Picture the late Pat Conroy making biscuits on a stage. You’d be disappointed if the famed storyteller stuck to the recipe and just demonstrated how to make a biscuit, wouldn’t you? You’d want him to tell the story behind the recipe, because there’s always a story. As Conroy famously said: "A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal.”
The Lee brothers, Matt and Ted, know this better than most. It was the story of the boiled peanut that launched their careers as food writers and cookbook authors. And they’ve done their fair share of food festival events to know that people want more than a recipe demonstration.
“The audience loves it so much more if it is imperfect in some way and closer to their experience of life in the kitchen,” says Matt Lee, the Charleston-based brother. Ted lives in New York and will be coming to town to participate in the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. The two emceed the expo's cooking demos last year and were excited to be tapped to program the entire lineup for this year’s event.
“We’re bringing a chopped salad of all different kinds of South Carolina food perspectives,” says Lee.
They’ve tapped caterers, relish makers, food truck operators and specialty food producers in addition to chefs. “You really get to the breadth and diversity of Charleston’s many food practitioners, whether it’s chefs or viewing that through a much different lens: catering, food trucks, producers,” says Lee.
Expect food truck operators Cassandra Swearington and Markiah Benjamin to share a secret gumbo recipe. Jimmy Hagood and his son Andrew will bring Jimmy Red corn from their farm and nixtamalize it to make masa for tortillas. Allen Sassard of Sassard Family Pickles will tell the tale of their famous artichoke relish dip while S.C. Chef Ambassador Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill will bring a baby goat with her from Burden Creek Dairy.
In addition to the standard one-hour demo slots, the Lee Brothers will do a Lee Bros and Friends each day. “So we can cook alongside someone like a farmer or producer or any chef who might not feel like holding the stage for the entire hour,” says Lee.
“We will be nominally involved in all the demos,” he adds. “Probably shouting questions from the back of room. We want to keep it informal and accessible. We love it when people shout out questions. People on stage love that; it should not be too polite.”
Lee says the stage will be directly across from the Department of Agriculture’s tasting tent in Marion Square, which is full of specialty producers and cool things to eat.
“We’ve always been impressed with the kitchen stage set up for SEWE,” says Lee. “They do a really bang-up job as good as anything you’d encounter at a food festival.”
The cooking demos on Friday and Saturday run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon until 4 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 16
11 a.m. — Lee Bros. and Friends, including Martha Lou Gadsden of Martha Lou's Kitchen. Ryan Casey is shaking a cocktail, then possibly farmers with the Lee Bros..
Noon — S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers and Patricia Moore-Pastides, the author of “Greek Revival” and “Greek Revival from the Garden” cookbooks.
1 p.m. — Charleston Grill Chef Michelle Weaver and Friends. Charleston Grill sous chef Patrick Balcom with his charred onion sauce and Chris Maher from Burden Creek Dairy with goat cheese and a live baby goat.
2 p.m. — The Hagood Family. Jimmy Hagood and son Andrew nixtamalize Jimmy Red corn grown themselves, making Jimmy Red Tortillas with Wild Duck.
3 p.m. — Cassandra Swearington and Markiah Benjamin of Kay’s Southern Gourmet Food Truck demonstrating Okra Gumbo.
4 p.m. — Chef Michael Toscano of Le Farfalle and Tank Jackson of Holy City Hogs. A S.C.-raised Ossabaw hog will be used for making Potato Gnocchi with Ragu Bolognese.
Saturday, Feb. 17
11 a.m. — Digby Stridiron and BJ Dennis preview Parcel 32 Restaurant: Green Garlic and Cardamom Pilau with Shrimp and Crab; Crucian Johnnycake, Clams and Artichoke Relish; Oysters and Rice with Smoked Mullet; Curried Oysters and Cornbread.
Noon — Chris and Suzanne Stewart of the Glass Onion demonstrating shrimp and grits.
1 p.m. — Sean and Cillie Mendes of Gillie’s Soul Food, Roadside Seafood, Blues Cajun Kitchen. Demonstrating Sean's grandmother's (Gillie Gaillard’s) She-Crab Soup.
2 p.m. — Greg Johnsman and Madison Tessener preview Miller’s All Day: All about popcorn, including Indigo Popcorn Mayonnaise.
3 p.m. — Corrie and Shuai Wang of Short Grain Food Truck demo Three-grain Congee with Roasted SC Vegetables, Sorghum and Soft Egg
4 p.m. — David Pell of Coast, with Andrew Boyd from 39 Rue De Jean: Bouillabaisse vs. Paella throwdown.
Sunday, Feb. 18
Noon — Kevin and Susan Johnson of The Grocery: Winter Salad.
1 p.m. — Sassard Family Pickles with Allen Sassard demonstrating Artichoke Relish Dip and pickling whole winter treats, including Jerusalem artichokes.
2 p.m. — Heidi Vukov and Holly Braddock of Croissants Bakery & Bistro: Mahi Mahi Cake
3 p.m. — Sarah McClure of Southside Smokehouse & Grille with her dad: A traditional "Newberry Hash,” plus Santee Island Catfish Tacos