So, when The Post and Courier invited her and 4-year-old son Sibley along for a Coastal Carolina Fair food tasting adventure, Durant was game. As a pastry and breakfast specialist, she naturally gravitated toward the fried doughs of classic fair treats, while her adventurous side was willing to indulge in a few unique savory and sweet samples as well.
Squeals of terror and delight pierced the air as the iconic ferris wheel circled in fluorescent lights and the MegaDrop ride hovered hundreds of feet above. On the ground, colorful neon food vendor signs lined the lakefront corridor at the Coastal Carolina Fair.
Flashing bulbs and bold, bright print paired with giant picture displays of pretzels, cotton candy, popcorn and more, all beckoning our taste buds as we wandered along.
Durant's jaw dropped at the variety of flavored funnel cakes, from blueberry to pumpkin to red velvet, while her food consciousness kicked in at the idea of fair-cooked seafood.
"I just can't do shrimp and grits, I'm sorry," said Durant, opting for the steak sundae option instead from one of two new food vendors at the fair this year.
The smell of sweetly seasoned fried dough hovered in the finally cool fall air as the first troupe of fair-goers walked the grounds on Thursday. It was a smell that Durant knew well as a pastry chef and one that, in this environment, took her back to her youthful days at the Niagara County Fair in Lockport, New York, with her grandmother.
"My grandmother lives on Lake Ontario, and I would go every summer," said Durant. "I was just cut loose on the fairgrounds while she worked. Some days I would just wear my Woodsy Owl costume and run around and ride all the rides, and that was my childhood."
The first dish Durant sampled, along with son Sibley, was funnel cake, a tried-and-true fair favorite. However, we ordered one with a twist: Apple cinnamon funnel cake added a gooey dollop of baked apples onto the top of the powdered sugar heap.
"I could eat all of this and then go throw up," joked Durant about her favorite classic fair food. Scram, her food truck on Folly Road, offers a reminiscent apple coffee cake.
Deep fried cheesecake
Sampling is not an easy task at the fair, which serves enormous, tempting portions. But, Durant was undaunted and followed up funnel cake with fried cheesecake to keep the fried dough theme going.
"It doesn't taste like cheesecake, because the texture is so different now," said Durant. "The hot cream cheese is just melted, which kind of throws it. I'd rather just eat the dough that it's covered in and then eat a cheesecake."
It was time for a sugary drink to wash down all the sugary food. Wild Bill's Old Fashioned Soda Pop had a unique vendor front. There were no lights or bright colors; just an old wooden cut-out with barrels and taps boasting unique soda flavors, such as Sasparilla Six Shooter and Rocky Mountain Root Beer.
Durant, however, opted for the Buck'n Birch Beer, a cherry-colored soda that tasted like root beer but without the after-kick.
"It's more sweet than a root beer," said Durant. "That sting that you get with root beer isn't there. I want it to have a little more bite to it."
Finally, a savory bite arrived with the next item on our fair food list: A corn dog from one of the few local vendors, the Goose Creek Lion's Club.
"I'm surprised you're willing to try this," said Post and Courier photographer Wade Spees. "I feel like some other Charleston chefs wouldn't be so game."
"We all love corn dogs and we all love fried dough. That's why we're all here," said Durant with a laugh, biting into the ketchup-coated treat. Sibley was a big fan of this one as well, enjoying the "food on a stick" alternative to more messy concoctions such as the earlier powdery funnel cake.
The real test came next, when Durant was matched up against a giant turkey leg, a fair staple. She resisted at first, but then was willing to give it a try (bite).
"I feel like it's such a caveman thing," said Durant, wielding the tinfoil-wrapped massive turkey leg.
She tried several times to bite through the tough skin to little avail. "It has the consistency of a rubber chicken," said Durant, laughing.
"It's more like ham than turkey," she added, pointing out the tougher, dark meat that looked nothing like turkey. "I wonder if that's because of the way they cured it."
Hoping for better meat from the next vendor, Durant ordered the steak sundae from a new fair venture, and it did not disappoint.
"It's really good steak," said Durant with a note of surprise. "When you think of a savory sundae, there are probably french fries with saucy things and a steak on top, so this is what I imagined. It's actually really nice steak, like super tender and not chewy at all."
Scram itself offers a few savory breakfast items, such as sausage egg puffs with cream cheese and chives, along with bacon, ham or fontina sandwiches featuring Gruyère, carmelized onions, chili mayo and more.
But the highlight of the night was discovered at the fair's second new food booth of the year, churros. The Venezuelan vendor shared her love for the sweet fried treat, as well as traveling up and down the East Coast with her husband and dog, while she injected the churros with guava. Other options were chocolate and caramel.
"This is my favorite. I just love the guava," said Durant. "It's just a flavor that sticks. I've bought the purees a few times to make things, like a sorbet. It's such a mild tropical fruit, and I'm a fan of tropical things. At Scram, we have pineapple jam on our ham sandwich. I always go toward tropical stuff like coconut and pineapple, hibiscus. I should probably live in Hawaii."
For a final sweet treat, Durant scooped up a candied apple. Opting for the original, among sprinkled and caramel-dipped flavors, Durant cracked the hard exterior and took a nostalgic taste.
"I just had a flashback to dipping apples," said Durant as she bit into the candied Red Delicious.
After taking a 15-year hiatus from the fair, Durant concluded that her childhood sentiments were still there. Maybe it was the evocative fried dough scents or the reflections of carousel lights on the lake as the sun sank over the ski lift, but the Coastal Carolina Fair had brought out the kid in Durant, with son Sibley on arm, like it seems to do for the thousands who visit each year.
"You just want to eat all the fried food until you feel terrible, get on a ride and throw up," said Durant with a chuckle as we wrapped up.