The moonshine stings, gracious, it does, warm and clear from a mason jar — old-timey electricity.
"Take baby sips," he warns. "Put it on your tongue and swallow it."
She obliges, a pretty, young darling named Angelina, dressed in the colors of Mardi Gras, streaks of orange, gold, purple and yellow paint across her breasts, body and face. She's absolutely gorgeous, and cold, a jacket shielding her from the chilly Sunday evening air.
"Just a kiss," he cautions.
It burns. She blinks. "That really warms you up."
He knows. This is his moonshine, this is his party.
And this is his get-up, camouflage pants, black cap, ski mask tucked into a pocket.
He calls himself jimihatt — no caps, one word. It's something he picked up during his 15 years working restaurant kitchens around town. His real name, he'd rather not mention. It lends cachet.
He is bearded, short (63 inches above sea level) and round. One blog brilliantly described him as the truck driver with a hook for a hand in "Adventures in Babysitting." He might also pass as a cousin of the dwarf Gimli in "Lord of the Rings."
But from his fertile, madcap mind has sprung a somewhat secretive, somewhat subversive dining project, meshing food, art, music and strangers.
The name: Guerrilla Cuisine.
It's a freaky-deaky dinner party hosted by a network of artists, musicians and chefs, and put together for hip, adventurous souls.
"This is me and my element," jimihatt says.
The concept isn't new, only new to Charleston. Guerrilla Cuisine draws from Ghetto Gourmet, a roving supper club out of Oakland, Calif. Many underground dining outfits have popped up in recent years across the United States, mostly in major cities.
The idea appealed to jimihatt and his old cohort, Kenny Lowe, who years ago would host "Sushi Sunday" at jimi's home, inviting fellow restaurant folks over to roll sushi, drink beer and hang. The pair teamed again to create Guerrilla Cuisine, though Lowe now lives in California.
Their idea requires trust, as the Guerrilla gang entices with word of mouth, few particulars and little else. Guests register at http://guerrillacuisine.com, tickets prices so far between $50-$65 for the BYOB or BYO Moonshine events. A day or two prior, they'll get a location, more description, the works.
Almost. What's a celebration without surprise?
Guerrilla Cuisine's fourth event, held this month a few days after Fat Tuesday, guaranteed a carnival. Straight-up Mardi Gras, baby.
Ross Andrews teamed with Louisiana native Jack Sheffield, owner of the old Alligator Jack's in Mount Pleasant, for some Cajun eats. Graham Whorley supplied music. Carl Janes, Scott Parsons, Scott Debus and the reclusive graffiti artist Ishmael offered artwork. Julio Cotto painted Angelina; he's the guy behind the downtown bar, Black Cart.
They engineered a cool evening at a West Ashley warehouse, otherwise used as a sign fabrication shop, the cooking and prep work done in a rear workshop amid benches and electrical tools.
Janes stamped the mood, using an acetylene torch to cut Guerrilla Cuisine's iconoclastic Soviet-style fork and sickle logo — more cachet — into a pair of large metal drums, positioning them at the entrance, fires blazing in each barrel.
Inside, artwork on the walls, he placed a group of mannequins tightly together, scattering a few limbs on the carpet, the bodies and body parts complemented by shiny, colorful beads. The tables Janes draped in black and white cloths, setting them in interlocking U's, better for conversation and connection.
"It reminds me of the 1920s, of the Algonquin table," says Debus, the artist, "where people came together, ate food and talked."
And eat they do, gorging on multiple courses of fried gator tails, chicken and andouille gumbo, a shrimp boil, red beans and rice and fluffy beignets dusted with powdered sugar.
The beverage of choice: iced tea spiked with Firefly vodka.
"What y'all think about that tail?" asks Sheffield, the chef in sunglasses, his call returned with gusto from the 90-plus in attendance.
They're right. It's ain't chicken, but it's damn good, chewy and thick, a little gamey.
Sheffield and Andrews settled on a menu more associated with Mardi Gras instead of say, one that focused on upscale Creole or Cajun fare. Doubtless, that would have proved taste-worthy and perhaps more inspired. Though really, who's complaining?
They served shrimp remoulade in a vinaigrette style, unlike a traditional, thicker remoulade. Then the pair hit their stride with chicken and andouille gumbo, delicately balanced, the sausage heavily smoked and spicy.
A shrimp boil followed — bon jour, Lowcountry — cooked with more bite than usual, owing to Cajun seasonings, whole garlic and onions. The red beans and rice were spiked with andouille sausage, and the crawfish etouffee drew from its roux, tinging the dish with a warm nuttiness. The tomato-based sauce piquant came chunky, teeming with shrimp and vegetables.
Then, sweet heaven: perfectly fried beignets, speckled with powdered sugar and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Food for the people, as jimihatt and his crew say. The Guerrilla brings a feast, for sure, hosting three previous events, all nicely documented by the City Paper.
Jimihatt, who spends his days (and nights) as a McCrady's line cook, made good on his restaurant connections during the first pair. Manning the kitchen were Andy Allen and McCrady's executive chef Sean Brock, recently nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Rising Star Chef of the Year. Both meals were held in November at Irvin-House Vineyards on Wadamalaw Island.
Allen and Brock whipped up a tight menu, lots of fresh veggies from McCrady's farm, foie gras-stuffed chicken wings and suckling pig.
The third dinner, at the home of artist John Pundt in December, allowed for Southern cuisine, boiled peanuts, slow-cooked pulled pork, mac and cheese, collard greens and black-eyed peas.
"The culinary world in this town is amazing," says Caroline Nuttall, who made it to the third and fourth dinners. "But to actually do something like this, to bring it out of the restaurant — and we're here in this warehouse — it's really cool to experience."
The project means an odd balance. It's a shadow dance, really, Guerrilla's roots burrowed underground so that it's still "really cool to experience," set against a capitalistic need for exposure. How do you put out the word and not scream it?
It's tricky. They've got the whole viral thing up and going, MySpace bulletins and a Web site, and more traditional means such as stickers, fliers and press.
The group has even teamed with Mellow Mushroom to create a special Guerrilla Cuisine pizza, available only at the King Street restaurant. Called "La Mancha," the pie's got a Spanish twist: a green tomatillo salsa base, Serrano ham, manchego cheese and petit basque cheese among the ingredients.
But the dinners aren't profitable, not yet, anyway. Though, they say, it's not about the money. Guerrilla Cuisine speaks to pals and chow, the joys associated with food and friendship, a culinary whodunit, our guy jimihatt posing for the occasional photo wearing his ski mask.
They've already got another dinner planned in March. Details are sketchy.