Charleston food trends for 2011

Image by Tristan

Editor's note: Guest contributor Executive Chef Nate Whiting of Tristan Dining gives us the inside scoop on Lowcountry dining in 2011.

It’s a New Year, and this much we know is true: Charleston is an official diner’s destination.

Last fall, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times featured Charleston as a food lover’s paradise — in the same week. Our city’s chefs are showcasing their dishes on national TV. Restaurants are gaining attention for menus that don’t even touch she-crab soup or fried green tomatoes.


 Like any foodie haven, things are bound to change. Which means locals have a lot to look forward to in 2011.

 So, what’s next? Here are one humble chef’s predictions for what will be hot in Lowcountry cuisine this year:

Charleston honey

And Sumter quails, and other local ingredients…but only when they’re superior to the alternatives. Going local isn’t new, but being selective is. Chefs are realizing that there’s no point in using farm-fresh items if they don’t have the best flavors and textures. At Tristan, we use shrimp from Georgetown, tomatoes from John’s Island and micro greens from the Mepkin Abbey in Monck’s Corner. But again, only when they’re in season and truly the best.

Advanced techniques

There’s a big drive toward using more progressive cooking methods, all in the name of great tasting food. In fact, I expect this one to spill into home kitchens. One of the biggest to watch for is sous-vide cooking, which I consider one of the greatest advances in heat control since the invention of the gas stove knob.


Evolvement of farm-to-table

As local ingredients meet advanced cooking techniques, the kitchens that succeed will be the ones that successfully marry the two. As we head into 2011, continuation of the farm-to-table movement will make sense only as long as local ingredients are really the best. At the same time, using advanced methods will work only when it truly makes the food better.

Veggie love

Vegetarians and nutrition-conscious diners will love this one. More and more Lowcountry chefs are giving some serious love to vegetable cookery. Those tomatoes and Brussels sprouts are no longer afterthoughts but stars of the plate. Look for dishes like roasted beets with pistachio pistou and garlic spaghetti with cauliflower crumbs.

New love for forgotten ingredients

Again, 2011 is going to be all about using the best possible ingredients. In many instances, that may involve giving new love to “forgotten” ingredients. One of my personal favorites is dry pasta. Many people—chefs and foodies alike—believe that fresh is always best, but in truth there are many dishes that actually benefit from the excellent dried pastas imported from Italy. Other items that are making their way back to the area’s menus are headcheese, anchovies and black sesame.

A break from traditional fare


Gone are the days when plate after plate of shrimp and grits was the norm. Don’t get me wrong: these Lowcountry staples are an important part of the area’s culture. But as diners are becoming more adventurous, chefs are responding by becoming more focused. For some, that means concentrating on specialized cuisine like traditional Neapolitan pizzas. For others, such as myself, it’s about giving new twists to old favorites: creating meringues that are savory instead of sweet, for instance.

However you dice it, there’s going to be a lot of great cuisine for lucky locals (and visitors) to enjoy this year. 

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