Charleston is at the forefront of a nationwide food and beverage culture that is rapidly evolving. As dining has found its way into the entertainment industry—with the plethora of reality cooking shows and celebrity chefs—it’s important that there are hard-working, well-intentioned individuals trying to steer the industry in the right direction. Becky Burke, leader of Commune., and Vanessa Driscoll Bialobreski, founder of Farm to Table Event Company, are two of them.
At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, WarPigs! A Celebration of Heritage Hogs and the Music of Black Sabbath is coming to the Music Farm. This collaboration between Commune. and Farm to Table Event Company will be a melange of locally sourced heritage hogs, sustainably raised produce, and old-school hard rock as interpreted by the White/Bogan Duo and Jordan Igoe.
Burke is the mastermind behind this boisterous event. She always is developing the unique ideas rolling around her noggin, and involving live music isn’t a passing fad. “I’m really into music,” says Burke. “I would almost like to do a whole offshoot of music-themed dinners.”
Past events have been eclectic to say the least: Since its inception in July 2014, Commune. has hosted suppers ranging from a warehouse party featuring John Lewis dishing out his signature barbecue to a veggie-centric “Rooting Down” supper at the MUSC Urban Farm to a feast on the Carolina Queen highlighting Bulls Bay Sea Salt.
Burke enjoys the diversity of the events, but the mission of Commune. doesn’t change. “Our goal is to highlight local purveyors and teach the guests about what they’re doing,” says Burke. “And also for chefs to experiment and collaborate in a creative environment.”
Giving patrons an insider’s look at local purveyors is essential to Burke, and Charleston is the ideal locale. “There’s always been something special about the cuisine here,” she says. “That’s why we’re attracting chefs from all over the country now. Amazing farmers, amazing fisherman, amazing entrepreneurs in the food industry, just a lot of great people to work with and highlight. I can’t think of a better place to do it.”
Up in Columbia, Bialobreski founded Farm to Table Event Company for one simple reason: love for her community. “It started as a community driver more than anything else,” she says. “And then the deeper I got into it, I realized I wanted to know the people who were growing my food.”
Five years ago, Bialobreski partnered with City Roots Farm, an organic farm that exists entirely within the city limits of Columbia. Bialobreski is certainly proud of the work they do. “The farmers we deal with, they care about the land and love the animals and the produce and the products that they’re raising and making.”
Bialobreski has always been curious about the quality of her food and the insight she gained during her time working for a national green events company in Asheville was invaluable. “I learned a whole lot about what’s good for you, what’s bad for you,” she says. “And to me, it always seemed to be real food raised organically and sustainably was the best way to go.”
When it comes to food, words such as “organic” and “sustainable” have only come to prominence in the past decade. But to Burke and Bialobreski, it’s not a movement or a trend. “It’s just getting back to what we used to do,” says Burke. “I get upset when people say it’s a trend and it’s gonna go away. But it’s really just the way things were and I think if you want to source a quality product and you’re in a place that has it, it’s just sensible.”
Obviously, supporting local farmers and businesses is a priority for these women. “There’s no loss when buying local,” says Bialobreski. “If you go to a restaurant that supports local farmers, it’s usually locally owned. It just gives back to your community all around if you support local farmers.”
Burke concurs, noting that it’s more than just locality. When talking about purveyors in Charleston, she says, “It’s not just because they’re local. It’s because they’re really good at what they do.”
And with so many downtown restaurants sourcing locally, “I feel that we’re at the point here in Charleston, where you don’t have to label your restaurant as farm-to-table or market it that way, it’s just what it is,” Burke adds.
For the WarPigs! supper, the hogs are being sourced from Pee Dee Ranch in Cheraw and all are heritage breeds. Why heritage? Simple, they taste better, Burke says. “They’ve never been crossbred and these farmers feed the hogs a specific diet based on what kind of pig they are which gives them a unique flavor.”
The supper will consist of four family-style courses featuring the heritage hogs. The chefs preparing the meal will be Kristian Niemi of Farm to Table Event Company and Bourbon (Columbia), Frank Bradley of Bourbon, Damon Wise and Ray England of Wisebuck and Feathertop, and Air Casebier of FEAST Charleston. McCarus Beverage Company will pair wines with each course, highlighting the flavors of the farm.
Meanwhile, a Black Sabbath tribute show will go on at the same time.
Known for their odd time synth-soaked grooves, the White/Bogan Duo has actually performed a Black Sabbath tribute before, “I definitely liked the band before that,” says keyboardist Ross Bogan, “But once I started playing the music I just got obsessed.”
And now they’ll be joined by acclaimed local songstress Jordan Igoe. “She’s got such an awesome stage presence,” says Bogan, adding with a laugh,“and she can reach into that darkness.”
WarPigs! is just the latest example of how innovative thinkers around the region are embracing the marriage of dining and entertainment. And as long as products are being sourced locally and sustainably, entrepreneurs like Burke and Bialobreski are ready and willing to concoct creative experiences to sate the growing demand.