For my fortieth birthday, our dear pals Anne Marie and Jimmy Hagood invited us to join them and some friends for an event during the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.
That night made up for the birthday present from my youngest.
A sickly yellowing blue-black eye.
She head butted me re-creating an unfortunate incident in the country wherein she developed two black eyes herself.
On that fateful night a few years ago, most assembled asked what happened. Instead of saying that my youngest had head butted me right before I tucked her into bed, I claimed a bar fight.
You should see the other guy.
Even with the shiner, the night I write about here ranks as one of the best nights ever.
A Charleston Dinner at the Hominy Grill.
That Charleston Wine + Food offering was the vision of the same Jimmy Hagood, half of the giver of the present, with help from Charleston’s culinary ambassadors, Matt and Ted Lee.
The organizers thought to create an authentic Charleston dinner for folks from off to celebrate typical meals of Charleston families.
It was only in the last thirty years that respectable food would be found outside of private homes in Charleston.
The problem with this offering is that locals snatched up most of the tickets.
So much for indoctrinating folks from off about traditional Charleston dinners of past and present.
Back in 2012, the Charleston Wine + Food Festival remained accessible to locals. It still had most of its original staffers. It had not morphed into the gargantuan event it is today. Most of us local types stay away now.
We used to know the director, the staff, the board members, the movers, the shakers.
We used to be invited to more events.
We don’t go any more.
Near my birthday in 2012, James Beard Award winner Robert Stehling of the Hominy Grill agreed to be the main chef of the Charleston inspired meal and to host us all at the Hominy. Mr. Stehling cooked along with my host Jimmy Hagood, Kevin Johnson of The Grocery, and Chris Hastings of the Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham.
The Hominy had just completed a renovation adding more seating.
Our house is not too far from The Hominy. Back when they served supper, we would take our young children there. We love that place.
We were honored to be included that perfect night by Anne Marie and Jimmy.
In addition to our traveling well together, we dine well together.
Their present to me in 2012 may still be one of the best birthday presents I have been blessed to receive. Church honor. Heart attack serious.
As stated, the task of the night was to serve up a meal that would have been on Charleston plates during the last 100 years.
We arrived at the Hominy that Saturday night mildly worse for wear from the night before having attended one of the Dine Around’s where guest chefs paired with local chefs. May be a touch of the wine flu flowed through our veins.
Our pals were not immediately there upon our arrival. We made small talk with some folks from Chicago and sipped the offered cocktail, a cup of St. Cecelia Punch, straight out of Charleston Receipts.
It’s the first beverage receipt in that venerable Charleston cookbook.
Lemons, brandy, pineapple, sugar, tea, rum, more brandy, champagne, and soda water. Served ice-cold.
A boozie doozie.
Julian Van Winkle would be in attendance that night along with his bride, Sissy. If you ever get the chance to sit at table with the Van Winkles, I highly recommend it.
I didn’t know it when we accepted the kind invitation, but Anne Marie and Jimmy had invited the Van Winkles and the winemakers featured that evening to sit with us.
The vintners were Tuck and Boo Beckstoffer.
She’s from the ATL originally.
Our table would be the Hagoods, Van Winkles, Beckstoffers, and….well…us…..still not worthy or sure why the Hagoods would think we were a good fit.
The Hagoods, Van Winkles, and Beckstoffers palled around at the Southern Foodways Alliance (the SFA) annual conferences at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.
Our pals Chris and Libba Osborne used to always go to those events, too. They were in attendance that fateful evening.
Another SFA veteran and huge foodie, Rathead Riley, came to the supper, too.
They were all great pals; we interloped.
As with all well-traveled folks who are accustomed to meeting friends of friends, the Beckstoffers and Van Winkles could not have been nicer, more fun, more gracious.
They made us feel like we had been old, old pals.
As appetizers passed through the room, we began to assemble at our tables.
Grab a bite; have a drink; smile at someone you don’t know.
Anne Marie looked at us and said, “Y’all…over here.”
We had the eight-top with the others described above.
Close to the bar area.
A little bit away from the rest of the folks in the room.
At a long, long trestle table in the same room, our pals Libba and Chris Osborne and various other Charleston folks sat with food royalty, Nathalie Dupree herself.
Ms. Dupree is a BIG DEAL in the culinary world. I think she has had as many t.v. cooking show appearances as the late Mrs. Paul Child.
If you don’t know who she is, well, then can we really be friends?
And there we were in the room with her, the most famous bourbon maker in the country, award wining wine makers, award wining barbecue cooks, and authors of successful cookbooks.
