Charleston savors French fare

Nico Romo, culinary executive director of Fish restaurant, slices fresh summer truffles Friday. They are part of a duck stuffing for quail that he will serve to about 100 master French chefs visiting Charleston.

Brad Nettles

There’s a reason why a really fine meal is going to put a dent in your wallet.

As any good chef will tell you, it’s all about the ingredients.

A couple days ago, master French chef Nico Romo was cutting up four pounds of truffles — a fungus that grows underground — in his kitchen at Fish restaurant on King Street. They cost him $1,200 — $300 a pound.

That’s pretty expensive, even by his standards, he said when asked about it Sunday.

He put the truffles inside quail, where they have been leeching out their flavor and moisture. He will serve stuffed quail Monday night to about 100 other French master chefs who are in Charleston for a conference through Tuesday.

They will enjoy their meal at Lowndes Grove Plantation, an 18th-century house with a walled grand lawn by the Ashley River.

Talk about pressure, trying to impress these guys with one of your dishes.

“It’s a challenge,” Romo said between sessions at the American Theater on King Street Sunday afternoon. “They’re all professionals. They’re all really strong, and I’m one of the youngest ones.”

But he did not appear to be nervous about it.

“I do this for a living,” he said with a smile. “If I had been here only for a year, I would be freaking out. But I’ve been here for six years. I’ve got the team, I’ve got the crew, I’ve got the people. So now I’m pretty confident.”

It was a sea of white coats as the chefs arrived in the theater lobby Sunday. There was much kissing on both cheeks and French speaking.

Chefs from some of the finest restaurants in the country are here. The French ambassador to the United States, Francois Delattre, is also attending.

It’s the first time the French chefs have gathered in the South. They picked Charleston as the spot for their annual conference two years ago, according to Jean-Louis Dumont, president of the North American chapter of the Master Chefs of France. He is the executive chef of the Union Club in New York City, which requires coat and tie for service.

Members of the French Culinary Academy of North America also are attending.

The meeting Monday will include recognizing Charleston cooking writer Nathalie Dupree as Woman of the Year.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or