Kevin Johnson, chef-owner of The Grocery, one of the restaurant pioneers in the now-exploding uptown scene, has witnessed Charleston's food-and-bev transformation since he first began cooking here in the mid-1990s.
Chef: Kevin Johnson
Restaurant: The Grocery
Resume: Worked at SNOB in Charleston while attending Johnson & Wales University and graduating in 1996. Moved back to Virginia and was sous chef at the esteemed Inn at Little Washington. Returned to Charleston in 2003 and was executive chef at Anson for seven years, then joined REV restaurant group (Taco Boy, Closed for Business, Poe's Tavern, and Monza).
About Brussels sprouts: “I bet they'd love them if they were called baby cabbages.”
He opened The Grocery in a then-lonely part of downtown as 2011 came to a close. The restaurant offers a seasonally driven menu flecked with Mediterranean and Southern influences.
Like many of his colleagues, Johnson spent many of his Thanksgivings toiling in a restaurant kitchen. His wife and kids would go to Columbia to be with her family.
But The Grocery isn't open on Thanksgiving, and now he gets to go with them. He brings this Brussels sprout salad.
“So much of the table is filled with sides that are a bit mushy, heavy or both. This offers crunch, brightness and acidity while still fitting with the season.”
For those still leery of the now-trendy vegetable, Johnson offers encouragement.
“I think too many people have memories of boiled Brussels sprouts from their youth. Or worse yet, canned or frozen. They are delicious shaved raw, roasted or in leaves such as this.”
This year, after losing his father-in-law in the summer, “I will be as thankful as ever for my family.”
Brussels Sprout Leaf Salad
Serves 6 to 8
6 ounces bacon, cut into thin strips
Olive oil as needed, about ⅓ cup
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
2 teaspoons minced thyme
2½ pounds Brussels sprouts, stem-med, cored and leaves removed individually
2 tart apples, diced small
¼ cup banyuls or sherry vinegar (see cook's note)
8 ounces spiced pecans, chopped
Salt and pepper
Cook's note: Banyuls is a premium wine vinegar from France.
In a medium saute pan, cook bacon until almost crisp.
Remove bacon from pan and reserve fat. Leave a trace amount of fat in pan. Combine reserved bacon fat with enough olive oil to make ½ cup of oil/bacon fat mix. Set aside.
Return pan to stove and saute garlic and shallots over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add thyme and cook an additional minute.
Meanwhile, combine Brussels sprout leaves, apples and pecans in large serving bowl.
Turn off heat and deglaze saute pan with vinegar. Add oil mixture to make vinaigrette. Crumble cooked bacon into the vinaigrette.
While vinaigrette is still hot, toss with salad. Season with salt and pepper and serve.