I have to say this at least once:
On Tuesday, I was called to the SC Governor’s Mansion to be recognized as a 2016 SC Chef Ambassador.
The program began in 2014 as a joint venture of the SCDA and the SCPRT (read “CertifiedSC” and “DiscoverSC” to us lay folks.) The mission of the South Carolina Chef Ambassadors is to promote local agriculture, tourism and agritourism. As a licensed tour guide for the city of Charleston, the impact of tourism upon our local economy is plainly evident to me. But as the chef of a great restaurant and fantastic team it’s also plainly evident that both arriving guests and locals are hungry for the flavors of local terroir. To paraphrase Atticus Finch, I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the need to highlight the seasonal, regional, local abundance of our state, and to distill this time and place on to our plates. Simply put, serving South Carolina agriculture is a value add.
But eating seasonally, regionally and locally is older than Chez Panisse. Other culinary destinations are connecting chefs and farmers via grass roots distribution hubs such as our own Growfood Carolina. West Coast cities have long taken advantage of composting programs such as those by Smart Recycling here in town. What makes any of this any different than what’s going on in any number of other “hotbed” culinary scenes such as Portland or Austin?
In a word- “restoration.” We’ve all been grinding away on our kitchen lines fabricating, portioning, reducing, searing, plating and saucing. Meanwhile, a quiet vanguard of research farmers, entrepreneurs and agricultural archaeologists have been hard at work delving into the age of the farmer – scientist here in SC. Members of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation are busy researching, procuring seed, growing it out and releasing to market the foods of our forefathers and restoring the flavors of our shared past from here in the Palmetto State. Previously lost 18th & 19th Century crops such as Carolina Gold rice, Bradford watermelons, African Runner peanuts and Jimmy Red corn have become buzz words for food fashionistas. Purple Ribbon sugarcane is on the horizon, Indian Blood peaches, black crowder peas and heirloom collards along for the ride. We could, perhaps, even see a return to prominence of the American Chestnut or the cabbage palm.
After the press conference on Tuesday, we were directed to change into our jackets for additional photos. As I emerged from a changing room into the hallway, I just about smacked headlong into the Governor herself. She was gracious and congratulatory. “This is your program,” she said. “Just take the ball and run with it.” I still can’t believe all this is happening. I’m already an unabashed evangelist for my city, my state, its people and our cuisine. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am, but then you knew that already, didn’t you?
It’s a beautiful day in South Carolina!