The seventh installment of Charleston Wine + Food was marked alternately by 80 degree weather, torrential rains, and sunny skies. It brought a cadre of celebrity chefs to town, and put Charleston's food scene on much-deserved display. It also raised potfuls of money for Charleston Chefs Feed the Need and Lowcountry Local First's incubator farm program.
Our writers covered as many events as possible, which means it's time for the highlights and the lowlights of the 2012 Charleston Wine + Food Festival.
The good stuff:
• Shrimper Wayne Magwood received the Laura Hewitt Culinary Legend Award while Sean Brock won the Marc Collins Chef Award. Kudos to those guys.
• The spreading out of the festival to other venues, getting the big parties out from under the white tents in Marion Square, was a success. It lent needed variety to the parties.
• Lowndes Grove is beautiful, visitors should get a chance to see it, and we love going to events there.
• The tasting tents in Marion Square were easy to navigate and not too crowded. We liked the idea of the talks and discussions, but we didn't get a chance to attend any.
• Charleston chefs and restaurants were well represented — from high end to low end — at all the various events across the city.
• Pea soup in a fucking can (courtesy of Hugh Acheson).
• Our local chefs did us proud, and the ones who fly under the radar reminded us that there is a wealth of talent in this market.
• The Lambs and Clams World Tour provided an unexpected bit of fringe fun, shucking and serving oysters on the Battery (and perhaps drinking some moonshine) late into the night.
• Lots of beer flowed this year with four beer dinners and specialty samples at various events. Big names in the beer world made appearances, and the dinners at 82 Queen, Closed for Business, and Next Door were tremendous. Might have to rename it Charleston Wine + Food + Beer Festival next year.
• The festival held its first cocktail-paired dinners — two of them in fact — and Pappy Van Winkle bourbon played starring roles at the 200-Plus Years of Charleston Cooking dinner and its own tasting event. Might have to rename it Charleston Wine + Food + Beer + Liquor Festival next year.
•The Southern Foodways Alliance's presence reminded us that food is about more than just filling our bellies. It's about our culture and our history and even our future. They also presented $10,000 to the signature charity after Potlikker. Awesome.
• The addition of the Soul Food Shuffle was a great idea. Eric Doksa said they had more food than they could ask for, and it was truly amazing. Having Jeff Allen talk about the history of soul food created a whole new level of appreciation for Gullah cuisine.
• The City Paper was a sponsor this year, and we even had a booth in the tasting village, which allowed us to share samples of local products like La Bubbly, Charleston Mix, Virgil Kaine, and Holy City beer. That was fun.
The not-so-good stuff:
• Crowds! While the tents were easy to navigate, a lot of the parties were sold to capacity, meaning we were jostled around by hordes of hungry hippos while we waited in long lines to get our eats and drinks. The finale BBQ, Blues, and Brews event, which was held this year at the Maritime Center instead of under the big tent in Marion Square, was particularly short on elbow room.
• Rain! It was ugly on Saturday in Marion Square, but that didn't seem to keep people from eating and drinking to drunken excess.
• Food! So much food that it all ran together (this could also be considered a good thing).
• Service! It was bad at Pinot Envy if you were polite like T. Ballard Lesemann, who says at times he waited in the front of the line while rude line-breakers with their glasses out got served first. If Ballard hates anything, he hates rudeness (he went to cotillion).
• Preparation! The Nectar of the Gods spirit tasting was not organized very well. Because of the rain, the event was moved inside where it was too loud to hear and there was no PA system. It was pretty much free-for-all drinking event. Doksa says if he were a paying customer, he'd be demanding a refund. Here's to hoping they have a backup plan in place for next year.
• Tacos! They just weren't very taco-y at the Taco Turf War, according to Susan Cohen, who says a simple fish taco would have gone over just fine.
• Not enough hands! Those wine glass plates or necklaces ought to come with your ticket. Juggling a glass and a small plate of food sucks. There were points at the Aquarium where wine glasses had to be sat on the floor in order to properly eat something. We need more tables or less things to hold.
Overall it was a great festival and we look forward to stuffing ourselves silly again next year.