By Brooks Brunson
“Local” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days in the food world. Not too long ago, a restaurant showcasing all local ingredients was somewhat of a specialty, but today it is rare for any trendy new spot to not boast the title of its food. Obviously, we’re not complaining; the more local ingredients the better. However, does the popularity of the term somehow diminish its meaning? Does local always translate to mean better quality?
“Just because something is local does not mean it’s necessarily good,” attests Chef Italo Marino. Marino along with his partner, Chef Leila Schardt, are the executive chefs at Charleston, SC’s latest taqueria, Basico, located in the Mixson Bath & Racquet Club of North Charleston’s Park Circle. The club’s curator, Bryan Lewis, originally had the idea for the restaurant six years ago. Lewis’s mother grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, so his childhood was one of authentic Mexican cuisine and culture.
“I always loved Mexican food and thought there was a real lack of it in Charleston, and really in the Southeast,” he explains. “But with Basico, it’s not just about being authentic. We’re using completely all local products that may not be used in a traditional taqueria.”
And what can be more local than having the ingredients grow right out front? Lewis brought in garden and food expert, Elizabeth Beak, to design and grow three garden beds outside of the restaurant, ensuring Lewis’s dreams of a taqueria that uses the most local ingredients possible.
“We went through and chose a few ingredients that the they (chefs Marino and Schardt) would use a lot on their menu but also grow really well here in South Carolina,” Beak explains. The first bed features tomatillos and a variety of tomatoes, mostly cherry tomatoes for this season because of a late start. The second hosts all types of herbs for both the food and specialty cocktails like lemongrass, chives, basil, oregano, cilantro, and the unique culantro, a lesser known version of cilantro, that Marino and Schardt have enjoyed incorporating into their dishes. The third bed contains peppers from the entire spectrum of flavors so that the chefs can perfect their house-made hot sauces.
Of course, not all of the ingredients can arise from a three-bed garden. “We’ll be working with a lot of local seafood, and we have a couple of fisherman lined up to give us a call and tell us what they caught that day,” says Chef Marino. “And like today we’re going to check out the local farm, Keegan-Filion, about getting pork from them. We’re trying to get not only local products but responsibly raised products… We want to use the good local products.”
Basico is far from being the first restaurant to have the in-house garden idea, but it certainly will play a large role in evolving the trend further. “I think once chefs and restaurant owners see that its doable, they are definitely going to catch on and want to do it also,” says Chef Schardt. Beak recently designed a garden for another Charleston restaurant, Butcher and Bee, and Charleston’s historical plantation, Middleton Place, recently announced the implementation of a special garden for their restaurant as well.
With these and restaurants such as Basico popping up, we wonder what will become of the word local. There certainly is a major difference between just purchasing from nearby farms and giving a lot of care to where your ingredients come from, even to the point of growing your own. Perhaps, a new term will develop — “all backyard ingredients” anyone?
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Cameron Colcolough Reynolds