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Karen Stabler, Caviar & Bananas

Hidden Chefs

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Charleston is such a foodie town that chefs are hiding in plain sight, out of the James Beard limelight, but still very much creating amazing food. This series profiles Charleston's "hidden chefs."

The Lowcountry has lots of seafood and Chef Karen Stabler combines her passion for sushi and Charleston's abundance to make sushi that's a hybrid in dishes like crab wontons stuffed with pimento cheese. She graduated from Johnson & Wales in 2003 and worked her way up to head sushi chef at the Boathouse on East Bay. In 2009 she moved to Caviar & Bananas to make sushi, taking a break to work at the Ocean Room at the Sanctuary on Kiawah. In 2013, she returned to Caviar & Bananas and in addition to making sushi, she has taken over charcuterie.

Favorite kitchen tool or gadget: My hands. I've been rolling sushi for 10 years. I use them as a spatula, a whisk, I use them for anything.

Three things always in my refrigerator: Gouda cheese, Tater Tots for my daughter, and mini bottles of Prosecco because, well, always treat yourself when you can. They're just little bottles, nothing excessive.

Three things always in my pantry: Macaroni and cheese because of my eight-year-old, brown rice, and lasagna sheets because I'm half Italian and my mom always made Italian food.

Favorite after-work hangout: Obviously, my house because I have children. But when the children are with Grandma, Gene's Haufbrau or Mellow Mushroom.

Favorite Charleston restaurant other than yours: I love Swig & Swine. They have great portions and you can feed your whole family on the family plate. And, also, my husband works there as assistant kitchen manager.

Favorite comfort food: I love what we call the Italian Remedy. It's like baked ziti, but it's not baked. I take ricotta, tomato sauce, fresh basil, lots of salt and pepper. I don't know if it really works, but it certainly makes us feel better.

Favorite Smell: Lilacs. We had a bush when I was growing up.

Favorite Drink: Left Hand Milk Stout. It tastes like chocolate milk.

Number of hours you work a week: 40-50

Customer pet peeve: When they aren't aware of their facial expressions. Sometimes, when people are making a decision, they do funny things with their tongue. I think with my tongue too, but when you're looking at it, whew!

Most under-rated ingredient: Rice. Obviously, because of my sushi background. But there are so many things you can do with it. You can puree it and use it as a binder, especially for those with gluten allergies. You can stuff it with anything. I use a rice cooker to get it right every time.

Favorite meal to cook at home: Stuffed cabbage is a favorite in our house. You add sautéed potatoes and put a little bit of butter and rosemary in it.

Best advice a mentor gave you: It was Chef Miles Huff, a Johnson & Wales instructor. He said, "You're a girl. You have to be perfect."

Caviar & Bananas is open Mon. to Fri. 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–8:30 p.m., and Sun. 8 a.m.–8 p.m.

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