Rashaunda Grant wants to feed people shrimp and grits and buttermilk biscuits, red rice and fried shrimp, slow cooked okra stew and crab cakes. But she doesn't want her guests to salivate, savor, and leave, wishing they had seconds the minute they wake up the next morning. She wants them to take that recipe home, back to Ohio, Florida, or, hell, maybe even Estonia (yes, she's had an Estonian guest). And these aren't Lowcountry dishes you'd get anywhere, not unless another Grant family member has decided to make you brunch. These are Rashaunda's grandmother's recipes, "It brings an element of love. This is not high end cuisine, this is comfort food."
Comfort food prepped, cooked, and served in a home that has been in the Grant family for years. A home that was left empty after Rashuanda's grandparents passed away, then used for long term rentals (resulting in major damage, bad tenants, and cases of eviction), and, most recently, used for short term rentals through Airbnb.
Rashaunda has been a huge proponent of short term rentals since moving back to James Island (where she grew up) in 2014. When new restrictions were put on who, where, and how homes could be rented, the Grant family had to shut down their Airbnb because it was not being used as a primary residence, a particularly unfortunate situation as short term renting had served as a much more viable and reliable source of income than the long term rental process.
"I never had problems with guests, no disturbances, the most we had was 'oh you didn't wash the dishes like I asked,'" she says. Since the new regulations made it impossbile for Rashaunda to rent out the home through Airbnb, she has been active in promoting the message that short term rentals are a trending industry, and that the "sharing economy is real." "I think there's a happy balance that can be struck," she says. "I think there are baby steps in the right direction, but baby steps nonetheless."
Until larger leaps are made to include more homes — especially those off the peninsula — under the short term rental ordinance umbrella, Rashaunda's returning to one of her first loves: cooking.
"It was sort of serendipitous," Rashaunda says about her Cooking the Carolina Way Airbnb Experience being approved this summer. One Airbnb service became another — albeit a more time consuming and costly service — and Rashaunda started creating menus for morning cooking classes — "Brunch is my favorite meal" — whipping up family recipes that reflect her Gullah Geechee heritage.
"I love food, it's something I haven't been able to share with Airbnb guests before," says Rashaunda. "But I'm not a chef — I saw that with other experiences, they were professional chefs, so I sat on mine for a while before I sent it, I was a little intimidated." Another Charleston cuisine related Experience is a luxurious multi-course supper club prepared by a pro chef. "When people pull up the event page [on Airbnb] you see him and me — even I want to do his! I had to step back and realize what I'm offering is different. I'm teaching recipes my grandma taught me in my grandma's home."
- Ruta Smith
Rashaunda has only been hosting her classes for a couple of months, but so far she's had a variety of takers. There was a College of Charleston student who just wanted to check things out in town, a mother and son duo, and a woman from Jacksonville who travels around the country doing Experiences — "she was telling me she's done pasta making in Chicago, rock climbing," says Grant. Even more so than when she was a regular Airbnb host, Rashaunda says she feels like a concierge of sorts, figuring out what's going on around town so she can relay to those new to the city. "My class is only one meal — my last guest took the class and then had an open afternoon, we'd been talking about our mutual love of whiskey. I said 'have you heard about Firefly?' She was able to go out there, and stopped by Low Tide on the way back." Wadmalaw and Johns Island usually don't make the tourist docket, but then again, neither does a real-deal soul food cooking class.
Rashaunda says she mimics what her grandmother used to cook, but with a modern twist. "The first class I did classic shrimp and grits, but with pimento cheese biscuits, which is a little different. And then I used my grandma's crab dressing recipe for crab cakes and grits, with red velvet biscuits, because I was intrigued by a sweet biscuit." In her spare time, Rashaunda takes to Instagram to document her experiments with pressure cooking soul food — think okra soup in 30 minutes instead of three hours. "I did an Insta Pot recipe with lima beans," says Rashaunda. It begs the question, are they as good as lima beans on the stove? "Yes!" Rashaunda says she's going to test out collard greens next, "just cause Grandma did it that way [slow cookng] doesn't mean we have to."
Through the Airbnb Experience page, Rashaunda is able to set her schedule to whatever she wants (we'd be down for a happy hour fried fish Friday, for what it's worth) though now most of her classes are two hours, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday mornings, with four students per class. Students don't have to have any experience in the kitchen, in fact, the less experience and the more intimidated they may be by the particular dish, the better. "That's why I chose to do a cooking class," laughs Rashaunda when a certain writer bemoans the fact that she can never make good fish at home. "All my friends say 'oh I can't do this.' I say 'I've seen you code and write and build Ikea furniture — you can cook.' On that level it's very empowering [for the students] to realize 'oh, I can cook this.'"