While the city of Charleston is known for its down-home, delicious cuisine, chef Jon Cropf of the Drawing Room located at the Vendue Hotel is reimagining Southern cooking by elevating it on an artistic level. There is a balance that exists between elements, Cropf admits, that of taking time to make sure a dish looks beautiful but also insisting it tastes delicious. “When creating a dish, it is important to incorporate taste, texture, color, flavor, and smell,” Cropf told The Daily Meal. “Once we have established all of those components, we work on a plate presentation that is both unique and attractive.”
As for the restaurant’s dishes, each plate that exits the kitchen has a specific inspiration behind it and can look slightly different based on the natural shapes and sizes of the components. “A good example of this is our venison dish. The carrots we use are so beautiful that we want to leave them as natural as possible,” the chef noted. “That being said, the specific way we plate them differs based on the size and shape of the carrot and what our chefs feel is the most attractive place for the carrots to be on the plate.”
Another such dish was inspired by the chef’s vision of a beet poking out of the soil on a rainy, overcast day, only to be recreated for his diners’ consumption. “We created a licorice ‘soil’ which brought texture and sweetness to the dish made from raw sugar, star anise, and dried olives that looked exactly like the soil that crumbles around a crowning beet on Ambrose Family Farm during an early morning rain,” Cropf explained.
The restaurant supports many local purveyors as Cropf believes it’s his obligation as a chef to support local agriculture as much as possible. To that end, they utilize ingredients from Ambrose Family Farm, Geechie Boy, Growfood Carolina, Holy Smoke Olive Oil, St. Jude Farm, and Swimming Rock Fish and Shrimp Farm.
For Cropf, it was important to him that his menu steer clear of traditional comfort food items saturated with cream, butter, or anything deep fried. Instead, he choose to master the style of food that is a bit lighter, cleaner, and fresher, while also creating unique variations of Southern comfort classics. Take for example, the chicken and dumplings made with a guinea hen roulade in place of the chicken and ricotta gnocchi for the dumplings. “All in all, this is a pretty classic Southern comfort food dish that has just a few twists to lighten it up,” he said.
The cuisine is very much representative of the hotel’s artistic nature. The newly-renovated Vendue often showcases local artists’ work on their walls, offering guests complimentary happy hours where they can sample the chef’s small bites, have a glass of champagne, and learn about an up and coming artist. Once a month, the restaurant hosts private tasting dinners with wine pairings to coincide with the incoming art exhibit.
As for the future, Cropf continues to draw on inspiration from the environment around him, keeping the menu lively and ever-changing. “I am able to find inspiration in just about every aspect of life. What inspired me today will surely change tomorrow, but a few inspirations that are constant are the growing seasons, nature, agriculture, and artwork throughout our restaurant,” he added.