It's a coming-of-age story every novice cook dreams about. From that first flip of the spatula, there's the hope to someday become an executive chef. Four of Charleston's hottest young chefs will exhibit their skills at this weekend's festival. City Paper tracked down Bradley Goizis of Soif Wine and Tapas Bar, Blossom's Adam Close, Aaron Deal of Tristan, and J. Paul'z Daniel Caruso as they starched their aprons and prepared to go to their debutante's ball.
"I'm just really looking forward to the opportunity to be with the other chefs in town," says Close. "Charleston's small with a close community. There's camaraderie; it's such a great culinary town."
Close, representing Blossom's "comfort style" southern fare, will prepare sheepshead for the opening night party. "It'll just be me and one of my sous chefs," says Close. He'll leave the rest of his staff at Blossom to hold down the fort, but the team will be instrumental in making Blossom's dish festival-ready. "It's a lot of prep. Pretty much your success or failure depends on your prep."
Which goes to show the pressure and stress involved in organizing a dish for a world class food and wine festival. While the controlled chaos unfolds, chefs still have to find the time to press the flesh with some important movers and shakers.
Soif's Bradley Goizis, who only recently moved to Charleston from Vail, Colo., is eager to do a little networking. "I've met Mika Lata of FIG and want to meet some other chefs," he says. Sometime in between delivering 400 "little appetizers for one of the tents," he'll have a chance to mix and mingle. Festival guests unfamiliar with Soif can get a taste of the Mt. Pleasant restaurant, which Goizis says produces small to medium plates at very reasonable prices. Take, for instance, his fennel and poached pear with sashimi tuna, something he hopes more folks will come by to enjoy after discovering his festival fare.
While Goizis is just getting his name out there, others are more familiar with this weekend's events.
"It will be my third time with Food + Wine," says Aaron Deal of Tristan. Deal was chef de cuisine at Tristan before being promoted to exec after Chef Ciarán Duffy left for the West Coast. So, while he's no new kid on the block, Deal says this will essentially be his first time as captain of the ship, and he takes the opportunity seriously.
"We are doing the opening night event, a Dine Around with Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club, Bubbles and Sweets, and a culinary cooking competition with John Ondo from Lana," he says. For Deal, there's no one individual he's hoping to meet; he's more excited about the F&B socializing in general.
"I just like meeting with everyone to see what they've been up to," he says. "I'm really excited for Bubbles and Sweets. It'll be better if it doesn't rain this year."
And if there's a bit more room.
"It got a little too tight, a little too tight for comfort," says Deal, explaining last year's complaints of overcrowding. Luckily, organizers have created a second main tent to allow easier traffic flow for the 2008 events.
Space to move will be especially important to those chefs involved in cooking competitions like relative newcomer Daniel Caruso of J. Paul'z.
"Fred Neuville of Fat Hen comes into J. Paul'z quite a bit," says Caruso. "I sent him out a couple of dishes one time, and that's when he said I should go into the competition." For the cooking competition, which will take place on Saturday afternoon and require a Culinary Village pass, chefs will be given a mystery basket of ingredients and a partner. Caruso will be paired with Anson Chef Kevin Johnson at 3 p.m. "We have to create as many dishes as we can with those ingredients," says Caruso. This year, spectators will get to taste the creations.
As exciting as a little friendly competition is, ultimately Caruso echoes his peers — it's really all about the shared culinary community. "Whenever I go to an event, there's a sense of we're all pretty much friends."
We're glad to hear that the camaraderie inspires these guys to make some damn good food.