I’ve been counting down the days til opening night of Charleston Wine + Food Festival 2017 since last year’s festival ended! It’s a special event that welcomes many talented, famous and interesting chefs, wine specialists and food lovers from all over the country to our lovely city. The list of things that make the festival such an amazing experience is a mile long (plus some!). But there is one particular aspect to the festival that needs some extra spot light. It’s the core of the festival, the thing that breathes life into the event. It brings everyone here and is the reason for the festival being such a success every year — the TALENT of all our local Chefs, Sommeliers, Mixologists and Farmers! They are absolutely stunning! We all love them and we know them by name and reputation, but this is a special time of year when we are able to watch them all in their elements, embracing their passion and craft which is something truly special! I love behind the scenes features, whether it’s a documentary, book or article. For me, that’s where all the juice, life and flavor are hiding! All that being said, I am really excited to share with you a sneak peek into our local talent and the people who are serving as this year’s inspiration and subjects for the #CHSWFF ad campaign. These six industry professionals are each doing really interesting things in their particular craft and have an interesting story to share. Each is uniquely different, but all share one common thread: they are setting this city on fire and elevating the F&B standard in Charleston to new heights! I’m excited to feature them in this article, alongside a more in-depth article of each of our six individuals in “The Faces Behind the Campaign” on my website: chsfoodwriter.com featured during the next few months.
The original theme for the CHSWFF photoshoot was: Just The Right Amount of Wrong. Instead of the perfectly styled plate, this year’s approach aimed to feature and highlight: THE PROCESS. Inspired by what really happens in the kitchen on any given day; sauce splatters, flying flour, taste testing, wine spills and so much more! The real culinary process of creating remarkable food and a fantastic dining experiences is one that is imperfect behind the scenes and birthed in a place of organized chaos where tensions are high and expectations even higher. But then comes the point that the food is perfectly plated, presented and served. As foodies, food lovers and connoisseurs, our curiosity is drawn to not only the final product but also the entire experience as a whole, messy and beautiful. Imperfect and yet perfect, all at once. Once the six F&B professionals arrived for our photoshoot, the extremely talented photographer, Andrew Cebulka, took the theme and paired it with his spectacular photographic perspective, taking this fun idea to the next level. We are in love with what he captured and think it adds an entirely new dimension! A picture is worth 1,000 words. Let’s jump into our behind the scenes look and find out a few of the things that make each of our six faces tick and add that extra edge to what they create and do. Be sure to look at the festival schedule and try to catch them during the five action-packed days of events and watch them in action! We hope that you are as excited as we are for what promises to be another fantastic year of great food, drinks, fun and great experiences. CHEERS!
JACOB HUDER, Chef de Cuisine at: The Macintosh
Five words that describe you: passionate / motivated / caring / imperfect / leader
Who or what has impacted you the most while you were growing in your trade?
Working at (the former) Carolinas restaurant. When I walked in those doors and first applied to work in the kitchen, I didn’t have any experience. I had worked every position in a restaurant previously but never in the kitchen. They took a chance on me. I worked hard and watched and learned from everyone in there and it was full of some amazing talent. It was hugely impactful on me and my entire career.
What inspires you about living in Charleston? It’s amazing to be able to call the farmers directly and work closely with them. We are lucky in this city because we are able to really produce a local, seasonal menu throughout the entire year. It’s a close community.
What do you love most about your job?
Being creative and figuring out what to do with all the ingredients. Pushing ourselves to try to new things and never stopping.
For someone new to attending the festival, how would you describe it and where should they start? It’s chaotic. Exciting. Stimulating. It’s a lot of fun from the day it starts until the night it stops.
FEMI OYEDIRAN, Sommelier at: Charleston Grill
How did you get started? I was 20 years old when I moved to Charleston. I needed a job and applied at Charleston Grill (I figured I wouldn’t get hired, but I was going to try anyways). I was surprised when they took me on. I began as a server’s assistant and slowly worked my way up. I fell in love with learning about wine and it progressively grew from there.
