The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle Presented By S. Pellegrino Takes Over Charleston And The World

Charlestonians are not known for being able to keep a secret, but the masterminds behind the unprecedented, groundbreaking Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle did a pretty impressive job at doing just that.

For months, the town was abuzz with excitement after it was announced chef Sean Brock of McCrady's, Husk, and Minero would be one of the 37 chefs selected from around the world to trade places with each other and participate in the once-in-a-lifetime event. These chefs not only swapped kitchens, they swapped lives — staying in each other's houses, meeting up with a chef's farmers, purveyors, staff, and customers to ultimately cook a dinner for a lucky handful of diners that scored a ticket to the event when they first went on sale.

Presented by S. Pellegrino, The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle was the first of its kind, and involved months of secretive discussions and coordination. The most impressive task was having the world's most renowned chefs be able to take several days out of their incredibly overbooked schedules to travel all over the world on the same exact week. Chefs did not swap with each other, so Sean Brock was whisked away to cook at Osteria Francescana in Italy while McCrady's was fortunate to have the light hearted and incredibly entertaining chef Paul Cunningham from Henne Kirkeby Kro in Denmark.

The "shuffle" started with each chef traveling to an unfamiliar location and once in the country, immersing themselves in the city, the restaurant, and the local foodways quickly so they could cook an eight-course dinner the night of July 9. For Paul Cunningham, that meant coming to the United States for the first time in his life, and meeting up with chef de cuisine Daniel Heinze, the culinary and operation team at McCrady's, and local food writer Jeff Allen (who helped write Sean Brock's award-winning cookbook, Heritage).

The group took Cunningham to places like Backman Seafood Company to eat steamed crabs; Doscher's Food Stores to check out the meat counter and gullah geechie pantry items; Folly Beach to pick red bay; Rebellion Farms (Allen's farm) to feed the pigs and talk about the endangered St. Croix white sheep on his property; Geechie Boy Mill to see the mill and pick local heirloom tomatoes off the vine; and Fish Net Seafood to have Jesus crabs, fried blue crab, fried whiting, and hushpuppies on a the back of a truck bed. If Cunningham wanted to experience real, true Lowcountry down-home cooking and locations, he was in good hands and hit all the right spots.

This experience reflected well on the final menu, and Allen himself was impressed with the attention Cunningham had paid to details and discussions during their time together. The plan was for each chef to take what they learned and make dishes using their cooking style for the dinner. So when we were served Geechie Boy tomatoes, topped with basil from the McCrady's rooftop garden, and Duke's mayonnaise as an open faced sandwich, we saw Cunningham's playful approach to a very traditional and beloved southern staple, which made the crowd instantly fall in love with each and every bite.. He continued doing this throughout the meal and served dishes like heritage beans and bacon "Paul Chez Sean"— a dish directly from Brock's cookbook; local shrimp over tomato vines and She-Shrimp sauce, a la She Crab soup; Keith Moon sourdough baked on herbs served with chilled lard of rendered ham, duck fat, roasted onions, and pickled pig feet (bought at Doscher's); and Geechie Boy Mill romaine with Henne house dressing and roast hazelnut salt praline. FIG's executive chef, Jason Stanhope, was one of the dinner's guests and he commented that he never realized he liked sugar in his salad. Cunningham's personality shined in every dish, all of which were delicious and had you yearning to get more. Even though we were served eight courses, we never once felt over-stuffed.

Cunningham's personality rubbed off on the restaurant, too, which was transformed partially to reflect his own style. Lights were at full gage, music at full blast of Metallica and the such, and the stuffy suits servers normally sported were replaced with rock n roll t-shirts under a jacket and jeans. The dining room was filled with noise, laughter and roaming diners, not something you see often at the high-end establishment. One thing that did not change was the impeccable service, including the thoughtful wine pairings offered with each course. Cunningham was unfamiliar with most American wines and worked closely with Beverage Director Cappie Pette to curate a menu that was outstanding and perfectly connected to each dish.

Talking to Cunningham about the entire experience, he was impressed by Brock, Heinze, and the team at McCrady's. He loved the Lowcountry landscape and was fascinated with the local places he visited during his short time. His plan was to take some of the things he tasted and used during the dinner, and bring them back to his restaurant in Denmark — items like okra, blue corn, and maple hibiscus and try and grow in his own garden. Don't be surprised to even see Duke's slide in their somewhere.

And while Cunningham had the time of his life in Charleston, Sean Brock seemed to have much of the same. His menu read mostly like his menus at home but with a twist reflecting the Italian region. We hope those at that dinner appreciated his menu of items like Lowcountry oyster roast, shrimp and grits, wild boar with hoppin john, and fried green tomatoes. Each dinner was one of those meals, those times, those experiences that the people who were apart and who attended will never forget.