The delicious festival Charlestonians know and love today began with a simple question in 2004. That’s when Chef Marc Collins of Circa 1886 wondered: “Why doesn’t a festival celebrating Charleston’s culinary traditions exist?”
At the time, Charleston did not have the reputation as the food destination that it does today. There were perhaps a dozen noteworthy restaurants in the city when Collins asked Angel Postell, a young PR professional with whom he had worked on a sustainable seafood initiative for the SC Aquarium, if she would be interested in helping start such a festival.
Chefs put the finishing touches on tasty plates at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival — Photo courtesy of copyright Andrew Cebulka
She agreed, and the pair gathered a “powerhouse of professionals,” as Postell calls it, to serve on the planning committee. Included in that baker’s dozen of dedicated volunteers were Nathalie Dupree, the best-selling cookbook author, chef and cooking-show host, and a handful of local chefs. The committee spent a year and a half developing the first Charleston Wine + Food Festival, which debuted in March 2006.
From that first festival, which attracted some 9,000 attendees to 50 events, Charleston Wine + Food has seen its attendance more than double today (last year, alone, the festival welcomed 21,500 guests from 41 states). For its 10th anniversary in 2015, the festival is offering a dizzying array of 107 events.
As it always has, the heart of the festival beats in the Culinary Village on Marion Square. Roam through the Grand Tasting Tent to sample a cornucopia of food and wine, and stop by the Artisan Market to taste and purchase local products. Also on the square, the Biergarten will feature 14 breweries, many of them local and regional.
New to the Culinary Village this year, Third Space will host local and guest chefs for intimate cooking demonstrations and tastings. For more new fun, check out the mixology demos at the Cocktail Pop-Up, and listen to local bands at the Music Stage. In the Hands-On Kitchen, guests will have the thrill of cooking alongside professional chefs.
For 2015, the festival will begin on Wednesday night with an Opening Night Gala on Marion Square. From there, attendees will have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. Have high tea with Nathalie Dupree, roast oysters with Chef Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary, board a boat for a chefs’ fishing expedition and settle back for a Gospel Brunch on Sunday morning.
And that’s just the tip of the ice sculpture. Beverage seminars, wine tastings, small Signature Dinners featuring guest chefs and large-format events such as On the Rocks (‘n Roll) make narrowing down your choices even more difficult. New events include Cross Culture BBQ showcasing 20 pitmasters, and an 18-hole Chefs Golf Classic.
Black tie is optional at the North + South + East + West dinner. Held in the Michael Mitchell Gallery, this fête will indulge guests (who are nonplussed by the $750 price tag) in a feast prepared by four stellar U.S. chefs: Frank Stitt of Highland Grill in Birmingham; Gabrielle Hamilton of PRUNE in New York; Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco; and Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Café, also in NYC.
All in all, this year’s festival promises to be the best yet. “The 10th anniversary of Charleston Wine + Food is a celebration of the Lowcountry's culinary and hospitality community, which has risen to unbelievable new heights over the past decade,” says Gillian Zettler, the festival’s director. “The festival will be jam-packed with opportunities to connect, learn, share stories and celebrate one of the most bountiful and beautiful food regions in the country.”
To join the fun, find tickets, information and schedules at charlestonwineandfood.com.