Any visitor to Charleston, S.C., is likely to be exposed to the region’s celebrated Lowcountry cuisine. Attendees of MenuDirections got a full immersion, starting with an overview of the signature ingredients and flavors from chef Mike Ellis, followed by an actual taste at his restaurant, A.W. Shuck's, one of three standout local places included in the conference’s Dine-Around.
As Ellis explained to the 250 foodservice professionals in attendance, Lowcountry cuisine is “perhaps the first true regional cuisine,” extending back to colonial days. It reflects “many early influences, including Indian and European,” he noted.
Those cooking styles and flavors were further influenced by the West African touches and techniques that slaves brought with them to the New World, yielding dishes that remain the cuisine’s staples.
Ellis provided a quick overview of commonly used ingredients, which include rice; corn, served both on the cob and ground into flour or grits; oysters, “so plentiful in the low country that oyster roasts have become as common as the backyard barbecue”; fried green tomatoes; and “the holy trinity” of peppers, onions and celery.
Attendees sampled a number of those components during the Drive-Around. Ellis, for example, served a gumbo made with local creek shrimp and other seafood.
Fleet’s Landing provided hefty samples of shrimp and grits, a traditional breakfast now served by many Carolina restaurants and households for dinner as well. It also served a hush puppy stuffed with seafood.
High Cotton, part of Charleston’s Maverick Southern Kitchens restaurant group, provided what one chef-attendee described as highly refined southern specialties, like pickled cauliflower and pork rillettes, a pate-like dish.