Dinner with the Stars – Outstanding in the Field, Leicester, NC and The Ultimate Critic’s Dinner, Charleston, SC
The Ultimate Critic’s Dinner – Ashem Farm – Charleston, SC
This dinner was one of my favorite events this past year. Held on a beautiful historic farm outside of Charleston, it could not have been a more perfect evening. I was honored to have been chosen as one of the panel to select the participants for this dinner and was delighted to attend the Ultimate Critic’s Dinner in conjunction with the BB&T Charleston Wine & Food Festival.
The host, beverage expert, and chefs for the evening are chosen by a panel of judges (or critics), much like the voting system for the James Beard Foundation awards. Anyone from the Charleston culinary scene can be nominated and once the first votes have been submitted, the field of nominees is narrowed down to a final vote. The winners of that round of voting plan the evening’s menu from the appetizers and cocktails, through dinner with wine pairings, to the finale and dessert course.
Ashem Farm, where the event was held, was recently donated to Charleston by owner Emily Ravenel Farow (who passed away in 2011), in order to preserve this important piece of land and history in this area. The 55-acre property, located along the Old Towne Creek and the Ashley River, was a stunning location for the dinner. The host for the evening was Mickey Bakst, General Manager of the Charleston Grill at the Charleston Place Hotel. There was no better person to guide guests through the night with stories of the history of the property while escorting us to each new and perfectly chosen venue on the property.
The dishes served throughout the evening were inspired by one of Emily Farrow’s favorite cookbooks, Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 classic cookbook, The Carolina Housewife. To begin the evening, canapes of Smoked Fish with Johnny Cakes and Beef Tongue were prepared dockside by Chef Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh and Oak Steakhouse. Guests then followed the trail leading to the horse stables where we were greeted with Seminole Soup (think squirrel) prepared by Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk. These two appetizer courses were paired with cocktails chosen by Patrick Emerson, Wine and Beverage Director of Maverick Southern Kitchens.
As the sun began to set on this gorgeous warm evening, we were guided along a path through the trees that were draped with lights and then passed through a draped entryway into a tent alight with stunning table settings and strung lights. The “Ultimate” Dinner was the perfect description as we were served five expertly prepared courses from Chef Mike Lata’s (Fig and The Ordinary) Caveach of Mackerel paired with a Fruilano wine from Italy to Emily Cookson’s (Pastry Chef at Charleston Grill) elegant Rose Charlotte with Raspberry Preserves and Ratafia. The pairing for this dessert course was a Moscato Rose from the Piedmonte Region in Italy.
The other chefs chosen by the critics were Joshua Keeler (Two Boroughs Larder), Michelle Weaver (Charleston Grill), and Frank Lee (Slightly North of Broad – SNOB). As each course was exceptional, it would be hard to select a favorite, but Chef Weaver’s Guinea Fowl Fricassee with Carolina Pilau, Country Ham with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary seemed to be a real crowd pleaser.
The warm summer evening, moonlit night, and beautifully appointed venue created an atmosphere that will be remembered forever. Be sure to check the Charleston Wine & Food Festival’s page in the coming months for their announcement regarding this year’s event and location.
Our On The Road culinary adventures will be heading to Virginia in April. One of our special evenings will feature a farm dinner, “Dining with the Stars,” and will include leading chefs and a wine maker on a beautiful farm. Be sure to watch for this very special opportunity. More information will be provided in the next few weeks.