By Helen Mitternight
Photography Ferris Kaplan
“ We’re giving [students] good exposure to what it’s like to work with different types of chefs in the industry and the skills to go forward and get a job.”
Today’s lesson is how to make pearls of balsamic vinegar that enhance the appearance of a Caprese or other salad. The would-be chefs are staring intently, taking lesson notes, cataloging ingredients and techniques and asking the chef for his business card in case of future employment. And, yes, some are using the business card to swat at fellow students or edge against their nascent beards. They may be chefs-in-training, but they are still high school students, and their black chef coats, embroidered with their names, are likely on top of sweatpants or shorts.
The guest chef—from Salthouse Catering this week—is provided to the West Ashley High School culinary program courtesy of Bread + Butter, a nonprofit led by Rebecca Burke, fixture in Charleston’s culinary scene. Each week, the students hear from another guest chef on a different topic, from using a knife to acing an interview. The chefs all volunteer their time.
The idea for Bread + Butter came about when Xan McLaughlin, operating partner of Park Café, was sitting in the former Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen, watching kids hang out outside the restaurant. The teens were idle, following a gang initiation that prompted them to drop out of Burke High School.
“These kids are hanging out with nothing to do, yet we can’t get enough staff,” McLaughlin said to himself. Then, the lightbulb went off. He recruited Burke to offer the kids a more constructive way to spend their time. True, they might not be headed for a four-year college, but Burke would show them the promise of a culinary career and fill the local staffing shortage at the same time.
Burke’s background as an attorney assisted her in setting up the nonprofit, as did her own culinary experience. She had been working in restaurants since high school and even earned extra money during law school in Vermont the same way. She helped start a successful food truck, Roti Rolls, and later started the defunct farm-to-table event business, Commune.
At a Shark Tank-style pitching session held in 2018 by Charleston’s female food and beverage conference, FAB, Burke pitched the idea behind Bread + Butter. She won her pitch, which provided her with a mentor. Then, in December 2018, the nonprofit held a fundraising launch that netted almost $25,000.
The program was initiated at Burke High School; West Ashley High School is the second to welcome it. The high school classroom at West Ashley is enough to give anyone kitchen envy— stainless steel demo tables, drawers and a shelf unit filled with every conceivable kitchen gadget and multiple ranges, each paired with a fire alarm.
At the moment, Chef Jake Stone is showing his young audience how to regulate the temperature so the balsamic sets but doesn’t gel too quickly. Students take turns with syringes, oozing out droplets of balsamic that swiftly turn firm.
Meanwhile, among the crowd of students, Burke snaps promotional photos, answers questions and offers extra observations and hints, in tandem with culinary instructor Jason Wheless.
Bread + Butter will be in five classrooms by the end of the semester, according to Burke. In addition to Burke and West Ashley, chefs will visit James Island Charter, St. Johns High School in Johns Island and after-school program Kids On Point. The program also provides staffing for One80 Place’s Culinary Program. Even when there isn’t a suitable classroom kitchen, Bread + Butter adapts. In the after-school program, for example, students were brought to Vertical Roots to learn about produce and then to Uptown Social, where they made pizzas in their kitchen.
Burke said about a third of the students in the program are later placed in culinary jobs. She admitted some students see the placement as “just a job,” while some see it as a real stepping stone to a culinary career.
“You can always tell the ones who are excited by all of it,” she remarked.
Her future goal is to expand to even more schools and more diverse students, including adults.
“We’re giving [students] good exposure on what it’s like to work with different types of chefs in the industry and the skills to go forward and get a job,” she noted. “They learn soft skills and hands-on skills, and they make connections.”
Finally, the small pearls are finished, and tasting spoons are distributed. The students dip carefully into what look like mounds of caviar.
OPENINGS & CLOSINGS
Noisy Oyster has gone completely quiet. The casual seafood joint closed its Market Street restaurant recently, and now, the North Charleston spot is gone as well, set to reopen as True Q Barbecue.
Bangkok Lounge has taken over the former Upper Deck Tavern at 353 King Street. It will be a tiki-themed bar serving cocktails, gourmet hot dogs and karaoke seven nights a week.
It was a long and fraught time coming, but Big Bad Breakfast is finally open at 456 Meeting Street, proving that owner John Currence is bigger and “badder” than all those pesky permits and staffing shortages.
The former Wildflour Pastry on Spring Street is now home to Coquin Café and Bar, a Parisian café with tapas.
Those who dwell at Meeting Street Lofts will have an Italian restaurant to enjoy downstairs when Gale opens late this year in the same building.
The former Bi-Lo parking lot (also the former Piggly Wiggly) now has a food truck community called Meeting Street Eats, at 445 Meeting Street.
Basic Kitchen’s Kate and Ben Towill are moving into the Post House Restaurant and Inn, formerly Old Village Post House on Pitt Street in Mount Pleasant. They plan to offer a “restaurant with rooms” next year.
CHEF AND STAFF MOVES
The Harbour Club is moving to the WestEdge development and has hired Wes Long as executive chef. Long is a North Carolina native, but has worked in a number of places, including the Michelin-starred Wallse in New York.
MENU AND VENUE CHANGES
167 Raw is relocating from its cozy venue on East Bay to 193 King Street late this year or early next. Patrons who formerly had to brave long lines for their plump, salty oysters will no doubt be grateful.
Love turkey and all the trimmings but hate the kitchen mess? Mercantile and Mash offers its version of Thanksgiving dinner available to go. The Early Bird price of $195 runs through November 3, and the meal feeds between six and eight people.
The Charleston Restaurant Foundation (CRF) announces that tickets are on sale for the 37th Annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival. The festival takes place January 26, 2020, and you can get tickets now at www.lowcountryoysterfestival.com.
People Magazine readers decided it was easy as you-know-what to select the brown coconut pie at Millers All Day as the best pie in South Carolina.
Certified Angus Beef has gone whole hog and awarded Swig & Swine pitmaster Anthony DiBernardo the Legendary BBQ Restaurant of the Year.