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Party, party, party: that was the theme of last night’s Charleston Wine + Food kick off with three fêtes taking revelers all around town. The evening began onsite at Marion Square for the VIP Party. There, festival executive director Angel Postell got the crowd ready for the weekend with a short speech and a ceremonial gifting of a chef jacket to festival board chair Rick Jerue, Art Institute President. Board members took the stage for a round of applause and then guests’ attention quickly turned back to the cocktail stations.
Grill 225 plated the feast as attendees mingled and munched between two tents. Tiny cupcakes crowned with crisp number seven cookies introduced the festival tagline, “Lucky Number Seven” and were reported to be delicious. I had a John T. Edge spotting, as the prolific author made his way through the crowd—the soul being patch easy to spot. And Matt Lee was also overheard inviting Alluette of Alluette's Café to the Billy Reid party.
The Festival got really smart this year and hired shuttles to take guests from Marion Square to the South Carolina Aquarium for part deux of this gastronomic bonanza, the Opening Party. There, every chef and his sous was in the house for a decidedly seaworthy display. Clams and oysters, catfish and shrimp were served in small bites. The only trick was juggling said plate with the festival wine glass given to each guest upon arrival. One clever couple managed the task by bringing their own party plates—complete with wine holder—from home.
Best bites of the night included The Macintosh chef Jeremiah Bacon’s sweet and sour pork belly soup along with Fish chef Nico Romo’s crunchy spring roll with spicy crab salad. "Yums" were also heard for the cornmeal-fried catfish from Husk; octopus with parsnip-hazelnut, black truffle, and fennel from McCrady's; and FIG chef Mike Lata's escabeche of mackarel with root veggies and caraway.
Amidst the crowd, I had the chance to meet newcomer Kevin Garcia, the soon-to-be-chef at new restaurant 'Cesca. He said he'll be getting the New York City-based restaurant up and running in the old Buccaneer venue downtown and is eager to meet the local food community.
Outside, desserts and cigars awaited. I enjoyed the sweet smell of stogies before my carriage arrived (in the form of a very kind husband) ready to take my posse off to the Oak Steakhouse After Party. Within minutes of arriving at Oak who should walk in? None other than Hugh Acheson himself, The Five & Ten, the National, Gosford Wine, and Empire State South chef-partner who, judging by his smile, was having a grand time.
Also on the scene was chef Robert Carter. I congratulated him on his new venture, Carter's Kitchen, and of course alluded to hopes that a certain second spot might be opened on Rutledge with a certain RiverDogs-owning celebrity, to which the chef smirked, but kept mum.
Upstairs at Oak, the Lucky Number Seven theme continued with gambling tables. Waiters passed around the juiciest sliders and as the hours ticked by, a who's who of the Charleston culinary scene, from Holly Herrick to Kevin Johnson, Craig Deihl to Jasmine Beck, arrived.
Around midnight, after 10+ hours in heels, I knew it was time to head home. So with a final slider in hand, I made my exit, with visions of tuna tartare dancing through my head.