A Night in the Valley
She barreled out of the kitchen and tottered through the crowd like a ship rolling in high seas, her stilt-legged gait clearly encumbered by the vino sloshing about in her glass. The commotion left many guests momentarily dumbstruck, and even Dr. Mary Thornley (president, Trident Technical College) was rendered speechless as the larger-than-life figure swept toward the stage during the opening remarks of Friday night's A Night in the Valley. The stout chested woman wearing sensible heels climbed the three steps leading to the stage, patted her throat while she paused to catch her breath, and then bellowed, "Bon appetit!" in a warbling falsetto that made attendees clap their hands with delight—it was a man impersonating the much beloved Julia Child!
With a theme that paid homage to French culture and cuisine, the annual vintners' dinner hosted by the Trident Technical Foundation in support of the Culinary Institute of Charleston was a chic affair rooted in butter, cheese, and wine (and one man-in-drag plant amid the crowd).
The evening was a feat in manpower with hundreds of people on both sides of the gala—guests of the four course dinner and the students and faculty who toiled behind the scenes to execute the logistics with seemingly effortless grace. Although the auction items were top notch and the crowd was a who's who of the local hospitality scene, it was really the students who shone brightest on this night.
Upon arrival, one such student offered a grin-infused description of the cleverly presented onion soup shooter that was adorned with a crispy onion wanton. "Not only does it look great and taste great, but it was really fun to make!" he cheerfully exclaimed.
Marion Sullivan (Charleston magazine's food editor and a culinary program specialist with the Culinary Institute) pointed out highlights among the pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres, which included fragrant garlic mussels and paper cones filled with crispy french fries swimming in savory béarnaise sauce.
The dinner was an ambitious four-course epic that began with foie gras au torchon and ended with classic French Pithiviers paired with the most wonderfully intense coffee ice cream. Plate service was synchronized with admirable precision, and the students did a good job tracking the 36 pieces of stemware on every table. Some centerpieces featured white tapers that flickered down to the nubs by night's end, while other tables boasted a veritable peacock tail of tangerine-colored feathers—perhaps a cheeky nod to the ladies of the Left Bank?
As sated guests bundled up and prepared to trundle off into the cold night (quite a few folks were Black Cab savvy), volunteers passed out handsome slabs of chocolate—parting gifts that capped off a wonderful evening of enthusiasm, hands-on experience, and scholarship for the next class of Charleston's culinary stars.