*Note: I was given free tickets to a Charleston Culinary Tour in exchange for my review. This does not impact my review of them at all*
A few weeks back, I was invited to join a Charleston Culinary Tour of my choice. Since I knew Lauren was coming to visit me at the end of July, I thought that would be the perfect opportunity to do something new and different. The tours offered on Saturday are the Chef’s Showcase At The Farmers Market, Mixology, and Upper King Street. For whatever reason, the Upper King Street tour wasn’t available for the date we wanted to go (as is my life), so we decided on the Farmers Market tour.
We met our tour leader, Glenn (who is also one of the owners of the company), bright and early Saturday morning (9:30am) over by the Visitor’s Center, and he introduced us to Chef Garrett Priester of Southend Brewery, who would be our chef on the tour. Unlike the other tours they do, this one is much more interactive, as we get to pick out all of the ingredients ourselves and the chef essentially has to come up with a meal based on the ingredients we chose. Chef Garrett was very friendly and genuine and seemed really excited about basically being our Iron Chef for the day.
Our first stop at the Farmers Market was to visit the shrimp man, who picked out some fresh-caught shrimp that the chef was going to cook with. Lauren doesn’t really eat shrimp and mentioned it to Chef Garrett who said he’d be happy to leave the shrimp out of her dish, which was very accommodating.
We were then led over to the tent of a local farm in the area whose name escapes me (whoops!). Our group had only 7 people in it, but somehow we still managed to pick out pretty much every single vegetable they had available, including heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, boiled peanuts, okra, collard greens, corn, watermelon, cantaloupe and so much more!
After veggies, it was time to visit Mike the Cheese Man, who had these cute little snacks ready for us to sample. Some fresh mozzarella bruschetta, and some spiced brie on strawberries. We also sampled a couple of his cheeses plain (chocolate washed cheese anyone??) before we decided as a group on the Chardonnay washed brie, which was super tasty.
After we picked out the cheese, Chef Garrett went off to round up another protein and we were given 25 minutes to wander the market and do whatever we want. Lauren and I grabbed a delicious iced latte from a local coffee stand and stopped to watch a group of talented street performers do acrobatics that would likely kill me if I attempted any of them.
We met back up with Glenn who led us on a leisurely stroll from the Farmers Market to Southend Brewery, stopping at numerous points to tell us about restaurants we should try (Burwell’s, Amen St.) and those we should avoid (Hymans.. but, I mean, duh).
We finally arrived at Southend Brewery and were seated family-style at a private table on the second floor for the beginnings of our 5-course feast. The first thing Chef brought out was a pitcher of watermelon mojitos, which were absolutely delish. I loved how fresh it tasted and I never would’ve thought to make something like that.
Our first course was an heirloom tomato caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and sweet balsamic reduction. Chef also made an olive oil, herb, and truffle dressing to go on it which was the perfect complement.
Perhaps the most unique and inventive dish we sampled was the second course, prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe with peaches, crispy prosciutto, and sweet balsamic reduction. I don’t even have words to describe how good this was-sweet, salty, savory, and fruity all at the same time. Bravo!
Our 3rd course was a shrimp and veggie succotash served over Carolina Gold rice, and topped with some of those freshly caught shrimp, cooked perfectly. True to his word, Chef made Lauren her own little pot of veggie succotash sans shrimp. It was so delicious; hearty like a stew, but not so filling that we wouldn’t still be hungry for the courses that follow. This is definitely a recipe I’d like to have at home.
By the time course 4 came around, I was starting to hit a wall. Lauren looked at me with eyes that said “please don’t make me eat anymore,” BUT I HAVE NO MERCY. For our penultimate course, Chef prepared a Farmers Market hash using some breakfast sausage he picked up at the market and the remainder of the vegetables we picked out, including boiled peanuts, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, okra, and onions. He topped the hash with a mustard aioli, some of the chardonnay-washed cheese we picked out, and paired the whole thing with a fried egg for a perfectly balanced brunch meal. The hash was absolutely delicious. The mustard aioli paired perfectly with the sausage and everything was so flavorful and fresh that it’s a wonder people don’t cook like this all the time.
Before the dessert came out, Chef brought us around another piece of the fresh cheese we’d picked out (I forget which one this was), served on a cracker with an okra chip and a raspberry jam that was pretty delicious. I’d like to make these for a cocktail party.
The dessert course was a peach and fresh berry cobbler topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. It was served in these adorable little individual ramekins and were still warm out of the oven. It was absolutely heavenly. Even though I felt like I couldn’t possibly eat anymore, I still couldn’t put my spoon down to stop eating until it was gone.
Sitting family-style afforded us a great opportunity to talk with the other people on the tour during and between courses. The couple who sat next to us from the Atlanta area were super friendly and asked a number of questions about restaurant recommendations, and I’m curious to know where they ended up going the rest of the trip. The other three people on the tour were friends from Miami and were full of fun information and we all got along really well. After the meal, we gave Chef a hearty round of applause for a meal well done!
It was a great experience and I highly recommend it, whether you’re a Charleston local or visiting from out of town!
Charleston Culinary Tours