Charleston, and a stint at Husk (is this real?)

Friends, it’s only been a week since I last posted, but what a week it has been. I’ve been in Charleston, SC visiting friends and am of the amazing fortune to spend time in the kitchen of Husk! Still can’t believe it. Yesterday was day 5 of my stage in the prep kitchen, in essence a short internship where I get to learn while I’m on vacation. It has been such an incredible privilege to be around such talent, inspiration, and focus: a passion and promise to source only ingredients below the Mason-Dixon line while creating truly delicious dishes, both progressive and classic at the same time. Husk is devoted to reviving heirloom varieties of ingredients indigenous to the South — even their sesame seeds are heirloom: benne seeds.

Initially, I had planned to do this at Chez Panisse (eek! I can’t even say that without shivering). Very sadly, there was a fire in the restaurant a little over a month ago, and they’re closed until reconstruction is complete. My thoughts are with them, but I know they’ll be back better than ever. It does amaze me, however, to be where I am right now. Funny how things turn out. As scared as it makes me each day I walk in, with each new task I start, I’m continuously inspired and excited, and also really feeling like I’m constantly on the verge of totally messing up.

Before starting my stage, my friends and I went for lunch at Husk to have a ridiculous meal and to prepare for my first day. Overindulged in so much, including the shrimp and grits below, and the pecan tart with bourbon ice cream and sorghum, plus most of the appetizers on this menu. Delicious!

I’m fascinated by the vibe of this place. There’s an incredible built-in pantry with row upon row of housemade pickles and other preserved items: pickled white strawberries, green garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, hot sauce, you name it. One of the cooks showed me this after spending an evening canning: we had helped out pickling green tomatoes and dill pickles. So cool.

I’ve been learning a ton: techniques to break down poultry, so far chickens and guinea hens; scrubbed purple carrots until the color shined; learned that sprinkling salt on a spill will help sweep it up when in a pinch (yes, I spilled oil all over the floor); roasted mushrooms on the wood fire outside on a sweet spring afternoon; chopped fines herbs, etc. Although I don’t have the speed and ease many people in the kitchen there have, the lessons I’m learning are huge. I can’t overstate how important it is to think about what task you’re about to do, how you’re going to set it up and execute it. It always “seems” quicker to just go straight ahead and not stop to plan for a minute, but it’s so true that it saves time (and embarrassment as I spill hot peanuts everywhere) to think ahead of your sequence of movements. Probably my biggest lesson, in a sea of them.

P.S. the photo below shows a snowy grouper being broken down. Those are some BIG fish. Not to mention, I can really appreciate a place that gets whole fish and fillets them in-house. That is the best way to get the freshest product, and you can really trust that you’re getting what you order! They also do in-house butchering. Love it.

I love the atmosphere at Husk, down to these skulls above. Throughout the day, I’m constantly itching to snap away photos, but am trying to show some restraint. I mean, I cleaned a bucketful of ramps, beautiful wild leeks just asking to be photographed. Next time ramps, next time.

Charleston is so incredibly charming, I almost can’t handle it. It’s my third time here and it’s just sucking me in. As I left my shift a couple nights ago, wandering around the city on my way to dinner, I could have almost cried of happiness. It’s just a really wonderful place and time, and everything is GREEN here!

A constant state of nourished happiness and many moments of full belly-ness. My “research”. For inspiration of delicious, healthy, inspired, LOCAL food to be made back home. Baked Lady Island oysters with bottarga butter, and trout with purple cape beans, asparagus, and ramps at The Ordinary, Mike Lata’s new fancy seafood hall. Small plates at the charming Two Boroughs Larder — yes, again with the charm here. Just look at that little kitchen pumping out tasty food (second photo below)! Flowers and Vietnamese tacos at the first Farmer’s Market of the season. Warm, soft sand on the beach at Sullivan’s Island.

Onto another 5 days! Can’t wait to see what else is in store. So thankful.

Oh, and on a side note, I love this post from sfgirlbybay. Pressures of social media: “my hope is that i will never make you feel excluded because you’ve seen a brief joyous moment in time captured on my small portion of the internet.” Very true, worth the read.

4 comments

  1. Capn says:

    Sounds like your having a great time. Sure you want to come back? LOL

  2. Hi Sheila, I love this beautiful post! I used to live just up the street from Husk (on Queen St) and we watched the entire renovation of the building they are in, and then we were there for the Grand Opening! What a place! And I love that you took us behind the scenes to where the magic happens. Thanks! All the best, Terri

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