“I think the two of us can really make something delicious,” predicted chef Art Smith back in August of his upcoming dinner with James Beard Award–winning chef Mike Lata in Lata’s hometown of Charleston.
This past weekend, the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America tour touched down in the Holy City and several hundred Charlestonian diners gathered at the Cedar Room at the newly renovated Cigar Factory to find out just how delicious a dinner by these two Southern chefs could be.
The event was part of Taste America, which for the third year running, brings the James Beard Foundation to ten cities from coast to coast to host exclusive fundraising dinners created by a visiting All-Star chef and a Local Star chef, along with cooking demos, artisanal tastings, and book signings.
The reception featured tastings by some of Charleston’s most renowned chefs, including 2015 James Beard Best Chef: South award winner Jason Stanhope of FIG, host chef Jeremiah Bacon of the Macintosh, Craig Deihl of Cypress, Kevin Johnson of the Grocery, and Josh Keeler of Two Boroughs Larder.
James Beard Award–winning authors Matt Lee and Ted Lee presided over the event with their signature Southern charm. Diners were served a four-course meal that proved Smith’s prophecy to be on point. The dinner started with a Late Summer Squash Soup with Lemon Thyme and Angel Biscuits made by Art Smith; next up was Mike Lata’s Squid Ink Carolina Gold Rice Grits with Grilled White Shrimp and Bottarga; followed by Fried Quail Stuffed with Cracklin–Cornbread Dressing and Braised Greens. Lauren Mitterer of Charleston’s Wildflower Pastry served dessert: Goat Cheese Tart with Muscadine Jelly and Salted Pistachios.
The next morning, Art Smith gave a free cooking demo at the offices of Le Creuset, where he showed a packed room how to make a low-calorie chocolate budino with pomegranate and chia seeds, and a not-so-low-calorie mockingbird cake that he has served to Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, and the judges of Top Chef Masters. Attendees of the class not only got to have cake and chocolate pudding for breakfast, but were also treated to Smith’s incredible stories about everything from Oprah (“Y’all are going to ask me if she’s nice, but would I have worked for her for twelve years if she wasn’t?”) to his growing family and his not-for-profit Common Threads. They left with a bit of a sugar rush, some recipes, and the following Smith-isms:
“Never underestimate the power of cake.”
“My grandmother always said if you had food you had everything.”
“What is old to you is new to someone else. Something well done, regardless of whether you’ve had it before, is still delicious.”
“When food and the people behind it disappear it’s a sad day.”
“There ain’t nothing wonderful happened without food in it.”
The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America tour is off to Minneapolis and Seattle next weekend, and will then move on to Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Learn more about Taste America at jbftasteamerica.org and follow the tour at #JBFTasteAmerica on Twitter and Instagram.
The James Beard Foundation's mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor America's diverse culinary heritage and future through programs that educate and inspire. Learn more at jamesbeard.org.