Tickets are still available to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival’s dinner honoring Frank Lee, the chef who sits atop Charleston food tree.
The festival on Dec. 9 is assembling 11 chefs (six from Charleston; five from out-of-town) to pay tribute to Lee with a five-course dinner at The Grocery. The chefs will be joined by two “culinary experts,” longtime Columbia chef Malcolm Hudson – who festival events director Randi Weinstein credits with converting Lee from “vegetarian to a meat-loving fool” – and Justin Hammerstrom, a former sous chef and mixed martial arts fighter who now serves as corporate trainer for a kickboxing franchise.
Although Hammerstrom last cooked professionally in a high school cafeteria, his participation in the program is fitting, since the featured chefs say they’re indebted to Lee for much more than kitchen know-how.
Anthony Gray spent 13 years with Maverick Southern Kitchens, the restaurant group Lee launched with Dick Elliott and David Marconi after joining The Colony House in 1992.
“I think the biggest thing I took away from it was just becoming a man, and learning right from wrong,” says Gray, who’s now executive chef and director of culinary operations for Bacon Bros. Public House in Greenville.
Gray is fond of guest chef Ricky King’s description of Lee’s kitchens as a “school for reckless boys.”
“He did a great job bringing us up and teaching us how to be men,” Gray says. “There are a bunch of us who wouldn’t be as well off without Frank.”
In addition to Gray and King, Chris Newsome of Birmingham’s Ollie and Irene; Sam Goinsalvos of New York’s Il Buco Alimentare and Yannick Cam of Washington D.C.’s Bistro Provence are traveling to Charleston for the $250 supper. The local chef line-up is Chris Stewartof The Glass Onion; Graham Dailey of Peninsula Grill; Jacques Larson of Wild Olive; Kevin Johnson of The Grocery; Robert Berry of Indaco and Russ Moore of Slightly North of Broad.
Weinstein stresses the evening will be SNOB-centric, despite it unfolding at The Grocery. The front-of-house staff will be culled from the pool of past and current SNOB employees, and the wine will be supplied by former employees now in the wine business.
“This is like a homecoming for me,” Gray says. “I had a privilege to grow up with all of (the participating chefs.) I know all of them. There’s a countless number of success stories who’ve gone through Frank’s doors, and I’m proud to say I’m one of them.”
Tickets to the dinner are available online at http://charlestonwineandfood.com/events/fundraising-event-tribute-to-frank-lee/. Event proceeds will benefit the festival’s scholarship programs.
“If people don’t have tickets, they need to get them,” Gray adds. “It’s going to be one-of-a-kind.”