Earlier this month, I was invited by Maverick Southern Kitchens to attend the Spring Harvest Social Dinner at High Cotton Greenville. Special guest, Chef Frank Lee (swoon) was joining the restaurant’s new chef, Adrian Carpenter, for the incredible five course prix fixe dinner. I asked my chef friend, Terri Williams, to join me. I knew out of everyone I know, she’d be the one who would be as excited as I am to meet these amazing chefs. And it was her birthday. (I’m gunning for friend of the year award.)
When I told my non-foodie friends I was missing our weekly gathering to meet Frank Lee, they had no idea why I was so excited. It’s FRANK LEE! I said. (Blank faces. I am apparently failing my peeps when it comes to their culinary education.) Frank Lee is one of the most well known Southern Chefs of all time. He is the Vice President of Culinary Development at Maverick Southern Kitchens, which includes High Cotton Charleston, High Cotton Greenville, Slightly North of Broad, Old Village Post House and all three South Carolina locations of Charleston Cooks! stores. “Local before it was cool, and sustainable before it was sexy,” Chef Lee has mentored an entire generation of chefs and set the bar for food in South Carolina restaurants. When he walks into a room, chefs stand. He’s the CHEF. He’s the Maverick of Maverick Southern Kitchens (a nod to Top Gun). And to me, meeting him was another check off my culinary bucket list.
Before I get into the food, I have to say that meeting Chef Adrian was high up there too. The first time I saw him, he was new to High Cotton and was still under the wing of Forrest Parker (head Chef of Old Village Post House who had come to Greenville to train Chef Adrian and show him the ropes). Six months later, he has taken the reigns and has blossomed at High Cotton. He was all smiles, talkative, and so kind to make his rounds meet everyone at the dinner.
Now, on to the food. I don’t know who was whipping up what back in that kitchen, but the food that landed in front of us was no less than stellar. To start the evening, we were handed a glass of DMZ Rose Cabernet 2013, a South African wine that was new to most of the crowd, but startlingly fabulous. It was paired with three small bites circulating the room: Smoked Salmon Wrapped Crispy Oysters with piquillo pepper ailoli, Skillet Seared Venison Strip Loin on a buttermilk biscuit with blackstrap molasses and a blackberry, and Yellowfin Tuna Ceviche with a crispy sweet potato on a watermelon radish with aji amarillo chili gastrique. We nibbled away happily and chased down the servers for more!
I’ve been on a Sauvignon Blanc kick lately, so I was excited to try the 2013 Thelema “Sutherland” Sauvignon Blanc next on our pairing list. It was shockingly more like a Chardonnay than the more recent Sauvignon Blancs I’ve been buying. More complex than any Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had to my knowledge. I believe I’ll be investigating more South African selections during my next trip to the wine store!
Chefs paired Handcrafted Gnocchi Salad with asparagus, forest mushrooms, farm greens and champagne-herb vinaigrette with this glass of white and we were told that out of all wines, Sauvignon Blancs pair best with asparagus. Who knew?
The next dish was the Striped Bass with a sturdy baby spinach, preserved lemon, and a charred green garlic-brown butter emulsion which was seriously pure heaven. This dish was freaking amazing. I was tempted to lick the plate, but refrained for fear of harsh judgement from my table-mates.
Several people at our table (including me) were not stoked to see goat on the menu, but the Windy Hill Suckling Goat Confit was tender and so not “goaty” at all. It was very much like very carefully cooked pot roast. It was surrounded by Anson Mills goat cheese polenta, baby carrots, spring onions, and roasted goat jus. And for us red wine people, we held our glasses high for the Rudi Schultz Syrah (2011), also a South African wine. No surprise it ran out quickly.
I have to say that I was not a fan of the Foie Gras course. Le Bella Farms Foie Gras Torchon with coastal strawberry sauternes, toasted brioche, and Tyger River Farms Arugula. Chef Lee chose that moment to come up to me and ask how I was enjoying the dish. (Why now?! Panic set in.) I was honest with the guy. Not my fave. A little like eating butter with strawberries, which apparently, was what he was aiming for. Just not enjoyable for me. Here’s hoping he appreciated the honesty. I’m not one for hiding what I’m thinking very well… (yikes.)
Chef Adrian saved the day by hand delivering heavenly plates of chocolate truffles, Benne Seed wafers, Madeleines, and delicious candied orange rind to our tables. I quickly forgot about the last dish.
It’s always exciting to see who else will show up at one of these incredible events. (A little name dropping never hurt anyone, did it?) I was super excited to see Jeff Banister of the upcoming Bonvinoche event and finally got to meet his lovely wife, Olga. Jeff is super welcoming and one of the nicest guys around. Town Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Blair Knobel, was there with her friend and local photographer, Chelsey Ashford. It was great to catch up with her for a minute. And I was so excited to finally meet Susie White, one of our very sweet and amazing local PR women, and the very one in charge of getting Gap Creek Gourmet to this dinner.
I’ve had a super busy month eating my way around South Carolina but I have to say this was one of the highlights of my blogging adventure so far. I’m slowly meeting all of the great Southern chefs and it’s really the thrill of a lifetime. I’m looking forward to heading to Charleston next month to check out a bit more of Maverick Southern Kitchens offerings. Stay tuned!