Starchefs 2009 – Sean Brock Shows His Kind of American Cuisine

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Sean Brock and benne – precursor to today's sesame.

I apologize for having been remiss in not finishing my detailed individual profiles of the presentations at the 2009 Starchefs ICC, having only made it partially into Day 2 of the 3 day Congress. I don't know if I will be able to get to all of the rest of them in detail before the next Starchefs ICC comes up in September (It's not too late to sign up for what looks to be another outstanding Congress), but I will do my best to at least get up more photos and as much detail as I can recall from my notes. Given my current focus on Sean Brock and McCrady's, I thought it only fitting to resume (out of order), with some photos and a brief description of Sean's hands-on workshop and his demo highlighting his take on traditional Carolina Low Country Cooking.

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In his hands-on workshop on the morning of Day 2, Brock focused on "Bringing Back American Heirloom Ingredients" and demonstrated his "Shrimp & Grits" in the process with the audience separating into small groups to use liquid nitrogen to grind and then combine an heirloom corn variety, Jimmy Red Corn" with South Carolina Shrimp. Once the ground shrimp and corn combination was plated, it was overlaid with a shrimp stock gel, various herbs and flowers and a piece of dried shrimp toast. I was fortunate enough to get a taste of this insanely delicious dish. I had been wanting to visit Sean Brock at McCrady's for some time anyway, but upon tasting this, I made it a priority.

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Shrimp & Grits

For his big stage demo, Sean repeated the shrimp & grits, but followed it with two more spectacularly beautiful dishes utilizing heirloom ingredients grown on McCrady's S.C. Farm, Thorn Hill Farm. The first, called simply, "The Garden" utilized pristine root and other vegetables to form a colorful and quite beautiful tableaux. The second was a contemporary interpretation of an old Low Country dish with slave days origins, a rice and beans dish called "Reezy Peezy" or "Hoppin' John," the name it is more generally well known by. Hoppin john is generally a very rustic dish, one traditionally served on New Year's Day. Brock's version, utilizing an heirloom pea called "Sea Island Red" also utilized a variety of techniques that while making it visually unrecognizable compared to the original, still remained true to its ingredients and presumably (since I didn't get to taste it) to its flavor.

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The Garden

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"Hoppin' John"

Once again, the thrust of Brock's discussion focused on the value and importance of saving heirloom and heritage varieties of the foods that have contributed to the development of an American culinary tradition. His particular area of concern is the South, especially the Carolina Low Country, but his message is to do the same for all the Regional Traditions. Is it any wonder I had to visit McCrady's and that I hope to do so again and again (Husk too!)?


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