Cypress' Craig Deihl smoked two whole goats for the gyros he served at Charleston Wine + Food Festival's opening party, but the dish element which ultimately gave him trouble was the pita bread: Like everybody else in attendance, he hadn't figured on 45-degree weather, punctuated by rain and gusts of wind.
"This is our makeshift pita warmer," Deihl said, showing off the sheet pan he'd slid over a clutch of Sterno heaters. "Normally, we'd toast them in the restaurant; bring them and put a lid on it. They would have been good."
But the air temperatures put a crimp in Deihl's plans, rendering his house-made rounds of bread unappealingly clammy. Deihl was one of a number of Charleston chefs inconvenienced by the eccentrically cold and damp conditions, although the event's hundreds of guests didn't seem ruffled by the conditions. Heaters and thoughtful flooring prevented any aggravations, even for the most comfort-oriented attendees:
"You enjoyed it, I hope," Wild Olive's Jacques Larson told a guest who announced he'd visited the Johns Island restaurant.
"Oh, we liked the parking part," the guest replied.
Chefs who had the foresight (or good fortune) to serve up soups manned the evening's most popular stations.
"Soup is the go-to," High Cotton's Joe Palma said.
Ryley McCillis of Jasmine Porch prepared a Georgia clam chowder; Nico Romo of Fish offered a shellfish stew and Fred Neuville of Fat Hen made plenty of friends with his shallot cream-drenched oysters with country ham and mushrooms, spilled over grilled garlic bread.
"It's a little bit chilly out here," Neuville conceded. "This is very comforting."
A few chefs who had banked on balmier weather served dishes which would typically be completely appropriate for March, but initially read as unseasonable on a cold, wet night. Fortunately, the food was executed with the aplomb that Charleston chefs always apply to their Opening Night contributions: Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill served an excellent octopus salad, and Peninsula Grill's Graham Dailey catapulted his yellowfin tuna into dazzling territory by garnishing it with tangerine lace, a punchy microgreen sold by Limehouse Produce.
"Definitely, I thought it was going to be warmer," Dailey said. "That's why I did cold, raw fish. At least I don't have to worry about it going funny."
Deihl also found an upside in his elaborate pita-reheating system, which produced discs of bread so hot they could have doubled as handwarmers.
"Maybe it's affected us in a really good way," he mused. "It's a really successful weather failure. Adapt and conquer. That's the whole theme."
The Charleston Wine + Food Festival continues through Sunday.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.
Temporary sidewalks placed throughout Marion Square helped make the chilly, wet walk to the shelter of the main event tent more tolerable for the Charleston Wine + Food opening night party on Thursday.×
Trumpeter Charlton Singleton, bassist Ben Wells and other musicians provided a backdrop of jazz.×
Circa 1886 executive chef Marc Collins and executive sous chef Jason Culbertson serve their dish with a bit of flair.×
Charleston Grillís Emily Cookson serves her dulce de leche at the opening party on Thursday night.×