Kelly Vogelheim, executive chef of Florence, South Carolina’s Town Hall restaurant, needed persimmons–badly. As one of five South Carolina Chef Ambassadors, she was headed to New York City to cook at the legendary James Beard House, intent on wowing an audience of the nation’s top food writers with slow-braised persimmons and tender beef short rib. Luckily, Vogelheim had an insider contact: Ansley Turnblad, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s branding coordinator and well known “chef whisperer.” If there’s an ingredient a chef needs, Turnblad knows a farmer who grows it. In minutes Vogelheim was chatting with citrus expert and fruit farmer Stan McKenzie, who happened to have two persimmon trees loaded with fruit just a short drive from her kitchen. A few days later, Vogelheim met up with McKenzie, pitching in to help harvest the twenty pounds she needed to bring the best of the Palmetto State’s harvest to the Big Apple.
This February, come celebrate the synergy between South Carolina’s top chefs and farmers in Charleston: Over three days of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (February 14 through 16), the South Carolina Department of Agriculture hosts the Certified South Carolina tent in Marion Square. Offering tastes from the state’s top food producers, including cheesemakers, distillers, and brewers, the tent also includes the Fresh on the Menu Cooking Stage, where chefs and farmers will perform cooking demonstrations and offer tastings in an intimate setting.
There’s so much to enjoy on this year’s lineup: Commissioner of Agriculture (and fourth-generation farmer) Hugh Weathers is cooking with champion angler Jamie Hough. Chefs Kazu Murakami and Chris Schoedler of Sushi Wa Izakaya will welcome their edamame hook-up, bean farmer John Johnson. Chef Shamil Velázquez of Charleston’s new-kid-on-the-block Delaney Oyster House will introduce his favorite oyster farmer, and guests can meet Vogelheim—along with the other four South Carolina Chef Ambassadors.