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15 Minutes With: Sarah O’Kelley, one of Charleston’s favorite wine pros, shares what’s next in her formidable career

15 Minutes With: Sarah O’Kelley, one of Charleston’s favorite wine pros, shares what’s next in her formidable career
October 2023

Learn about her intriguing culinary path and her new venture, Grape to Table

With the close of Edmund’s Oast Exchange this summer, the beloved local wine pro is expanding her horizons. Learn about her intriguing culinary path and her new venture, Grape to Table

CM: You have a master’s in journalism from Northwestern but decided to pursue a career in restaurants. Why?
I did a stage at Charlie Trotter’s [for a class assignment], and that taste of the restaurant world did it. After the first night, I asked if I could come back. I loved the creativity and the energy. 

CM: Chicago has plenty of restaurants. Why did you move to New Orleans to pursue your culinary career? 
I couldn’t stay in Chicago for another winter, and I’d been to New Orleans for Jazz Fest my senior year at Georgia. I was definitely sucked in and loved it—still do.

CM: You quickly landed a job in the kitchen at Emeril’s Delmonico. Was that hard to snag?
The chef offered me the job on the spot probably because I was reliable and teachable. After that, I worked in a gourmet shop and then as a cashier in a breakfast and lunch spot called Elizabeth’s. It sounds crazy that being a cashier was so instrumental in my life, but it was—I was seeing everything, interfacing with everyone, and kind of running the show. I later sought out that vibe and feeling for The Glass Onion. 

CM: Did Hurricane Katrina prompt you to come to Charleston? 
Yes. At the time, I was already looking into starting a business with a former Delmonico coworker, Charles Vincent. But after Katrina, everything was turned upside down. We both ended up moving here, and it was all happenstance that Charles worked at FIG and met Chris Stewart there. The three of us opened The Glass Onion on a shoestring and a prayer [in 2008]. 

CM: Why did you decide to leave The Glass Onion and focus on wine?
I took the intro [sommelier] exam to improve my wine knowledge and our wine list at The Glass Onion. I went down the rabbit hole and had to know more. I decided to take the Certified Sommelier Exam, sell my share in The Glass Onion, and focus on wine. Around that same time, Scott [Shor] mentioned he was planning on moving the Charleston Beer Exchange up by Edmund’s Oast and having it be a wine and beer shop, and I was like, “Sign me up.”

CM: With the closure of the Exchange, what’s next for you?
I’ve been in this business for 20-plus years, and I’m thinking about that slightly more balanced life we’re all looking for. I’m going to help them rebuild the wine program at Edmund’s Oast and also focus on my own brand, Grape to Table.

CM: Tell us about it.
I spent a lot of time writing the Exchange’s weekly newsletter. I loved it, so this summer I started Grape to Table on Substack, combining both my love of wine and cooking. My ultimate goal is to have it be about what I am eating and drinking, but then also giving a little lesson on a certain grape varietal or a region.

CM: And you’ll still be doing the wine club and classes, too?
The wine club I created [at the Exchange] had a loyal following. I am continuing it and the classes under the Grape to Table umbrella at Wine & Company. We’ll also be having a pick-up party for the club on the first Monday of each month, which is a fun new addition to the club.

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Sip & Savor: Get Sarah’s shrimp and white bean recipe, plus suggested wine pairings.


Chef’s Note: I am a sucker for beans and rice of any kind but especially beans from Rancho Gordo (an heirloom bean purveyor based out of California). Their beans are unbelievably flavorful and very fresh so they often take less time to cook—always a bonus! In the fall and winter, I especially love cooking Rancho Gordo white beans and adding delicious local shrimp. They have many different varieties, but I highly recommend the Marcella white beans when in stock. Obviously cooking a pound of beans will yield a large serving. The good news is that the cooked beans also freeze beautifully.