At the end of the table sat Julian Van Winkle, to his left sat Anne Marie Hagood, then me, then Boo Beckstoffer, then Jimmy Hagood at the other head, then Sissy Van Winkle, then Tuck Beckstoffer, then Mary Perrin and back to Julian Van Winkle. Perfect mixing of the couples.
In breaking the ice at the table, I leaned over and said, “Mr. Van Winkle, what is your favorite bourbon?”
I’m sure that was the first time anyone had ever asked him that.
Take that Woodward and Bernstein.
Regular Geraldo Rivera am I.
“Please, please, call me Julian.” He replied. Then taking a sip of his own bourbon, he slyly looked at me and said, “And, to answer your question, it’s Smirnoff.”
The whole table erupted.
And, oh, the food that night.
There was crab stuffed flounder with hush puppies.
Guinea fowl and dumplings.
Shrimp and rice pilau (pronounced purr-low) .
Matt and Ted Lee stood to give those assembled the story of pilau in the Lowcountry.
They did an admirable job of reporting on a meeting with a Charleston doyenne whose mother helped edit Charleston Receipts. That doyenne may or may not be related to some of those mentioned here.
Those from off seemed appreciative of the story of Charleston’s culinary heritage. All eight of them.
The local folks just wanted to eat.
Especially the roasted pork with spring onion gratin, roasted carrots and parsnips, Charleston gold rice with red peas, and, naturally, some braised collards. I still dream of that main course.
As the old joke goes:
Why are Charlestonians like the Chinese?
They eat rice and worship their ancestors.
Our new best friend Tuck Beckstoffer’s wines accompanied each course. As each wine pairing came to the tables, Tuck would stand and introduce the wine.
During the red meat course, which was that beautiful pork roast, we drank his luxuriously velvet Melee.
Tuck tells the story much better than I can write it, but, to paraphrase, that wine was named by his company’s chief financial officer quite by accident.
After going to said bean counter to ask about introducing that new vintage, the CFO protested Tuck’s profligate ways with the company’s money. He discussed profits and losses and years to fruition. He wagged his finger at Tuck’s vision and Tuck not taking into account the accounting.
Apparently, the CFO said that the new vintage would not just be a financial disaster, but, instead, it would be a fucking melee. Hence, the name of the wine.
I’ve heard Tuck tell that story more than once. He brings down the room.
Course followed course with Julian Van Winkle allowing those of us at his table and a few from the big table to take swigs from the bottle of Pappy 20 that he brought with him.
“Shh…don’t tell,” he conspired.
Chris Osborne made numerous visits to our table.
As another new course appeared at table, our other new best friend Sissy Van Winkle marveled at the gluttony.
“Y’all, we don’t eat like this at home. It’s usually me in sweat pants with a bowl of soup watching Jeopardy!”
We all howled.
Boo Beckstoffer extolled the virtues of being back in the South for the weekend. You can take the girl out of the 404 but you can’t take the 404 out of the girl.
[Side note: I must tell you she is one of my most ardent supporters on the social media. See? Immediate besties. Some 7 years later, the Beckstoffers just had another child. Congratulations Boo and Tuck! We have babysitters ready to go next time y’all are in town.]
That night, dessert was a drunken blur.
There was an upside down cake washed down with glasses of Mr. Van Winkle’s 20 year bourbon.
The shampoo effect had kicked in big time.
The shampoo effect happens on the second day or night after a big night. Take one drink and boom….drunk again….like shampoo running down your head in the shower. My sister-in-law Margaret Johnson Kunes told me about the shampoo effect years ago.
That supper at Hominy Grill years ago was all shampoo effect.
During the entire supper, there was a steady light rain outside.
It added to the ambiance, the over all effect, shampoo notwithstanding.
As we sat at table, I knew that it a was a rare night never to be repeated.
As I returned to our table from one visit to the big table, I thought, “I should take some pictures.”
Instead, I lived in the moment.
Towards the end of the meal, Robert Stehling, Kevin Johnson, and Chris Hastings came from the kitchen for their standing ovation. Some of the clappers swayed a bit as they applauded.
As we all went out to our taxis and waiting drivers, none of us wanted the experience to end.
There was another party we attended.
In the rain.
Robert Moss wrote about the evening for The Charleston City Paper. I have attempted to find his article to attach it here. I can’t find it.
I do remember that in his article, Mr. Moss described the magic of it all. The intimate setting. The perfect food. The laughter. The culinary potentates in the room. The stories told between courses, during wine pairings.
The perfection of it all.
Nothing stiff or stilted or boring about that night.
Bit of a melee.