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Chatting with Basic Kitchen chef Nick Wilber

Tempura Banter

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What's the last thing you fried?

(Laughs) Honestly, today I tried chicken fried steak for our family meal. They wanted me to make something hearty. Of course, Basic Kitchen is a healthy place, but you need a break from that sometimes.

Speaking of fried, you tempura fry the infamous cauliflower buffalo 'wings.' What's the allure of tempura frying?

I like tempura frying because of course it's lighter. You can control the crispiness, by adding cornstarch here and a little bit of rice flour. It creates a nice casing that traps in all that goodness.

We think of collards and okra, but what's the dark horse of Southern produce?

I think for me, it's peas. All the varieties of field peas. Everybody knows about black-eyed peas of course and I actually just had authentic hoppin' John for the first time, recently. Dixie leaf, pinkeye, and Sea Island red peas — they each come with something different. I actually do an Italian three bean salad with those three varieties.

I'm sure you know that rice pretty much built the city of Charleston. I see you use Carolina Gold Rice on dishes like your shrimp vera cruz — do you feel an obligation to use Carolina Gold Rice in particular because you're here?

Honestly, early in my career in Arizona, we were using it. It's not because I'm here in Charleston. Carolina Gold Rice is so amazing! It has a unique floral smell, it's creamy, and it has all these amazing qualities that you forget white rice could have. I also love to puree it and use it as a substitute for cream.

According to you, the muscadine grape is the offspring of a threesome with a concord grape, a plum, and a yuzu. In my neck of the woods we call them scuppernong grapes and make wine with them. What's your story?

I was talking to the people at GrowFood Carolina. They couldn't believe I'd never had them before, so they sent me a case of the bronze ones. I can honestly say that they were one of the best things I've eaten in 2019! They kind of blew my mind. Tannic, plummy, somehow there's a little bit of citrus in there. I pickle them and put them in jars to show them off. I've done a local bee-liner crudo with the juice, but I think the coolest thing we've done at Basic Kitchen was a special, playing on the classic French dish, duck à l'orange — duck Muscadine. It was delicious!

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