The Eerie Bones of Fort Fremont

Think Mayan Tulum, the Forest Moon of Endor & The Planet of the Apes all bundled up. Why this hasn’t been used as a filming location for a horror or sci-fi movie is beyond me.

At first glance, Fort Fremont is such a creepy space. I’ll admit the heebie jeebies never went away. (Perhaps due to the proximity to the famed paranormal Lands End Light?)

At any rate, the space itself is perfectly safe, just come prepared to climb, with water, bugspray and a light in tow.

Completed by 1899, Fort Fremont was part of the coastal defenses built around the US at the time of the Spanish American War. Obsolete by the time of its construction, the fort was abandoned by 1921 after use as a quarantine station. It remains one of only 2 remaining Span- Am sites extant in the country, and was the last refuelling station for the USS Maine prior to being destroyed in the Havana harbor.
It’s a lovely place, dark and wondrous. If you’re visiting St. Helena, I strongly recommend a visit.
As an insider’s tip, if you time it correctly, a quick visit to the nearby beach will allow a lovely view of the sunset over the Beaufort River. Driving back after dark, who Knows? You may indeed spot the Lands End Light hovering above the road, following you, but that’s a story for another time…

Adapted from  my review on Tripadvisor:
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 A Remembrance of Restaurants Past (with apologies to Marcel Proust.)

I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

Marcel Proust, A Remembrance of Things Past

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Once upon a time, long ago & before Upper King blew up, there was a little meat and three on Cannon and Coming, a place called Latasha’s run by a guy named Robert. You see, he had these pork chops…

Proust had his madeleines, I have pork chops. Ms. Raskin was kind enough to post about our upcoming Homage dinner at The Vendue‘s Drawing Room. I’ve been stewing on this for a while, digging through Charleston Library‘s archives, sifting through old menus on ebay, even posting a question on the Charleston History Before 1945 Facebook group that resulted in a protracted and overwhelming response.

In short, as much of an awesome and collaborative culinary scene as we have had here in Charleston, our restaurant culture seems relatively recent. Charleston’s fame as a dining destination was built originally on the merits of her home cooks. The bulk of the documentation we have underscores these traditions were built largely upon the heady mix of European Colonialism, African Diaspora and Native American influence.

As a cook in Charleston, you quickly come  to understand that you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Of course there continues to be refinement, elevation, restoration and a common push to continue to be better, to stay relevant on a larger scale, but all of this is predicated by those who came before us.

As Charleston’s Art Hotel, The Vendue refreshes the art throughout the hotel several times a year. Along with that, Drawing Room hosts a preview dinner the night before the art reception opening. For our next installation, coming up on April 5, I was told the theme for the Artist’s dinner was “Homage.” To what, I thought, would I pay homage?

I didn’t think on it too long. While I was not able to even begin to fold in all the myriad restaurants, Chefs and stories I wanted to feature, I knew this was an awesome opportunity to begin this conversation. I’m not sure what happens from here- a pop up, an event for a food and wine festival (or “Wine and Food Festival” perhaps?)

There’s one thing I DO know for sure though- it’s going to be Delicious! Hope to see you there.

Have a great service.


Postscript- I did want very much to make mention of and to link to a few things regarding Charleston restaurant history- articles from Theresa Taylor, Robert Moss, Erin PerkinsHanna Raskin, an audio podcast from Southern Foodways Alliance, as well as to embed (below) a longer article from Charleston Magazine from 2007 – I had difficulty finding this online, but the good folks were kind enough to grant permission for me to reprint – a very, very genuine “Thank you” to all above for the inspiration and subsequent trip down the rabbit hole!

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O Rye The Hell Not?

The Wednesday New York Times included a fantastic article on a resurgence of rye, but failed to mention the restoration of Seashore Black Rye. The comments section was robust, and I weighed in accordingly:

As a South Carolina Chef Ambassador, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the incredible Restoration efforts going on now throughout the Southeast, and especially here in Charleston.

Many varieties of heirloom and landrace grains are seeing a return, many having previously been written off as extinct. Here in South Carolina Abruzzi Rye, introduced in 1912, has long been prized by our bakers and by our farmers as a complimentary crop. Going back further, Seashore Black Rye was highly prized on the Sea Islands, and had been written off as extinct. It was found growing in one isolated patch on Edisto Island, has been repatriated to the marketplace by Greg Johnsman of Geechie Boy Mills. It had the honor of being boarded on to the Slow Food Ark of Taste last year.

Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills also works closely with Dan Barber of Blue Hill / Stone Barn.

Locally, we are blessed to have a partnership with Chris Wilkins of Root Bakery on Johns Island. There, he is using classic, artisan technique with the addition of Restoration ingredients, such as the Carolina African Runner Peanut.

There’s a lot going on here. I’m honest when I say guests from off can experience truffles & foie from Barcelona to Singapore. In order to taste these flavors & this terroir you’re going to to have to come here.

That said, both Seashore Black Rye and Abruzzi Rye are available online through the Geechie Boy and Anson Mills websites.

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Christmas Day, 2016

Merry Christmas y’all; I’ve been away.

As is so often the case with a new job, I’ve been down the rabbit hole working hard to build a world class team and culture. Many trials and tribulations, lots of fodder for new stories from Wild West of the F&B frontier.

Among other things, I was tapped unanimously by the 2016 SC Chef Ambassadors to be advisor to the 2017 SC Chef Ambassadors, which is as humbling and gratifying as it is energizing.

In Columbia for the handover ceremony, I was afforded the opportunity to visit the University of South Carolina’s Caroliniana Library, USC’s depository of untold riches of historic documentation. Among the tomes was  what has become a bit of a grail the last 4 years: The Centennial Receipt Book of 1876, written by A Southern Lady. There are only 2 known copies in existence- the one at USC and one copy held by the University of Michigan. It took me several years to track it down, and I was at last blessed with the opportunity to sit down with it.

