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Barbecue, Whiskey and Wine? It’s Time for the Charleston Wine & Food Festival

What if you could party with famous chefs, wine makers, restaurant owners and whiskey connoisseurs over one weekend in one of America’s most amazing towns? That’s what happens the first weekend in March in Charleston, South Carolina. For the past ten years, BB&T Charleston Wine & Food has been hosting this lip smacking good festival where guests can experience local Lowcountry food with James Beard winning chefs, authors and food enthusiasts (We are going to try to get through this entire article without using the word, ‘Foodie’).

In honor of the upcoming event we interviewed four epic participants from around the nation to hear what they have in store for the festival and what they are most looking forward to doing in the Holy City. Hint: Lots of drinking.

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Kent Graham (Atlanta & Montgomery)

Can you explain the importance of eating local to our readers?

It is not just about eating local it is about the economics. You are keeping money in the community when you eat and shop local. When you shop at the farmers market, you are supporting people within a 50-mile radius of you. Also, the more local, the fresher the product. You can be eating something that was picked that morning and are catching it at its peak. Sure, we buy bananas from South America at the grocery store but if I can, I try to get 75% of my produce locally.

We are excited to see what you have in store at the BBQ Takeover, any hints?

We haven’t decided fully but we may prepare a whole lamb with Merguez spice but approach it from a Southern angle using oak and pecan wood for maximum flavor. We thought, ‘How can we make it fun? How can we make it new?’

I assume you are finding a local lamb for this?

I’m working with Brannon Florie from The Granary for that one- he finds the local purveyors since he knows the market better than I do.

Ok, so what makes Memphis BBQ different?

The best way to put it: It is a huge personal question!

For me, it evokes Sundays at the table with my family having 2pm lunch with a pile of BBQ, slaw and cheap simple potato chips and baked beans.

That was a ritual.

But above anything else it is about the pig. It should be dry rubbed so as not to mask the natural taste. When you bite into Memphis style you bite into gastronomical construction! The taste of the smoke and the pig wafting over your senses, you are kissed by that taste of the bread and the cole slaw. You get this one wonderful taste.

And I’m not knocking others’ barbecue but when you have Memphis style, you have the most edible way of eating barbecue (since it is between two pieces of bread).

We know you are big on fried chicken – do you have any tips for our guys on making the best?

One of the things I tell people is to buy an all-natural bird from a local farmer since they have the best taste.

–       Cut the chicken into nines (my dad’s from south Alabama and that is how they do it).

–       Pull off the back end of the breast, the pulley bone; it’s an extra little piece.

–       I came up with a brine- I brine for 72 hours. I am not giving up the recipe but its’ main ingredient is iced tea. It gives the chicken a wonderful internal taste.

–       I then use a buttermilk rinse.

–       Then it goes into a well-seasoned flour.

–       It’s fried nicely and then I top it with honey or sorghum. I prefer sorghum.

–       Add flakey salt and chopped thyme for some greenery. I do use thyme in my brine too.

What are you most looking forward to doing in Charleston?

I love Charleston! It’s the first time I’ve been a participant!

I of course am looking forward to eating. We are also releasing news on my new restaurant- Field Dog Kitchen that will be opening in Atlanta.

When I’m in Charleston it’s all about the comradery. When I go to Lambs and Clams on Friday night we get to hang out with other chefs; we are not being scrutinized and we are able to have great conversations.

It’s the time to talk, build, move forward, share, show off and have fun and really enjoy our industry! As a chef its kind of like you are out of the kitchen, but in the kitchen and having a lot of fun.

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Jim Meehan (Portland, Oregon):

Our parent company, is based in PDX, what made you move there?

My wife and I have a two-year-old daughter and were ready for a change of pace lifestyle-wise.   Portland has big city amenities such as excellent restaurants, bars, cafes and shops, with small town luxuries like short commutes to the airport and a laid back vibe.   It’s also nestled in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

Your ‘Subzones of Whiskey’ event is a definite can’t miss for our readers. Tell us a bit about it and some of the whiskeys you are most excited about at the moment.

Whiskey is so popular right now that it’s tough to get my hands on bottles I used to take for granted years ago. I’d say my favorite bottle of 2014 was the cask strength Parker’s Heritage release of 13-year-old Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. I’m looking forward to trying the new Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey from Middleton later this year, and can’t wait to taste the Watermelon Brandy (sorry: not a whiskey) from High Wire: hope they saved me a bottle!

The whiskey category has exploded over the past decade thanks to the popularity of cult bottlings like Pappy Van Winkle, in addition to releases from craft distilleries such as Balcones, Tuthiltown, and Anchor, whose success has helped drive whiskey prices through the roof. I’m looking forward to talking about the laws, production practices, pricing and most importantly, the liquid, to help attendees evaluate their options more objectively.

We hear you are going to be behind the bar at Husk. Do you have a relationship with Sean Brock And what might you be conjuring up that evening?

Sean and I sat across from each other on a puddle jumper to Aspen (Food & Wine) a few years ago and finally met formally in Charleston during Cook it Raw a couple years ago. I got to catch up with him briefly at his book release party in Portland, and am really looking forward to tending bar at Husk. Based on the backbar there, I know I’ll be mixing with bourbon… hopefully, I’ll get some time to collaborate with his team on the cocktails I serve.

We just did a collab with Moore & Giles and we are obsessed with your Sidecar. Can you tell us more about that? 

