Charleston’s food star is shining bright, and this week, the city is illuminated with artistic revelry. Dancers, musicians, actors, comedians, poets and artists are strutting their stuff at the Spoleto and Piccolo Annual Arts Festival. And the city’s dedicated chefs work to prepare some of the most delightful regional cuisine anywhere on earth. Food is art, and I am so inspired by my first real garden this year, that I have to share the excitement that Charleston chefs bring to the table!Let me introduce this little charmer, a thirty two year old chef who recently won the coveted James Beard award for Best Chef in the Southeast, Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s. This is the third year in five that chefs from the Holy City have won the award which is the equivalent of the Oscar in the food world, “positioning Charleston a major food city” according to Nathalie DuPree who is a food legend in the South. Mike Lata of Fig and Bob Stehling of Hominy Grill were previous winners.
Southern food is rich in history and flavor already but these chefs are inspired to return the real thing back to Southern cooking. Sean raises his own hogs and grows heritage vegetables, and is supported by Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills and David Shields of the University of South Carolina. He is growing heirlooms, including sesame seeds and ‘rice peas,’ in an effort to duplicate the original flavors that made Southern food an important American cuisine. I recently listened to an interviewer talk to him on South Carolina pubic radio, and he is knowledgeable, humble and oh so passionate about local regional southern food. (Asked what the essentials were, he replied, “corn, pork and salt”, I think – and maybe bourbon :) But more than that, I heard a soulmate who is excited about homegrown radishes and beets!On Edisto, our local Geechie Boy farmer stand, and mill, and Kings Market, both on Hwy 174 as you come onto the island, provide strawberries, fresh corn and meal, and even local honey.
And, I understand all the excitement now as I harvest my spicy, funky looking radishes, newly pulled from my own Edisto earth. Inspired by the Local Food movement, I am sure that my organic backyard garden is not the only one sprouting this year in the USA, thanks to the leadership of Alice Waters and Michelle Obama’s White House garden, and the fine national “Local Food” movement.
But, I am honestly overwhelmed by the joy this garden is giving to me as I work to live a more sustainable, simple life here on this rural barrier island. Every day I am surprised, and every evening now, sensually pleasured by my own organically grown arugula and jalapenos and squash. The purple flower of the eggplant and the bees buzzing inside them stopped me the other evening in what Joseph Campbell calls, “aesthetic arrest” a phrase which was first used by James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.In his lectures on Joyce, Joseph Campbell says “The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object….you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest.” This radiance, the perception of beauty, is regarded as a communication of the hidden power behind the world, shining through some physical form.
James Joyce proposed the idea that I am serendipitously stumbling upon in every book I am reading these days, and my daily reality is confirming it. When we are in the presence of great beauty, our minds go still. We are right there, and no where else. Participating in the moment. Imagine the peace and the power – well, and the joy available to us, by being fully present to more ‘moments’ in our everydays. Here’s to eggplant, honey bees, and fresh beets! Cheers!