Toward the end of Lance Curry’s life, when he was hospitalized and on a severely restricted diet, the longtime chef was struck by a craving for cacio e pepe. So an AM cook at The Obstinate Daughter, where Curry oversaw the pasta program, prepared a special bowlful with scaled-back salt and barely a trace of dairy.
“He loved pasta as much as me,” says The Obstinate Daughter’s Jacques Larson, who started working with Curry more than a decade ago and shared family Christmas celebrations with him. “He would get physically so excited when talking about food: A lot of the guys in the kitchen could imitate him to a T. When he was in the hospital, all he would do was talk about food and watch Food Network on TV.”
That partly explains the illicit pasta. But according to Curry’s friends, the delivery also reflected the local food-and-beverage community’s overwhelming love for the native Kentuckian, who died on June 8 at the age of 35.
Tonight, Curry’s friends are banding together to host Lancecopalooza, a benefit for Curry’s family. The event at The Royal American will feature snacks from chefs including Larson; Lana’s John Ondo; Spero’s RJ Moody and Rob Laudicina; FIG’s Jason Stanhope; Aunt Harriet’s Sarah Adams and Eli’s Table Billy Noisette, who as chef at The Royal American prepared countless double patty melts with jalapenos and Duke’s mayonnaise for Curry. (“The Patty Melt Lance’s Way” will appear on the next iteration of The Royal American’s menu.)
When she first started cooking, Adams each night manned the cold station at Mercato, where Curry was on staff, and each day washed dishes at Peninsula Grill.
“I never knew when I would have a second to eat,” she says. “Lance would leave me a sandwich under my station almost every time that I worked. When we were organizing this event, (former Mercato chef) Ben Ellsworth asked me what I always cooked for Lance. I never cooked for Lance because he always cooked for me.”
Curry was born in Hyden, Ky. in 1981. He attended Johnson & Wales University’s culinary school in Charleston, and except for a brief sojourn back to his home state, spent his entire career cooking here.
“He was a big, young energetic kid that seemed kind of eager to kind of develop his skills in the kitchen,” recalls Larson, who invited Curry to crash on his couch for a few months when they were opening The Obstinate Daughter. “Right from the get-go, I fell in love with him; his eagerness to please and his passion for food.”
Ellsworth, now at Wild Olive, says, “Me and Lance spent four years side-by-side on the line. These are some of my fondest kitchen memories. No matter how many hours, lack of sleep, cuts, burns hangovers, I always knew he had my back.”
If Curry had a fault, Larson says, it was his insistence on adding hot sauce to his Bolognese. “I would yell at him every time, ‘Lance, some things are sacred!’” More importantly, though, “He was just such a genuinely good, good person. Not a mean bone in his body.”
Larson continues, “Obviously, we’re in such a special time in Charleston: I equate it to a food renaissance of sorts. To me, Lance is at the epicenter of that. He was the heart and soul of so much of the good that we have in this industry: The sense of camaraderie and sense of community. As competitive as we can be, he loved nothing more than going into other restaurants and supporting them and developing lifelong friendships.”
Lancecopalooza, with music from Solid Gold, runs from 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Tickets are priced at $30, and can be purchased through Eventbrite.