Some people come in this world destined to make it better. Not necessarily knowing they have this power, they are born with an innate ability for incredible vision and insight, and work tirelessly to impact positive change. These are legends; they capture attention when entering a room, and they leave a lasting impression when they exit.
In a new series for The Daily Meal, we will introduce you to the legends in Charleston that have been incredible forces in the transformation and continued success of the city’s status as the culinary mecca it is today. We will be profiling people of all ages that inspire, drive, and continue to build the bridges needed to evolve and improve this vibrant food scene.
Our first profile is of not only a legend in Charleston, but a major influence in the both the Southern and the national food scene. Nathalie Dupree, an Atlanta native, has been a part of the beginnings of a lot of important food movements and organizations — she is, for example, one the founding board members of the Southern Foodways Alliance and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), started the Les Dames d’Escoffier International chapters in Atlanta and Charleston, and is the founding Board Chair for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. She has served as a mentor for many amazingly talented culinary professionals, like Virginia Willis, Shirley Corriher, and Marion Sullivan. Adding to her accomplishments are her books, several of which are James Beard Foundation award winners. And those just a few of the highlights.
We sat down with Dupree recently and asked her to share some of her highlights and fond memories:
How did you get to Charleston in the first place?
My husband, Jack Bass, was writing a book and living in the city.
Back up; tell us more about Jack. Isn’t he an important writer? And how did the two of you meet?
Jack was teaching at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. at the time and I was living in Atlanta. I was traveling to promote my book Southern Memories at the time and Marion Sullivan recommended we meet. We ended in Nashville at the same book festival and met in the hotel lobby. We agreed to meet the next day for breakfast and hit it off (he liked me because I ate with my fingers). We got married six months to the day after that meeting. Jack is an award-winning author of eight nonfiction books about the American South, including the biography for Strom Thurmond. He is also a professor emeritus at the College of Charleston.
Tell us about your infamous garden. What was the inspiration for that?
Well, my granddaughter was in our house in Atlanta, reached in the cabinet for plates, and broke them all. Instead of throwing them away, I saved them and eventually planted them in our Charleston yard.
What about the plants?
[Laughing] Oh, those. Yes, we have a lot of great things: Meyer lemons, figs, kaffir limes, olives, every imaginable herb, and watermelons.
You have seen Charleston really blossom; what do you think put the city on the culinary map?
Having former New York Times food critic Johnny Apple come to the city for the first Charleston Wine + Food Festival and then write about the city — that did something big.
What would you like to see next for the city?
A food-lover becomes our mayor.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Charleston?
What are you up to now?
Well, I write for The Post & Courier, Charleston magazine, and The Local Palate. I am finishing up on my new book, Southern Vegetables, which will be done in March.
The Charleston Wine + Food Festival will be honoring Dupree with a special dinner on Wednesday, December 10 at Slightly North of Broad. The five-course dinner will feature chef friends paying homage and will serve as a fundraiser for the Festival’s scholarship programs. You can purchase tickets and to learn more by visiting their website. The Southern Foodways Alliance has also created a fellowship program in her name that underwrites two graduate fellowships for students in the Southern Studies M.A. Program at the University of Mississippi. Click here to learn more and to support that fellowship.