It’s a point of pride for some Charleston area hospitality professionals that the new luxury lounge at Charleston International Airport is indistinguishable from upscale waiting areas in much bigger airports.
And it’s a letdown for some Charleston area hospitality professionals that the new luxury lounge at Charleston International Airport is indistinguishable from upscale waiting areas in much bigger airports.
The food-and-drink menu at The Club CHS, operated by Texas-based Airport Lounge Development, generally mirrors the menu offered at locations from San Jose to Buffalo. The company at one point approached Charleston chef BJ Dennis, whose work advancing Gullah food is featured in the current issue of Bon Appetit, about the possibility of creating a regionally specific menu for the club, but those discussions ended long before the club’s July debut.
Representatives of Airport Lounge Development declined multiple requests for an interview, but a publicist provided a statement from senior vice president Nancy Knipp: “At The Club, we aspire to provide all visitors with a ‘Sense of Place’ – enabling them to dive into the sights and tastes of a specific region.”
To that end, Knipp says, chef Bob Waggoner was brought into the project as a consultant. “(His) French-influenced techniques have played a defining role in Charleston’s culinary scene,” she says. Prior to opening In The Kitchen, a downtown Charleston dinner party experience, Waggoner spent 12 years as executive chef of Charleston Grill.
Waggoner says he was initially hesitant to take on more work but was swayed in part by the involvement of general manager Bonnie Thompson, who was dining room manager at Charleston Grill under the late chef Louis Osteen.
In his role as consultant, Waggoner every two months creates a dish which he teaches The Club’s cooks to replicate.
“I just come show them how to throw it together and make it look sexy,” he says, admitting he was at first worried about attaching his name to food made without his supervision, in a high-security setting. For example, The Club’s cooks each day have to check out and return a single shared knife.
“But it’s fun to do different stuff,” Waggoner adds.
For his first dish, Waggoner devised a salad of mozzarella balls with yellow pear tomatoes, thinly-shaved fennel, pesto and roasted pine nuts. He hasn’t yet decided on his next contribution.
Around the time that Waggoner’s mozzarella dish is retired, Airport Lounge Development is aiming to unveil The Club’s bar; drinks are currently available exclusively from a portable cart. According to Knipp, it will feature cocktails developed by Seattle bartender Kathy Casey.
While culinary references to the Lowcountry are limited, Waggoner says the excellent service and comfortable ambiance which have thus far impressed visitors to The Club are emblematic of the hospitality that Charleston strives to show off.
“It takes hospitality to another level, so that’s really cool,” he says.