A Bluffton Chef Brings a Latin Spin To the Local BountyBy: The Local Palate
Just steps outside his restaurant FARM in Bluffton, South Carolina, chef Brandon Carter can smell salt in the air. The tidal May River is half a mile away, but a spring breeze carries the scents of oysters, crabs, pluff mud, and spartina grass. The breeze sweeps across long-defunct rice fields, across great stretches of marsh, over palm-studded hummock islands, past fishermen, over the river’s bluff and northward into the heart of the historic village.
Time is precious indeed for a chef intent on feeding a growing community of sophisticated palates. The once sleepy coastal town raised eyebrows when the 2010 census identified it as the fastest growing municipality in South Carolina. Visitors clamor here from far-flung locales in search of Bluffton’s signature blend of grace and luxury with small-town intimacy and Southern swagger. Many who make the pilgrimage stay at the world-class Palmetto Bluff Resort just across the river, where Carter was chef de cuisine, then executive chef for six years before leaving to helm his forty-five-seat rustic restaurant FARM in the heart of Old Town. When tourists get an itch to buy property in the area, realtors send them to dine at FARM’s chef’s counter to experience Carter’s extraordinary cuisine—his knack for taking the familiar and making it seem exotic, often through international inspirations and techniques. Local flounder comes interpreted through a Peruvian lens (find his ceviche recipe here). Shrimp might take a Spanish or Latin American turn. Sweet peas give a playful nod to Mexico.
At the heart of it all are genuine Lowcountry ingredients. The restaurant came by its name organically, for its founding visionary was a farmer, not a chef. Ryan Williamson and his wife run Lowcountry Farms, a boutique operation a few miles away. Williamson supplied Carter with fresh produce at Palmetto Bluff, where the two geeked out over radishes, greens, and seed catalogues. Williamson dreamt of one day owning a restaurant that would feature his own produce, and when the Old Town property became available, he jumped on it, inviting Carter to join him in the endeavor. The two then engaged friend, forager, and cocktail veteran Josh Heaton to lead the front-of-the-house as their third partner—an impressive trinity of talent and passion.
Many of the dishes and cocktails build upon ingredients straight from Williamson’s farm and Heaton’s backyard garden, but even better, when you are the shining locavore eatery in a relatively small town, people find you. Residents bring Carter exotic varieties of citrus from their own yards. A small goat dairy supplies him with feta. A local crabber delivers live blues from the Coosawhatchie River in exchange for cold beer. A rural gentleman from Hampton County supplies home-boiled cane syrup and field-harvested San Marzano tomatoes.