.
And I haven't even mentioned the chef/cookbook authors like Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune), Hugh Acheson (Empire State South, Top Chef Masters), Christina Tosi (of Momofuku Milk Bar and creator of the appropriately named Crack Pie), and John Besh (August).
My favorite event of the festival, and the one that will have me on a shuttle (sans booze) at 10 a.m. Friday morning, is the Soul Food Shuffle, hosted by none other than CP contributor Jeff Allen. He'll lead 20 lucky diners to the best little soul food shacks in town, starting at Martha Lou's, then to Bertha's (and hopefully Dave's Carryout), before ending at Alluette's for dessert.
Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Thursday (Sept. 1), and many events are guaranteed to sell out quick.