Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Husk: The New Standard In Southern Cuisine
I've been sitting on this piece for nearly two-months, thinking, planning, conceptualizing only to cast it aside and start over again. I didn't want to just do another foodie blogger type review of my visit to Husk. Instead, I really wanted to come up with an article that would not only introduce the reader to the restaurant and chef, Sean Brock, but even more than that I wanted to pen a work that would help to explain what all of this fuss is about regarding "new Southern cuisine" and it's emergence in Charleston, South Carolina.
For years Southern cooks were somewhat stereotyped and the cuisine was thought to be all about butter, lard, bacon, ham-hocks and sugar. But over the past several years, that perception has changed thanks to culinary pioneers like Brock. As recent as ten-years ago due to the popularity of syndicated food network shows featuring southern cooks the buzzwords that everybody used when talking about good old homestyle Southern food were butter, gravy, pan-fried and custard. Today, there are new buzzwords, like locavore and lardcore showing up in magazines and publications dedicated to gourmet cooking. Media giants like the Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News and Bloomberg are now raving about "the new southern cuisine" and red-hot young chefs like Sean Brock are in high demand. Yet many people who haven't been lucky enough to visit foodie meccas like Charleston may still think that Paula Deen's Restaurant is the holy grail of southern cooking.
Just one visit to Husk and you will begin to understand what Brock is talking about when he says "this new cuisine is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food." The web page for Husk describes the dining experience at Husk as "casual as it is chic, evoking a way of life centered on seasonality and the grand traditions of Charleston life—one lived at a slower pace, preferably with a cocktail and a wide porch in the late afternoon." And for the four of us, that is exactly how our lunch went on the upper piazza at Husk overlooking Queen Street on a late April afternoon.
In a recent interview with Charlie Rose on Bloomberg, Brock explains that originally Southern cuisine was formed around the concept of "what was in the pantry." The chef goes on to explain that this bountiful harvest of crops from the Southern fields was impacted by the mosaic of cultural influences in early Charleston, with the English, Native American, French-Huegenot and the African Americans resulting in a period that he considers "the most beautiful" era of food in America. And as if applying mathematical theory to the design and programming of computer software, you can see the fusion of this philosophy and Brock's culinary skills by perusing the menu at Husk, which by the way, changes almost hourly depending upon what is coming through the kitchen doors.
As I mentioned earlier, I don't intend for this to be interpreted as a standard restaurant review because for us, that casual lunch spent with "best friends" from childhood in a sunny corner of the front porch at Husk was about much more than fine food and dining. Although the Husk Cheeseburger, the fried green tomatoes and baked grits with mushrooms and cheese was worthy of a robust review. Interestingly enough the actual menu from the day that we visited Husk is available in the menu archives section of the web page by clicking here (this feature on the Husk website shows the genius of Brock et al.)
If you are lucky enough to live in The Land of Palm Trees or if planning a visit to the Lowcountry, you don't want to miss the experience of Husk. But do plan ahead, it is not a walk-up spur of the moment type of place. I urge you to make reservations, for instance, the day we visited I overheard a lady at an adjacent table saying she had waited 2 hours for the opportunity to experience the "reality of southern food."