City Paper food critic Jeff Allen loves nothing more than to discuss food and cuisine over a couple glasses of wine. He's the quintessential foodie, full of opinions and attitude. When he started writing for the paper, to give him an idea of what we wanted, I e-mailed him some links to my favorite food writer in the country — Jonathan Gold at L.A. Weekly. Upon reading Gold — who has an incredible ability to write about food as culture, symbol, and sustenance all at once — Jeff was inspired and enthusiastically vowed to outwrite him. In the year since Jeff started contributing, Gold has won a Pulitzer Prize (the first food critic to ever do so), and Jeff has worked his tail off to make good on his promise. He may not be on track for the Pulitzer (yet), but he has dissected, examined, analyzed, and argued about our local restaurants and singular food scene with quenchless passion.
In this issue of Dish, Jeff's opening column throws down a challenge to local restaurateurs — innovate or die. He sees the lure of easy tourist dollars threatening to make Disneyfied restaurants out of some of our most lauded establishments, and he wants chefs to stay true to the food, to push the boundaries, to embrace change and refuse to stagnate. Whether he's overstating the threat remains to be seen, but what's clear is Jeff's love of eating out. The Dining Guide that starts on p. 28 is a list of restaurants that reflects his favorite places to eat in town, from lowly dives to high-end divas. Jeff is no snob — well, actually, he is a snob, if that means someone who demands authenticity. If he's going to recommend a place like Hannibal's in the East Side, you can be sure you're going to be getting some authentic poor-man's grub, not a prettified version that's packaged nicely and sold off to the tourists.
Elsewhere in this issue, we take a look at the latest trend in dining — sustainability. The Sustainable Seafood Initiative has put eco-conscious dining on the map, encouraging chefs and patrons to serve only sustainable species. Stratton Lawrence samples some of the best examples at SSI-member restaurants. One chef who's dedicated himself to sustainability is Ken Vedrinski at Sienna. He made his name at the Dining Room at Woodlands and has since become even more popular due to his dedication to growing his own herbs, making his own pasta, and keeping ingredients as fresh as possible. In a back-page essay, Chef Ken reflects on the important role chefs play in enlightening their guests to new ingredients and dishes. Many diners might not order poached skate wing without a nudge in that direction by an educated server and a passionate chef.
Other highlights of this issue include a trip to Heston Blumenthal's kitchen at Fat Duck with Tristan Chef Ciarán Duffy, Sarah O'Kelley's piece on Charleston's most delectable sweet shop, a profile of three chefs who get their inspiration from the Old World, and a recipe from Craig Deihl's new cookbook, Cypress.
JEFF ALLEN recently celebrated his one-year anniversary as the Charleston City Paper's food critic. Interestingly, Jeff came to food writing by way of history. He's a historian with a deep interest in foodways, exploring the diverse food culture of our region and lecturing nationally on topics as diverse as cane and sorghum syrup-making and the Caribbean connection to the Lowcountry. You can read about Jeff's adventures in Charleston dining at his new blog at cuisine.ccpblogs.com, where he promises to post frequent updates as he conducts his research for the next edition of Dish (coming Aug. 8, 2007).
LESLIE MCKELLAR, a Michigan native, stumbled into a career in photography since moving to Charleston five years ago. She started shooting for the City Paper last Sept. and took most of the pictures in this edition of Dish. While she loved meeting many of Charleston's best chefs, she vows that the first restaurant she'll return to as a customer is La Fourchette — where the food, atmosphere, and chef were all awesome.
SARAH O'KELLEY believes that Southern food just might be the answer to most problems. She grew up in Georgia, where her love of tomatoes was cultivated in her grandparents' garden. To this day she cannot imagine a better bite of simplicity than a tomato sandwich on white bread with plenty of Duke's mayonnaise. She relocated to Charleston after six years in New Orleans, where she wrote for Emeril Lagasse, Eyewitness travel guides, and Gambit Weekly. She wrote about ethnic fare and the ultimate cheese plate in the last issue of Dish.
Lindsay Sainlar is a Louisville, Ky., expatriate who lives in the outer reaches of Charleston's downtown 'hood. She waits tables at a local Irish joint and spends her free time perfecting the turkey sandwich with the toaster oven she asked for last Christmas. We recently sent her into the nicest restaurant she's ever seen to sit down with Cypress Lowcountry Grille Executive Chef Craig Deihl to chat about his new cookbook. Afterward she found herself motivated to save a few bucks and eat at a restaurant that doesn't serve chicken fingers.
Jonathan Sanchez has worked as a short order cook, a Ben and Jerry's counter guy, and a catering waiter. The owner of Blue Bicycle Books, he writes the Hooked on Classics column for the City Paper and subscribes to the A.J. Liebling school of journalism — that good writing isn't done on scrambled eggs and soda water. He will out-eat anyone anywhere anytime. He's interviewed seven chefs in the last year and has discovered that apparently no one is doing fine dining anymore. They're all into serving comfort or peasant food or something humble.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Ken Vedrinksi was raised in his grandmother's kitchen, learning firsthand about the heart and soul behind Italian cooking. At an early age, Vedrinski learned how to create some remarkable Italian dishes. At his Daniel Island restaurant, Sienna, he adds a new twist to tried-and-true recipes from his grandmother's vault, using only the finest ingredients to create an extremely flavorful selection of homemade pastas, fish, and meats.
Jason A. Zwiker keeps his whisk whisking until his roux is just a shade past "peanut butter" before he stirs in the celery, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Once they go all crisp-tender, he hits it with a full bottle of Killian's Irish Red (and yes, since you asked, the shrimp he cooks with is fresh from local waters). After interviewing Ciarán Duffy about his experience at the Fat Duck, a Michelin 3-star operated by world-class celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, Zwiker is ready for his own two-week culinary apprenticeship in the English countryside. He's just waiting on approval for expenses from his editor. Zwiker has written about food – from harvesting to preparation to the succulent finale on the tines of the fork — for Charleston City Paper, Sandlapper: The Magazine of South Carolina, and Spartanburg Magazine.