It's a tough decision narrowing down my favorite bites from last night's Charleston Wine + Food kick-off party at the Gaillard Center. There was Circa 1886's sorghum Twinkies that my date filled his cheeks with chipmunk style. There was Enan Parezo of Twenty Six Divine's balsamic-braised short ribs that were equal parts savory and tender, and Ben Berryhill of Red Drum's shrimp and chorizo meatballs that I could have eaten by the handful.
Circa 1886 dishes up sorghum Twinkies last night
But perhaps the wildest offering was from Cypress and Artisan Meat Share's tag-team of Bob Cook and Craig Deihl. These meat masters rendered what had to be a gallon of beef fat, made it into a candle, and then slowly drizzled the molten tallow over beef tartare. The whole thing could have easily been a parlor trick if it wasn't for the flavor — creamy, salty, and with a crisp crunch thanks to an accompanying cracker.
Between samples, guests queued up for drinks inside the banquet hall. Projected images of Angel Oak brightened the walls as Quiana Parler and Charlton Singleton rocked the room with Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good." As Parler has demonstrated time and again, she's easily Charleston's best event entertainer and her inclusion in the opening night party reminded me of what City Paper
's Music Editor Kelly Rae Smith had suggested last week. Perhaps festival director Gillian Zettler is shifting the fest to be Charleston Wine + Food + Music. This year's event line-up features more bands than ever before, and Zettler, who has a background in band promotion for Universal Music Group, appears to be putting a rock 'n' roll stamp on W+F. We're digging it, Zettler. Keep the tunes coming.
Of course for all our love of music, some chefs were a bit overpowered by the music. Over at FIG's station, Jason Stanhope looked like his ears might start bleeding. His table was parked right in front of Parler's speaker. He yelled something about his tiny pancake dish to me, but frankly I couldn't hear him.
But that was really the only complaint I heard last the night. Sure there were some other oddities. Charleston
magazine sponsored the kick-off, and we initially thought the models pacing the room was the magazine's promo for next week's Charleston Fashion Week. Turns out the model idea was created and coordinated by the festival and Art Institute to promote Ai’s student show at Charleston Fashion Week. In between tours, they stood on a small stage and stared at guests slurping shrimp and grits below which felt a little spooky. Ultimately though, I don't think very many people noticed. Like a pride of hungry lions scanning the horizon for prey, a room of Charleston eaters keeps their heads fully focused on their plates. And they were a happy lot last night.