People not only reference you and your wine recommendations, but they also love you and what you do! What is it that you think sets you apart and gives you that ‘extra edge’? I love music. I’m a DJ. Making recommendations about wine is like being DJ. You listen to what someone wants, listen to what they say they like, listen to who they are and then you play what they’ve asked for. Some people are top 40 hits listeners and some people want something originally mixed. It’s the same with wine. It’s not about price, it’s about flavor and preferences. I just listen…and play.
What is your recommendation for someone that wants to learn about wine, but is intimidated and doesn’t know where to start? Just jump in. Find a great local wine shop and buy some stuff and try it, discovering what you like and don’t like by sampling it.
What do you personally love about the festival the most? That it brings some seriously great talent to Charleston. It’s a great time for people to come out and meet some really knowledgeable people from all over the country.
VINSON PETRILLO, Executive Chef at: Zero Restaurant + Bar
What is it about your food that sets it apart? I’m a BIG kid and it’s where my food comes from. I look at an apple and don’t just see an apple; I look at an apple and try to figure out how to make it fly! At the restaurant, we provide an experience to our guests to sit down and ask them to trust in us and know that we are going to give 100% in every dish.
Three things you aspire to do in life: Be a good Dad / be a better husband / finish my cook book
What do you love most about your job? The process. Learning the skills, gathering the tools and equipment, and then getting to put it all together and make something exciting.
What’s one of the hardest lessons you’ve had to overcome in your industry?
For a long time, I wanted to be a chef. I did it the right way; I worked under people who were really hard on me, pushed me and then pushed me harder. I didn’t stop or give up. There were moments that it almost broke me. I realized if I was going to ever be good then this was the road. A lot of sacrifice, hard work and really appreciating my family and friends for supporting me.
JESSICA GROSSMAN, Pastry Chef at: Patrick Properties
How would you describe yourself in a few words: loyal / thorough / researcher (I do A LOT of homework) / realist / dog lover / sugar fiend (I eat sugar every day; I love it!)
How did you get started? I began with an Easy Bake Oven and worked my way up to using my mom’s oven. I was always the one bringing the cake to the party. It led me to attending culinary school later on in life and ultimately led me to my dream job that I’m doing now. I’ve now found my “inner southerner.”
What do you love most about your job? Being a pastry chef makes you pretty popular with most people! What I do now is literally: the icing on one of the most important days of people’s lives.
How would you describe what makes the CHSWFF so great? It’s a feast for the eyes, mind and belly!
For someone attending the CHSWFF for the first time, where should they begin? THE CULINARY VILLAGE, for sure! It’s the best.
MEGAN DESCHAINE, Bar Manager at: 492
Five words that describe you: silly / generous / ambitious / creative / hospitable
What inspires you in you work? For cocktails, I often find inspiration from singular ingredients. Or puns. I love a good pun.
What has been a pivotal moment in your career and how did it effect you? A few years ago when I moved back to Charleston, I entered a cocktail for the CHSWFF Cocktail Competition. Making it into the finals also afforded me a slot in the Iron Mixology event. I count this experience as one of the most influential to my career so far. I don’t want to gush too much about these moments—but they truly changed my life!
What do you love most about your job? I love people and my job provides me many opportunities to meet new people and make new friends!
What do you love most about the CHSWFF? I love the high, positive energy that befalls the city each year during the festival. It’s really contagious!
JUSTIN PFAU, Executive Chef at: Harold’s Cabin
What do you love most about cooking? It’s a whole culture that most people don’t know exists. Behind the kitchen doors, it’s an entirely different world.
What inspires you about living and working in Charleston? I grew up in a place that looks completely different than this. I sit here now and look out the window and see palm trees. I drive to work and cross these beautiful rivers. It’s completely different and really inspiring.
Three things you aspire to do/be? I want to own a business with my wife, be a father, and start a cool band… ASAP!
What are you most excited about for this year’s CHSWFF? I’m excited to work with a friend of mine from Chicago who is coming to town for the festival and we are doing a dinner together. I’m also really excited to meet some the guest chefs who will be in town!