Bluffton — Rodney Scott hardly slept a wink at Palmetto Bluff’s sixth helping of the Music to Your Mouth foodie festival this past November, at least not on Thursday night. That’s because he was cooking up an entire hog.
From Nov. 14-18, Scott and many other chefs and attendees went “whole hog,” immersing themselves in tasty Lowcountry food, beverages and music on the banks of the May River.
“It’s like a big family reunion in your own little world,” says Scott, who runs Scott’s Bar-B-Que in the South Carolina crossroads town of Hemingway for his day — and night — job.
Scott was preparing a Fatback Pork Project mixed-breed pig (Mangalista and Berkshire) to be served at that Friday night’s riverfront Potlikker Block Party. He was joined by a long list of other Southern chef luminaries that have made Music to Your Mouth a word-of-mouth favorite in chef circles.
Begin with the mouthwatering list of Charleston chefs in attendance this past November: The Macintosh’s Jeremiah Bacon; Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk; Craig Deihl of Cypress; Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary; Slightly North of Broad’s Frank Lee; Nathan Thurston of Stars; and Charleston Grill’s Michelle Weaver. All of them swear on a stack of cornbread that they’ll be back in 2013 if possible.
To that Charleston chef stew, Palmetto Bluff added Jim ‘N Nick’s executive chef Drew Robinson; Atlanta’s Hugh Acheson, Kevin Gillespie, Linton Hopkins, Anne Quatrano and Steven Satterfield; Birmingham’s Chris Hastings (who has attended all six festivals); Oxford’s John Currence; beloved Bill Smith from Chapel Hill’s Crook’s Corner; Old Edwards Inn’s Johannes Klepdohr; The Umstead’s Scott Crawford; and many others.
Of his perennial attendance, Hot and Hot Fish Club’s Hastings says, “There’s really no other event like it. If I could attend one festival every year, this would be it.”
Unlike some larger festivals, all of these chefs (and many more) actually cooked, served and chatted up a storm at Saturday’s four-hour Culinary Festival on the Village Green.
“This event is really popular with chefs like me for good reason,” says SNOB’s Lee, who has missed just one. The reasons he and other chefs cite for returning as often as possible include how well Palmetto Bluff takes care of the chefs and their families, the interaction between chefs, and the limited ticket sales and resulting intimacy between attendees and chefs.
Saturday’s tasting portions were accompanied by tastes of world-class wines (think Turley), spirits (think Firefly, Maker’s Mark and more), craft beers (Bluffton’s own River Dog Brewery was a favorite), Bloody Marys from Charleston Mix and Fat & Juicy, and coffee from Charleston’s King Bean Coffee Roasters. Late in the session, chefs could be found enjoying the plated and poured work of others along with attendees.
The rest of the weekend, relaxed chefs could be found at a variety of the other events, sharing recipes and stories with other cooks, beverage buddies, and attendees who quickly learn chefs love to talk about their craft.
“It’s still an event where we can interact with the guests and really get to know them on a personal level,” says Brock. “I have met so many people at Music to Your Mouth that are now regular guests at our restaurants.”
Though people started filtering into Palmetto Bluff on Thursday to catch up with foodie friends new and old, as well as attending special events and classes, the party really got going early Friday evening with a tailgate event at the bocce courts, followed by the block party that somehow gets better every year.
This past year, Friday night’s focus was on bacon (Allan Benton of Benton’s Country Hams) and bourbon (Julian Van Winkle III, of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery). The evening included two short Southern Foodways Alliance films showcasing the work of Benton and Van Winkle.
As with the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, the SFA was heavily involved.
“We are witnessing a proliferation of festivals in the South and across the nation, and what we will see are that festivals that focus tightly on place will rise to the top and the festivals that are less focused on their approach will become less relevant,” says SFA Director John T. Edge, who also hosted popular cooking classes led by Chris Hastings and John Currence.
Friday night’s party, in addition to Scott’s barbecue, included lots of steamed seafood, a “bacon forest” filled with hanging Benton’s bacon, and even a roadie version of Jim ‘N Nick’s popular “Taco Tuesday” bar that featured tasty tacos with pork, chicken, beef brisket, catfish and more. Though the evening ended late with S’Mores and more around blazing firepits, Saturday started early for many with the traditional 5K fun run, featuring dueling Bloody Mary bars at the finish line.
Following the Culinary Festival and quick naps for some, Saturday night featured what many view as the highlight of the weekend: a traditional oyster roast with annual twists. Held at a secluded riverfront spot, the Kiss the Pig Oyster Roast included heaping loads of steamed oysters, a creative Southern-leaning buffet, and a huge swine ice sculpture with shots spouting into the mouths of those who chose to kiss the pig.
Those who think Music to Your Mouth is simply a mini-Charleston Wine + Food Festival simply haven’t gone whole hog — yet.
“I am a big fan of Palmetto Bluff,” says Charleston Wine + Food Executive Director Angel Passailaigue Postell. “It was actually my third time at Music to Your Mouth. The first year, I just went for the day and then last year went as a ‘Whole Hog’ attendee.
“I have seen how the festival has evolved and love how this year they partnered with the Southern Foodways Alliance and made it really Southern and about the Lowcountry. I love the talent they showcase, and it is almost too many amazing chefs and winemakers in their tasting tent. I do love all of the Charleston contingency and it is great to see chefs like Michelle Weaver, Frank Lee and Jeremiah Bacon a part of it.”
You can bet Postell and many others will be headed to Music to Your Mouth’s website come June. That’s when limited Whole Hog tickets will go on sale — and sell out soon thereafter.
Visit www.musictoyour mouth.com or call 706-6400. Last year’s Whole Hog ticket packages were limited to 150 and sold out quickly at $875. That’s less than when compared to individual event pricing. The 2012 package included Friday’s tailgating and Potlikker Block Party; the Hair of the Dog 5K road “race”; Saturday’s Culinary Festival; the famed oyster roast; a Sunday brunch; two after parties at riverside fire pits; and a gift bag.
Second Helpings, a Lowcountry nonprofit dedicated to ensuring no one in the community will worry about having enough food to eat, received $50 from every Whole Hog package sale.
Staying on the property is an option, with a two-person Whole Hog package including two tickets, two nights in a spacious cottage and more running $2,750 for two last year.