It was supposed to be a dinner with both Lee Bros., to mark their newest book, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, benefiting The Southern Foodways Alliance. But Matt's flight out of New York was canceled, so he wound up heading back to Charleston to pick loquats instead. Instead we just had Ted, who joked "It's great to go somewhere by myself after 42 years of having him on my heels!" Here's our look at last night's dinner, which featured Big Jones' renditions of recipes from the new book, with Ted's explanations and, afterwards, a showing of a film (about Van Winkel bourbon) from The Southern Foodways Alliance's Joe York.
Henry's Cheese Spread on benne wafers.
For Paul Fehribach, chef of Big Jones, there was nothing unusual about cooking dinner out of a Lee Bros. cookbook. "When we first opened, we used a lot of recipes out of their first book [The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook]. Charleston cooking was just unchanging and immutable for two hundred years. Their recipes take that and just work in the modern era." He had particular praise for one of the first appetizers, a cheese spread that looks like the traditional pimiento spread but adds flavors— notably beer and Worcestershire sauce— that make it seem like Charleston by way of Wisconsin. (Nobody who tried it was complaining.)
Chef Paul Fehribach introduces Ted Lee.
For Ted Lee, this is the best of times and... the slightly vexing of times for Charleston food nationally. He's excited by what he calls "the post-Husk era" of restaurants, but made fun of national pieces working in three mentions of Dixie in the first paragraph and other Southern food writing cliches. (Coming from the city of Big Shoulders and steakhouses, we sympathized.) More to the point, he says that Charleston is a melting pot city which has always had international influences from trade, and cited the example of an Italian restaurant that's doing excellent food, as well as the Vietnamese food in the area— "But nobody comes to Charleston to write about Italian food." Ultimately, he regards the restaurant scene as a relatively new chapter in Charleston's food history— "Nobody ate out until the 1980s"— and that the heart of it, as in his latest book, is home cooking.
Which is why he regards the Southern Foodways Alliance's work as so important, preserving foodways from all walks of life. And it was important for him and his brother: "We were selling peanuts and our graduate degrees were falling further and further behind the refrigerator. And our parents, who are academics, were both saying, 'It's not too late' [to use your degrees]. And then we got a call from John T. Edge saying, we think you'd be the best people to give a talk on the cultural history of the boiled peanut. And it's coming from an organization affiliated with a university. And suddenly it was okay."
Paul Fehribach with kumquat-infused grin, which was used in...
Kumquat champagne sparklers.
Shad roe spread on buttered toast.
Peanut and oyster stew.
Pickled shrimp with fennel and dill.
Ted Lee talks with Fehribach and West Town Tavern chef-owner Susan Goss.
Smothered pork chops.
Grapefruit chess pie, which was served with syllabub, an insanely good fruit juice-whipped cream topping.