Taco Wars at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival

Staff Writer
6 chefs came together to cook up their own takes on the standard taco
Taco Turf Wars at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival
Rene Ortiz's Tacos Arabicos
Ali Rosen

Rene Ortiz's Tacos Arabicos

Charleston's Wine and Food Festival continued Friday and Saturday with events that welcomed chefs from across the country but retained the charm of the Holy City.

Friday's big daytime event was called Taco Turf Wars at Lowndes Grove Plantation. While I expected an event of this name to be a competition of some kind, instead, keeping with the Southern gentility of the weekend, the "war" consisted of nothing more than six chefs making tacos and sharing in the beauty of the location.

Chef Anita Lo (Annisa, New York) cooked a Szechuan chicken and peanut taco with a Chinese green bean salad. She said the Southern element came from including fried chicken skins. Melissa Perello (Frances, San Francisco) cooked a delicious herbed crêpe taco with blue crab salad, grain mustard, and crème fraîche. It might have been the winner of the event in my book, except that I don't think a crêpe really passes for a taco.

The stand-out taco came from Rene Ortiz (La Condesa, Austin) who made "Tacos Arabicos" with seared Cervena venison, pickled cucumber, chipotle harissa, fennel pollen yogurt, and a house-made bacon-fat tortilla. If it were a true war I would have declared Ortiz the winner (although Michael Laiskonis' desserts might need to take a serious honorable mention, despite also having nothing to do with tacos).

In the evening, the big after-party was held at chef Craig Deihl's Cypress, which sported oysters and locally made hot dogs, while guests Sean Brock (Husk, Charleston) and John Besh (August, New Orleans) hugged so excitedly that they ran into a wall.

On Saturday, rain overtook the festivities, but it didn't stop any events. The "Ode to Goat" at Bowen's Island celebrated local oysters and featured pots of freshly steamed oysters from the Lowcountry. In the afternoon, an array of chefs including Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar, New York), Bill Smith (Crook's Corner, Chapel Hill, N.C.) and Hugh Acheson (Empire State South, Atlanta) held court at the Thomas Bennett House and signed copies of their recent cookbooks for fans.

The festivities continue today at the seventh annual BB&T Charleston Wine and Food Festival. Follow #chswff on Twitter for more updates!

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