The inspiration came from Moore & Giles marketing director Brooks Morrison, who brought me in to develop a bartender bag and rollup with them in 2009. They started making furniture a couple years ago, and she recruited me to co-develop the bar cart with them. Designer Thomas Brennan transformed crude sketches of mine into a blueprint for cabinetmaker Brandon Ulland to fabricate prototypes. I love working with Moore & Giles because they’re committed to producing the absolute best products. Don Giles himself dubbed it the Sidecar.

What are you most looking forward to seeing/doing/experiencing in Charleston?

I’ve only been once, and spent most of my time on excursions for Cook it Raw. This time, I’m bringing my family along, and we’re really looking forward to it. I’m dying to check out my buddy Brooks Reitz’s new places (St. Alban and Leon’s), and to return to Husk. I had the opportunity to work with Ryan Casey last time I visited, dine with Garden & Gun’s Jess Mischner, and Joe Raya hooked me up with a Yeti full of Clinebell ice, so I look forward to catching up with all of them.   So much going on in Charleston!


Kelly English (New Orleans & Memphis):

Tell us about the Memphis food scene currently.

It’s a great town to be in right now. One of the really cool things is this new crop of restaurants that have happened over the past ten years. They are really personal places. Even though it’s not a fancy setting, we have a reputation as a food town because of barbecue. It’s the time-honored traditions that drive the food scene still. Not necessarily the ingredients but the passion for telling a story.

What can we expect from you at the Cross Country Barbecue?

We are working with Fox out of Atlanta. Whether you are a pit master or chef we love what we do and we love food and bringing people together. We talked a lot about what we want to do. Their style is really driven by beef while it’s mostly all pork in Memphis. We are going to do a Middle Eastern Kafta, which is a meatball ground up with different proteins. We are going to smoke some beef and then bind it with a rice grit and season it up with some things from that part of the world. That is completely out of the box for both of us.

I see you are partnering with Chef Jeremiah Bacon at Oak Steak house to focus on ‘contemporary southern cuisine’. What does that mean to you?

When Jeremiah and I started talking we really wanted to take a trip through the Creole eyes of our region. I grew up in New Orleans and you can see the difference from Lowcountry and Creole yet they have similar strains but come out in completely different manners. We are going from north of Charleston all the way down to New Orleans and discovering what people have left along the way.

The definition of a Southerner changes every day. We have new people coming through every day who add to our culture, while we keep one foot firmly planted in who we are, we continually look ahead at who we are going to be.

People always try to compare New Orleans to Charleston. I think they are apples and oranges (or shrimp to oysters?).

I do think they are very different and I wish people would stop making cities compete with each other. At one place you have one style of food and you have a different one in the other. If you put each of them in a competition with themselves they are both going to win.

What are you most excited to do/see in Charleston?

I was there a couple of years ago and it is such a special town and there are only a few places in America that there is just one of and Charleston is one of those places. I am looking forward to drinking at Edmonds Oast, eating at Macintosh and FIG and all the drinks in between!

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Patrick Krutz (Mississippi & Santa Rosa California)

What made you move out West from Mississippi?

I finished U Miss in 2001 and in January I went backpacking and went to New Zealand, Thailand and Australia for about six months and then was ready to enroll in law school. I wanted to have one more adventure before school though so my dad recommended I give it a shot in the wine industry and I got a job in Carmel in the summer of 2002 with all intentions of heading back to law school but never did!

I really got involved in the food and wine world out there and I gravitated towards wine. Some friends out there took me under their wing and my first vintage was in 2003 and it went from there. 

How do you explain the rapid success of your vineyard?

Well it wasn’t too rapid. I never studied viniculture (Ole Miss doesn’t offer that!) but I started small and in 2004 I still wasn’t convinced I wanted to do this. I still didn’t have a bottled product. Each year I ramped up my production and I moved to West Sonoma County in 2005 since I had outgrown my garage. At that point I got serious and looked for distributors and opened a wine club. Today we produce around 250 barrels.

I attribute our success to hard work, a good price, and creating our niche.

We have a signature series from $35 and up and Magnolia is a value wine at around $18-25 a bottle. 

I see that you are participating in the Macintosh Signature dinner. Are there certain wines that pair better with Southern cuisine? 

Barbecue is near and dear to my heart. People refer to a grill out here as a barbecue! That’s just not right (Laughs). I cooked a pork shoulder for 13 hours for the Super Bowl and had a Pinot Noir. Pig and Pinot!

When talking shrimp & grits I like a Chardonnay but a Pinot Noir can work if it is a little more on the smoky side.

Any sort of grilled beef works with a bottle of Syrah.

I see at the Sip + See you are pulling out a favorite vintage. Can you tell us about it?

I decided to ship some magnums of 2006 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I was tasting both of these recently and I was surprised at how lively the Chardonnay was tasting. It was vibrant and crisp and I thought it would be fun and different.

The 2006 was from the Sleepy Hollow vineyard and that was from their 50 year old vines. It didn’t produce much, but what it did produce was powerful stuff.

Anderson Valley Pinot is an elegant, pretty and nicely aged wine. So this is kind of a blast from the past for me personally.

What are you most looking forward to seeing/doing/experiencing in Charleston?

This is my first time at Wine & Food. I haven’t really looked at how much free time I have but I want to visit some of the restaurants! Being from the South I miss that culture and cuisine. I just want to plug in whenever I’m back in the South; the people, cuisine and striking up a conversation to see where life takes you.

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