One small, Florence food festival and the regional renaissance it’s fostering forward
Upon first glance, Florence—the snow globe town that sits at the intersection of South Carolina’s Interstates 20 and 95—doesn’t strike one as a culinary destination. Cookbook authors and peanut connoisseurs Ted and Matt Lee, along with local Executive Director Tamara Kirven, have set out to change that.
Florence Wine & Food was born in the Pee Dee Region town in 2017, from the brains of Tim Norwood, the owner of Victor’s, a popular Florentine restaurant, and Frank Chisolm, a local horse breeder and businessman. The first year, one dinner was held at the Waters Building in town. In the years that followed, festival staples like the annual Sip & Savor and Meat & Meander were added to the anchor finale event, which took on the name the Final Pour.
Since that initial dinner in 2017, the festival has grown into a weekend-long showcase of the region’s farms and restaurants, ultimately to raise funds for local philanthropy Help4Kids—a Horry County-based operation that puts 100 percent of funds raised towards ending food insecurity by providing students with food to take home over the weekend, in addition to other initiatives.
This year the festival added events and headliners meant to expand the educational ethos, much to the credit of the Lee brothers’ connections throughout the food community and Kirven’s knowledge of Florence and the surrounding locale’s resources. “The idea of a small festival that still had that magical feel seemed super appealing and there’s something about Florence and the downtown area,” says Ted.
Savoring Florence Wine & Food 2022
This year, festival goers kicked off the event’s first iteration since the outbreak of Covid-19 with Thursday night’s Meat & Meander, that celebrated all the city offers by way of smoked, grilled, and slow roasted. Sip & Savor continued the celebrations on Friday. This event led attendees to variations on shrimp and grits at a local art gallery and pulled pork and a red blend at the home décor shop, each stop amplifying local business and cuisine.
The next morning, the action moved down the street to the City Center Farmers Market where attendees were invited into an exclusive tasting space filled with locals like Will Altman of Altman Farm & Mill and Andrena Mullins of LilJazZi’s. Brunch bites from each station were all washed down with a sprawling mimosa bar stocked with local squeezes from Legacy Juice or brews from Batch Nine Coffee.
Concurrently, guests of the festival could learn about the signature wine of this year’s festival firsthand at Victor’s restaurant, which served as the venue for Passport to Paso Robles, a class taught by Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Food & Wine magazine. Isle guided thirty-five guests through nine different pours, discussing the significance of French influence in the wines of Paso Robles before sending them home to prepare for the weekend’s most anticipated event, the Final Pour.
In search of a headliner to inspire both Florence locals and chefs, the Lee Brothers saw Nathalie Dupree as a natural fit. After years of knocking on her door in downtown Charleston to borrow everything from a cup of sugar to a watering hose for rinsing oysters, reunions between the trio are often like picnics. So, along with Kirven and five Florence’s finest chefs, the group welcomed guests to Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking: Florence Style!—a giant, elevated picnic outside of the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center
Dishes like a salad of smoked shad rillettes with sea beans were followed with heavier courses like a Pee Dee-style cassoulet packed with onion sausage and duck confit. The meal was finished with a peach and ginger flan, using fruit from McLeod Farms, and a boiled peanut chocolate bonbon, made in collaboration between local Chocobella and the Lee brothers. Each course was paired with wines from Clos Soléne and explanations from the chef.
Kirven and the Lee brothers are excited to expand and grow in 2023. With over 100,000 dollars raised for Help4Kids, they’re discussing adding more tasting events and attractions that appeal to a wider range of ages. Tickets sold out six weeks before 2022’s festival, which has compelled them to increase the size of the events. Likewise, showcasing local farms—like McCall, McLeod, Altman, Kirven—will always remain a top priority for the team as they continue to raise dollars to invest in a community that is an integral square in the Southeast’s food landscape quilt.
- by Amber Chase
- by Emily Havener
- by Amber Chase