Kardea Brown didn't realize her Gullah-Geechee roots were special until she traveled outside of Charleston.
"Nobody talked about Gullah and being Gullah in Charleston," she remembers. "But once you leave and tell people where you're from, they're so interested and it tells you how valuable it is, especially if you're of Gullah descent."
Brown was born on Wadmalaw Island and partially raised in Charleston before moving to Atlanta. Growing up, she spent summers at her grandmother's house on Wadmalaw and soaked up the most important lessons she could, mainly those about how to cook good food.
Since 2015, Brown has been hosting the traveling New Gullah Supper Club, which will come to Charleston for a two-day stint on Sept. 22-23. "I've held it about six times in Charleston. Because it's my hometown, I get my biggest crowds." She attracts guests via social media and word of mouth.
She expects to host about 100 people over the two days. "It's really a cool smorgasbord of people," she says. "We have a meet-and-greet in the beginning. The people who come don't know each other, but by the end of the night they are best friends."
The event location will be announced 24 hours before the dinner, and Brown says it's an interactive night. Sometimes she has a soul singer or a Gullah storyteller to complement her own tales about the dishes she serves.
While not likely to be the case with Charleston diners, Brown says many of her guests are surprised to learn the Gullah people were instrumental in establishing the basis of Southern food. "They also don't know that we're known for one-pot dishes. ... My signature dishes are definitely seafood. I'm known for my shrimp-and-grits."
Brown was on the path to becoming a social worker, studying for her master's degree in New Jersey when she was suddenly discovered by the Food Network. "Actually it's because of the guy I was dating at the time," she says. "I got a call and they said, 'hey, your boyfriend signed you up for a cooking show."
She didn't realize the audition was a pilot for Bobby Deen, one of Paula Deen's sons: He was working on a healthy cooking show.
At the taping, she was such a natural that a producer on set told her she should consider doing food television full time. And that's just what she did. "They started incubating me on different shows," she says.
Since 2015, she's been on and off the network, taping shows with Bobby Flay and serving as a judge on Chopped Junior. She guided Katie Lee through Charleston for an episode of Beach Bites and says she has another project that she's working on. "It's definitely coming," she says. "We taped something top secret."
In the meantime, she'll be taking her supper club to Boston and Charlotte before she gets to Charleston this September. "I make that initial connection with people through food," she says. "But what I make after that is magic."
For tickets to the Charleston dinner, visit www.eventbrite.com/the-new-gullah-supper-club