Centrally located in historic downtown Charleston, Husk, the newest offering from James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and the Neighborhood Dining Group, transforms the essence of Southern food. Led by Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes, a Lowcountry native, the kitchen reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston. In September 2011 Bon Appétit magazine named Husk “Best New Restaurant in America”. Chef Brock’s abilities have resulted in a number of awards and accolades, both locally and nationally. In 2008 and 2009 he was a finalist for the James Beard “Rising Star Chef” award and in 2010 he took home the James Beard award for “Best Chef Southeast”. Most recently, he was a finalist for the James Beard “Outstanding Chef” award for 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Grimes grew up in the Lowcountry and knows Charleston well. He worked his way up through local restaurants before attending Johnson and Wales University. When Brock took the helm at McCrady’s he stayed on to help transform the kitchen into the most innovative in the city and now takes on the day-to-day operations at Husk. His philosophy on food closely mirrors that of his mentor, Brock, focusing on preservation techniques and the recovery of lost flavors, especially heirloom varieties of pork. Both men bring a love for the area and its history to creating the restaurant’s concept.
Diners at Husk view an open, collaborative kitchen, where chefs freely interact with their guests, and personally deliver food to tables, but the work begins well before a pan begins to heat. Brock and Grimes exhaustively research Southern food—its history and provenance—and in the process reconstitute flavors and ingredients lost to time. They grow much of their own produce on the restaurant’s garden, and concentrate on heirloom grains and vegetables that once flourished in the region, but were lost to 20th-century industrial agriculture. Then they take what is fresh and available today, or even this hour, and transform it into an evolving menu. Seasonal bounty comes in waves, however, and what they can’t use immediately is preserved, pickled, smoked, and saved.
Starting with a larder of ingredients indigenous to the South, and set within a building complex dating to the late 19th century, Brock crafts menus throughout the day, responding to what local purveyors are supplying the kitchen at any given moment. The entrance beckons with a rustic wall of firewood to fuel the wood-fired oven and a large chalkboard listing artisanal products currently provisioning the kitchen [see photograph, above], but like the décor that inhabits the historic building, the food is modern in style and interpretation.
At Husk there are some rules about what can go on the plate. “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” says Brock, who has even stricken olive oil from the kitchen. As he explains, the resulting cuisine “is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food.” This modern approach results in playful dishes such as Deviled Eggs with Pickled Okra and Trout Roe, and new classics like South Carolina Shrimp and Choppee Okra Stew with Carolina Gold Rice and Flowering Basil.
The Glazed Pigs’s Ear Lettuce Wraps (which taste great, not withstanding the description/ingredients!) — pictured above — are a signature dish at Husk.
Seed-saving, heirloom husbandry, and in-house pickling and charcuterie efforts by the culinary team are the basis of the cuisine at Husk. The restaurant is as casual as it is chic, evoking a way of life centered on seasonality and the grand traditions of Charleston life — one lived at a slower pace, preferably with a cocktail and a wide porch in the late afternoon. It is a neighborhood gathering place for friends, and a destination dining spot for travelers, with a little bite of the South for everyone’s palates.
We thoroughly enjoyed our return visit to Husk and were glad to have some family and friends with us so that we could sample a variety of dishes (many pictured above, thanks to my old iPhone!). For an authentic, contemporary Southern dining experience, we high recommend Husk when in Charleston (or Nashville, TN — home of a sister Husk restaurant).