How to Define Southern Cuisine with Nathalie Dupree and South Carolina Chefs

Going behind the scenes and talking to experts about the local food culture is an important aspect of identifying the authentic food of a place.

On a recent visit to the Palmetto state, where we were exploring the food in South Carolina for the first time, we found ourselves asking;

What is Southern food?

What food is local to South Carolina?

What brings everyone around a dinner table and what excites the senses?

To help answer these questions, we had the privilege of spending time with Nathalie Dupree, the Queen of Southern cuisine in Charleston. In addition, we also spoke with other South Carolina chefs who are defining and celebrating the local food culture.

The conversations started in Columbia, the capital, and ended in Charleston, the historic food city.

From the experts, let’s go behind the scenes and discover what makes South Carolina food so special.

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Chef Wesley Fulmer at Motor Supply Co. Bistro, Columbia

In Columbia, the State Capital, we had the opportunity to meet chef Wesley Fulmer, of Motor Supply Co. Bistro

The restaurant, in the vibrant Congaree Vista district, is a renovated engine supply building from the late 1800s. Since 2014, chef Wesley Fulmer has been the guiding force behind the restaurant’s success.

Fulmer and his culinary team have led Motor Supply to garner a variety of major awards. They have been featured in The Local Palate magazine mentioned by Food & Wine Magazine online, Travel + Leisure, Fodor’s Travel and the UK’s Telegraph.

In addition, they have received the local readers’ choice awards for “Best Restaurant” in 2015-2018 (The State, Free Times and Columbia Metropolitan Magazine).

Motor Supply Columbia Best Restaurant in Coulmbia, South Carolina Authentic Food QuestMotor Supply, a renovated engine warehouse, is one of the best restaurant in Columbia

The Food at Motor Supply Co.Bistro: Sustainable and Local Cuisine

While looking over the menu, we were struck by the emphasis on local ingredients. On the menu and on boards around the restaurant, were names of local farms and producers.

On a busy Thursday evening, chef Fulmer stopped by and talked about his cooking philosophy and cuisine. The restaurant puts a strong emphasis on sustainable, organic and near-organic ingredients.

Chef Fulmer told us, my main goal is to be sustainable. Just because it’s local doesn’t make it good.” He went on to talk about his commitment to working with sustainable farmers and using heirloom produce, which is being saved from extinction by South Carolina farmers.

Chef Wes Fulmer at Motor Supply Bistro and Co for Southern Cuisine by Authentic Food Quest. Chef Fulmer and Nathalie Dupree are some of the chefs we spoke to about Southern CuisineChef Wesley Fulmer describing Southern Cuisine

Defining South Carolina Cuisine

What is South Carolina food is one of the questions we wanted to be answered. And when we posed the question to chef Fulmer, we were surprised.

“I don’t think you can actually define Southern food,” Fulmer said. “I’ve cooked in different kitchens around the country – three times in Charleston and in Avignon France. I want to cook food that is relatable. I want to cook the food that people eat at their grandmothers or friends homes.”

“And when you can have it in a restaurant in a refined way, that’s what symbolizes Southern food or home-cooking for me.”

The bone-in pork chop on the menu is an example of a dish that typifies his cooking philosophy as well as Southern food.

“That’s Southern cooking is defined in the pork”, he said as he pointed to Claire’s plate. “In that dish”, you have the pork chop, collard greens, jus, cooking on slow heat for over 12 hours.”

The pork is sourced from heritage pigs and the local ingredients come from nearby organic farms. The combination of flavors made for a delectable experience and a wonderful expression of Southern cuisine.

bone-in-pork chop at Motor Supply one of the Best restaurant in Columbia South Carolina Authentic Food Quest. Defining Southern cuisine with Nathalie Dupree and Chef wes FulmerLocally sourced bone-in-pork chop and collard greens

Chef Forrest Parker at Revival, Charleston

In Charleston, our first stop was at Revival Restaurant. We could not wait to meet chef Forrest Parker, who focuses on recipes and ingredients from South Carolina’s past.

The concept of the restaurant is based on working with local farmers to “revive” certain ingredients and utilize them in dishes. Chef Parker’s innovative dishes, deep knowledge of South Carolina’s culinary roots and championing the work of heritage food producers led to his being named a South Carolina Chef Ambassador in 2016.