Heavily stained, the book is diminutive, almost chap book like in scope. But the contents are a very specific glimpse into the kitchens of Reconstruction era South Carolina. There are familiar receipts, innovative takes on familiar ingredients and what seemed to me an almost complete absence of rice recipes. 

Published only 12 years after the end of The War, its fascinating to note how quickly rice culture appeared to be ebbing like the tide going out on the marsh.

For those that know me, you probably already know that I am obsessed with historic South Carolina food culture, and specifically with that of Reconstruction and the late 19th Century. That’s about when the double edged sword of truck farming saw its advent. While truck farming helped us bootstrap our way out of Reconstruction, it also sounded the death knell for flavor as growers began selecting for size and portability over flavor.

I keep coming back to what’s going on here now and calling it The Restoration. If it was apt for Charles II then isn’t it an equally appropriate moniker for the Lazarus like return of the Carolina African Runner Peanut, the Bradford Watermelon, Nostrale rice or any number of delicious cultivars being returned from the brink of extinction?

So here, then, is my Christmas gift to you: a link to the newly digitized Centennial Receipt Book. I could keep it quiet, but what’s the point? As Frank Lee has said, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” What we have here in Charleston- our scene, our hospitality, our teams is all really special. This book is confirmation that we’ve been special all along, even in some dark times.

The Centennial Receipt Book of 1876, by A Southern Lady

Come check out what we’re up to at Drawing Room– it feels good and is pretty special- the Restoration ingredients, the stories we’re telling and most of all the team we have around us.

Merry Christmas y’all.

“Let the Love Fest Continue!” FLee

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Remembering Verta Mae

I was saddened to learn of Verta Mae Grovenor’s passing over the weekend. I wrote this post a year ago recalling the time my wife and I got to meet her at a Southern Foodways event at McCrady’s.

She was a Space Goddess!


I met a lady named Vertamae Smart- Grosvenor once at a nice restaurant in a Charleston alley. My wife and I were attending a Southern Foodways Alliance event- one of those gigs where they ply you with local goodies and screen a Joe York documentary.
Vertamae grew up in rural Hampton County, SC. Her parents moved to Philadelphia when she was 8. By the time she was 19, she lit out for Europe and spent time kicking around the continent. She wrote about it and in 1970 published Vibration Cooking: or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. In my estimation, this is one of the books of the Southern culinary / literary canon that you simply must own and know intimately. Throw a rock in a southern kitchen and it’ll hit someone who’s been touched by her work- John Martin Taylor, The Lee Bros, Linton Hopkins, Sean Brock, Kevin Mitchell, BJ Dennis, Me.
In between bites of benne – brown oyster stew, Buckshot Restaurant‘s squirrel gravy and shots of Coast Brewery (with whom, in all transparency, we are doing a supper with at Old Village Post House and Inn on 10/14), I spied Vertamae across the long room, a towering and stately griot. My wife and I walked over to meet her.

“It’s my understanding,” I said,” that back in the day you spent some time playing with Sun Ra in his famous Arkestra. What did you do in the band?”
She sighed and looked away, looked through me, through time and space. For a moment, I saw the rings of Saturn in her far off eyes. Then she came back, snapped to and straightened with a grace of royalty.
Check the trailer for the documentary film in the works by Julie Dash here.
Keep it tight, and have a great service – FP

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Rock me Like a Hurricane

Everyone’s heard about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, some of us remember it. As Hermine Matthew bears down on the Lowcountry, I wanted to touch base since many of us in F&B come from off and may not have ever experienced a hurricane.

What to expect:

In the event of a tropical weather event, you should basically be prepared for high winds, heavy rains, hail, possible tornadoes, flooding in low lying areas and possible storm surges. Loss of power, mobile phone service, cable & internet may occur.

Below is a FEMA doc of emergency supplies. FEMA advises you should have something like this put together in the event of emergency. Have an exit plan, remember that low lying areas are prone to flooding (avoid Lockwood and East Bay on the peninsula- the high ground is in the middle- Meeting, King, Ashley & Rutledge.) Be aware of where available shelters may be. Look out for the people around you and for your guests– they may be in need of help. Stay in touch with your families and remember mobile phone service may be diminished or nonexistent.

Here’s a link to the National Hurricane Center, FEMA and Red Cross. I suggest you bookmark the pages on your mobile.

Just as in the kitchen, remember: P.roper P.reparation P.revents P.iss P.oor P.erformance! Stay safe.

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Frank Lee Speaking

“If you’re really going to be creative, you’re going to have to have your shit together.”
Chef Frank Lee

Still learning from this man. As long as I’ve known him, Chef has always had this fantastic repertoire of aphorisms that continue to knock around my head.

The rhythm of mis en place.

Strike while the iron is hot.

Constant pressure, gently applied.

If a protein is lost then the animal died in vain.

That’s not what I told you!

The kitchen should be a place of calm and order. Home is where Chaos reigns, not the line.

They’re just NOT GETTING IT!

Well you guys got your shit together; I’m headed downtown.

and my all time favorite: eggggssssccccellent (usually hard won.)

Are you a former Maverick culinarian? Have you won your Blood Shirt? What are your favorite Frank Lee-isms?

Post Script- How did I fail to include this from Charleston Wine and Food Festival? Thanks for the reminder Timothy Ryan Pettit!

Some additional gems:

Paul Bocuse told me”take what you have learned from us. Go home and apply it. And Don’t Copy Us.”

After a while we developed a true camaraderie and a dedicated belief that a rising tide floats all boats.

In Charleston, we have the best chef community in the country. Ambitious. Competitive. Yet supportive and collaborative.



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