Before last week, I’d never been to Charleston. I knew I’d be in for a treat – albeit a busy trip to plan for our fast-approaching National Sustainable Food Summit in November – but I was not fully prepared for the  incredible hospitality of Charleston. Below are a few stories of food, people, and Summit prep:

When I arrived, Mary of the Charleston Visitors Bureau met me at the airport and we went to Husk, Sean Brock’s celebration of South Carolina cuisine; it’s a charming place tucked inside a gorgeous two-story house with a large dining porch on the second floor. We had Husk’s benne crackers with pimento cheese, and charred scallion & citrus glazed pig ear lettuce wraps (see below for evidence). WOW. So many flavors. Both delicious. I had never had pig ears! And can’t wait to come back to enjoy their bar.

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Mary was nice enough to show me around town, and she left me at the entrance to a barn in the middle of town where I was instructed to climb aboard a 14-person carriage, and set out on a carriage ride tour of Charleston’s lower peninsula area. With our horses and guide, we tromped through cobblestone streets,and learned why Charleston is nicknamed the “Holy City” (there’s even Holy City brewing!) as we saw dozens of churches, and incredible homes stretched along the water. Every house has a porch – piazza – facing the direction with the best breeze.

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After the tour, I walked King street and Meeting Street – taking in the bar and restaurant scene. Ultimately, I had a quick flight of oysters, and tucked into The Francis Marion Hotel for the evening – the Gatsby-like home base for our Summit.

The next morning, our Host Committee convened at the Culinary Institute of Charleston. I met with more than 15 amazing chefs and business-persons devoted to advancing sustainable food in South Carolina. With our board member Megan Westmeyer at the helm, together we hashed out plans for the sessions, field trips, and agenda for our Summit (teaser – the Summit registration and details will be online soon!).

HominyGrillAfter, we went to Hominy Grill – where the stewed okra and tomatoes were simply AMAZING! And the grits of course. Yes please. After all, #GritsAreGoodForYou.

I finished the day with a beer overlooking the harbor at member chef Drew Hedlund’s restaurant Fleet Landing. Without question, he has one of the best views in all of Charleston! I met folks traveling from up and down the east coast, and had local kolsch beer – which fit perfectly with the 85 degree day and warm breeze.

Later, I met friends at The Ordinary on King Street, James Beard Award-winning chef Mike Lata’s newest spot,  and we enjoyed fantastic apertifs and oysters (of course).

Before I left town the next day, Chef Simon of the Francis Marion Hotel and I shared a meal, and talked about the chef community in Charleston. He directed me to the South Carolina Aquarium – an easy walk from the hotel – for one more meeting before I left town.

The Aquarium was full of ecstatic school kids and marine life (plus their bald eagle Liberty and other critters from their Madagascar exhibit), and from its outdoor deck I watched huge ships move up and down the harbor channel. I’m excited to share that we’ll be hosting our Summit reception on Monday 11/4 at the Aquarium. Trust me you won’t want to miss this opportunity to explore the Aquarium – sans school groups – and enjoy Lowcountry cuisine.

As I returned to the airport – an easy 15 minute drive from downtown Charleston, I reflected on the folks I met and the hospitality exuded by literally every person I came in contact with. This is the absolute perfect spot for our 2013 Sustainable Food Summit – and we can’t wait to welcome you there in six month’s time.