In the Field

Columbia, SC, Reimagines Southern Food

By: The Local Palate

Beyond traditional Southern food and faces, the food scene in Columbia, South Carolina, is full of new ways to discover the Southern favorites, diverse flavors, and intentions that highlight the city’s food culture. From vegan soul food to Peruvian comfort food to food that is rooted in Africa, chef Wesley Fulmer, along with chefs Folami Geter and Javier Uriarte, represents the flavor of Columbia.

Beyond the South’s Meat-and-Threes

Having a restaurant focused on vegan cuisine is not a trend or reaction to changing eating behaviors for chef Folami Geter. In her whole life, she has never eaten meat. The self-taught chef and owner of A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen grew up in Columbia as a vegetarian and transitioned to being vegan as a young adult. She purchased the former Lamb’s Bread Vegan Café from her father in 2014. The restaurant was the first completely vegan restaurant in South Carolina and most of the Southeast, Geter says, and has maintained a presence in downtown Columbia for more than fifteen years.

“A Peace of Soul offers 100-percent plant-based comfort food,” Geter says. “We serve all sorts of cuisine from soul food, to Asian-fusion, to Italian and Americana. Our menu changes daily and always includes a protein entrée, a veggie plate, and a specialty sandwich of the day.”

When a certain restaurant started a chicken sandwich craze, Geter countered with a vegan version that won rave reviews as well, and is now a staple and a must try. Her meat and three menu comes with no meat, of course, but includes delicious takes on barbecued “spareribs,” “drumsticks,” pulled “pork,” “beef” and broccoli, kung pao “chicken,” and more. On any given day, they can be paired with brown rice, purple cabbage, collard greens, black-eyed peas, black beans, red beans, mac and “cheese,” curry potatoes, and more.

“I’m a true foodie, and I enjoy veganizing all sorts of cuisine. I’m self-taught but I’ve had the pleasure of observing chefs and excellent home cooks,” Geter says, noting that Columbia’s veteran vegan restaurant is here to stay. “I have a son who’s beginning to learn the business.”

A Comforting Ratio to the Columbia Food Scene

On the topic of comfort food, chef Javier Uriarte says that Ratio’s small plate, tapas style menu with an authentic Peruvian twist is just that. Comfort is not a portion or a style, he says. It’s a feeling.

The chef-owner of Ratio carved out a space for his first restaurant in Northeast Columbia—amid the global pandemic—and what has resulted is a dining experience that represents who he is and where he’s from.

“I come from a country, Peru, that is very high on the culinary scene in the world. I am proud of who I am and where I’m from, and I actually should be focusing on doing that and promoting that,” he says. “I think we need a little more diversity in Columbia in terms of food, so when I opened Ratio I thought if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it all-out. We are going to do it exactly the way that I want it to be. Nothing else.”

Uriarte veered away from traditional Southern food and big plates and decided to focus on bold flavors in smaller doses. At Ratio, you’ll find dishes like chorizo empanadas, pollo a la brasa made with Peruvian grilled chicken, seafood paella, and pork spare ribs—a nod to the South.

“I made it a tapas place because I think it’s the right portion—that’s where the name Ratio came from, the right ratio of food on a plate—but also the right ratio of ingredients in there,” he says. “Also, it makes it so that everybody who comes in here has to have at least two plates, so therefore you are kind of pushed to be more open to try different things and learn and have fun with it.”

“We’re doing comfort food, it’s just not Southern comfort food. It’s Peruvian comfort food,” Uriarte says. To him, comfort food is defined by the emotions it evokes. For him, that means dishes that take him back to being a little boy in Peru, eating the foods he loves.

“When I was thinking about the food for Ratio, I knew that I wanted to do Peruvian food. It’s that comfort food for me because when I was little, I ate Peruvian food,” he says. “If I can just put that emotion into my food and they can feel that when they’re eating that strange Peruvian food, they will appreciate that. They will be like I can taste the love, I can taste the commitment, I can taste the intention, I can taste that they do care about what they are doing.”

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