By Carolyn Haar
The culinary renaissance in downtown Charleston has grown, gained momentum from the farm-to-table concept and just keeps on rolling. And much like the more famous Renaissance (the after-the-Middle-Ages one), this movement has crossed borders and thankfully knows how to swim – or drive over a bridge.
Cuisine just as creative, fresh and locally sourced is happening in restaurants over the Ashley and Cooper rivers.
Brannon Florie, The Granary and On Forty-One
A passionate proponent of the Lowcountry and a native Charlestonian, Chef Brannon Florie celebrates the region and its bounty as executive chef and owner of The Granary and On Forty-One. Florie landed his first managerial position at age 17 and went on to open restaurants across the United States for Carlson Worldwide, E-Brands and Walt Disney World Resorts and Restaurants. He spent a decade honing his business, management and culinary skills -before returning to the Lowcountry. Florie has since become an integral part of Charleston’s food and beverage community, working as a chef and consultant at such popular restaurants as The Boathouse, 17 North Roadside Kitchen, Big John’s Tavern, King Street Public House, The Rarebit and The Americano. Florie honors his camaraderie with local farmers, fisherman, brewers, distillers and charities, such as East Cooper Meals on Wheels and East Cooper Land Trust. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.
Michael Fitzhugh, The Fish House at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina
Born and raised in Virginia, Chef de Cuisine -Michael Fitzhugh was working as executive chef of RockSalt restaurant in Charlottesville before relocating to Charleston. Fitzhugh developed his passion for oysters while at RockSalt, where he had the pleasure to partner with oysterman Travis Croxton and his esteemed Rappahannock River Oyster Company. It is there his commitment to using the freshest, locally-sourced ingredients became a passion. Fitzhugh states, “It’s not about putting the most things on a plate; it’s about finding the best ingredients that are available and treating them with the respect they deserve. It’s about making sure that everything has a purpose behind it.” The influence of his disciplined philosophy when it comes to cooking and the passion he has for incorporating quality ingredients into his creations is evident in the new, inventive menu at The Fish House at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.
Joshua Wilinkson, Bricco Bracco
Chef Joshua Wilkinson began cooking at age 9 and quickly learned he had a knack for it. After moving around the country as the child of two military parents, Wilkinson and his family ended up on a farm in Sand Ridge, South Carolina, on which they raised cattle, chickens and vegetables. After serving as sous chef at several restaurants, Wilkinson joined the restaurant at the -Asticou Inn in Maine. This unearthed a desire to learn more about regional cuisines, and he spent nine years traveling the country working at different fine restaurants. In 2011, he ended up back in South Carolina as a sous chef at The Mustard Seed, followed by his current position as head chef at Bricco Bracco. Wilkinson and his staff get in early every day to make Bricco Bracco’s fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage, pastas and raviolis. And at least one day a week, he heads to the family farm still owned by his parents to help out.
Charles Arena, The Boathouse
Chef Charles Arena is a New York native who developed a strong commitment and love for the food industry while studying at the Culinary Institute of America. He has also earned accreditation from the American Culinary Federation as a Certified Executive Chef and -Certified Culinary Administrator.
After working for prestigious chefs such as Jean Jacques Rachou in New York and Tom Colicchio in Charleston, Arena joined The Boathouse family in 2005. He uses his strong relationships with local farmers and fisherman in order to bring guests of The Boathouse the best the Lowcountry has to offer.
Ken Vedrinski, Coda del Pesce and Trattoria Lucca
Ken Vedrinski, executive chef, owner and sommelier of Coda del Pesce on front beach, Isle of Palms and Trattoria Lucca in Charleston has found his “place” in Charleston and his passion in in Italian fare.
Vedrinski served as executive chef at The Restaurant at Woodlands Inn & Resort when it earned the only Mobile Five-Stars awarded to a South Carolina restaurant. In the following years, he co-owned and operated Sienna Restaurant, which was named One of the Best New American Restaurants in 2004 by Esquire magazine.
He opened Trattoria Lucca in 2008, named Charleston’s Best New Restaurant by Charleston City Paper in 2008, a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2009, one of the Best Italian Restaurants in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure in 2012 and one of The Ten Best Italian Restaurants Outside of Italy by The Daily Meal in 2014.
In 2013, Vedrinski opened Coda del Pesce on Isle of Palms, where diners take in breath-taking views of the ocean along with fresh, locally or sustainably caught coastal-Italian inspired -offerings.
Frank Kline, Acme Lowcountry Kitchen
Chef Kline has three degrees in business from The University of South Carolina and a culinary background that is part self-taught and part learned from great chefs he has worked with.
He received the Best Crab Cake award at The Taste of the Islands Food Festival in 2008, won Best Local-Inspired Dish at the Lee Brother Your Holiday Contest in 2012 and earned second runner up at the 2015 Charleston Shrimp and Grits Festival.
Kline has been with Acme Lowcountry Kitchen (formerly Acme Cantina) since 2010 and oversaw the restaurant’s transition from a Tex-Mex focus to one of seafood and Southern cuisine, with an emphasis on local-first, in 2013.
Locally sourced seafood and produce are the standard for Kline and Acme Lowcountry Kitchen. He and Acme’s owners famously built a freezer in order to keep the restaurant stocked with 5,000 pounds of local shrimp during the off season.
Acme Lowcountry Kitchen is steadily rated -TripAdvisor.com’s number one restaurant on Isle of Palms.
Brandon Buck, Middleton Place -Restaurant
Executive Chef Brandon Buck is a native South Carolinian and grew up in the country on a farm outside of Columbia. His interest in cooking began at an early age, as he learned from his grandmother.
While he earned an Associate’s Degree after high school, it was not in the culinary arts. Buck’s culinary training comes from working in the kitchen trenches. He has cooked in some of the finest and most renowned restaurants in the Lowcountry.
After moving to Charleston in 2001, Buck worked for five years as executive sous chef at Cypress under executive chefs Craig Deihl and Donald Barickman. He then became the executive chef at Middleton Place Restaurant, where he led the kitchen for two years before moving to Voysey’s at Cassique on Kiawah Island.
After three years, Buck returned to Middleton Place in 2011. With deep roots in the South, Buck specializes in a modern take on Southern/Lowcountry cuisine.
Ravi Scher, Long Island Café
Owner and head chef, Ravi Scher, grew up on a farm in Vermont. He fell in love with cooking and apprenticed for a chef-instructor at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont at age 16, followed by training at the Culinary Institute of America.
Scher traveled the United States for 10 years, working in a variety of kitchens from Key Largo to New York, and settled down as executive sous chef at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta.
He studied at the Ritz Escoffier in Paris and spent six years in Europe working as a private chef for the British Ambassador to Italy. During this time, he was invited to Windsor Castle where he met (and cooked for) the Queen of England and several dukes.
In 2012, he and a partner purchased Long -Island Café, and this long-standing Isle of Palms restaurant has benefitted from Scher’s experience and expertise. Scher has cultivated relationships with local purveyors of fish, shellfish and produce and incorporates whatever is fresh and available in his menu.
LEARN TO COOK LIKE A CHEF
The Cooking School at Southern Season, led by manager Nicole Marriner, provides an epicurean education dished up with a heaping serving of expertise and style. Students learn from regional notables and internationally renowned celebrity chefs as they share secrets, techniques and recipes in a cooking classroom that redefines the concept. Students also enjoy frequent formal and informal wine tastings, affordable stovetop opportunities for every skill level and interest, chances to meet the chefs and much more.
Find a class that falls over your vacation and sign up!