The restaurant Revival, is part of The Vendue, Charleston’s Art Hotel. Featuring over 300 pieces of original art, you’ll find this boutique hotel in the French Quarter.

Revival Restaurant in Charleston for Southern Cuisine by Authentic Food Quest. Defining Southern Cuisine with Nathalie Dupree and chef Forrest ParkerThe elegant interior at Revival

The Food At Revival: South Carolina Heritage Cuisine

As we were looking over the menu, chef Parker came by and introduced himself. Open and very friendly, we seized the opportunity to ask him about the restaurant and the menu.

Depending on what poll or ranking you are reading, “Charleston”, he said “is ranked as one of the most desirable travel destinations. “Doesn’t it follow”, he added, “ that the people coming to visit want to taste something evocative of place and time.”

At Revival, he said, “we want to shed a light on the shared agricultural history of South Carolina. We are going through a renaissance in South Carolina with many lost grains and vegetables that went away with the advent of industrialized culture at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century.”

“And today”, he added, “there are academics are going through rice fields with tree jackets and snake boots, observing leaf morphology and stuff like that to really identify the lost strains”.

Chef Parker continued and said, “and while we don’t have the full picture, increasingly, we have little pixelations of what some of those flavors might have been. Now, we get to eat something that reflects where we are, and things we could have eaten 100 or 200 years ago.”

Chef Forrest Parker at Revival for Southern Cuisine by Authentic Food Quest. Defining Southern Cuisine with Chef Forrest Parker and Nathalie DupreeWith Chef Forrest Parker at Revival

Lowcountry Cuisine and South Carolina Gold Rice

The menu at Revival is peppered with that philosophy. To illustrate the point about lost grains, chef Parker talked about South Carolina’s rice heritage.

He said, “South Carolina is basically a rice culture and Carolina Gold Rice was basically the rice that was favored.” On the menu was a Lowcountry Pirlou that featured Carolina Gold Rice.

This dish, chef Parker added, “is a nod to the Spanish influence, as the first Europeans who settled about 100 years before Charles Town was settled in 1670. That’s frequently forgotten, so we wanted to shed a light to that.”

Carolina Gold Rice, we learned is “soft rice which would break up during the winnowing process. Typically, the whole rice was exported and the broken rice was eaten commonly and referred to as Midlands Rice Grits.”

The reference to broken rice took us back to a Vietnamese cooking class we had in Ho Chi Minh City. At the cooking class, we learned how to make Cơm Tấm, a popular Vietnamese dish made with broken rice.

Just like in South Carolina, the whole and unbroken rice was exported, and the broken rice was eaten by the locals, as it was less expensive. Today, Vietnamese chefs favor broken rice and use in many recipes. An interesting parallel to what is happening in South Carolina.

Other items chef Parker features with a direct link to an ancestral storyline are the hearts of palmetto salad, African Runner peanuts, Bradford Watermelons and more.

For a fascinating journey through time and to taste South Carolina flavors centuries ago, stop by Revival on your next trip to Charleston. Enjoy chef Parker’s fantastic stories as you savor the multi-layered flavors of the past.

Pirlou at Revival for Best Restaurant in Charleston South Carolina by Authentic Food Quest. Revival is the best place to taste the best food in South Carolina.Lowcountry Pirlou featuring Carolina Gold Rice with lobster, shrimp, crab & sweet peas

A Conversation with Nathalie Dupree: The Queen of Southern Cuisine

To learn about Southern food and Charleston specialties, we could not have been more excited to meet the “Queen of Southern Cuisine”, Nathalie Dupree.

At Hominy Grill, one of Charleston’s beloved local restaurants, Nathalie generously shared her thoughts about Southern food.

Nathalie Dupree, for those who may not know, is one of the biggest culinary stars in South Carolina. A doyenne of Southern cuisine, she was a dominant food television personality in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nathalie Dupree has written more than 14 cookbooks about entertaining, basic cooking and American Southern food.

Her work has won wide recognition including four James Beard Awards and numerous others. She was awarded the honor of “Grande Dame” for Les Dames d’Escoffier, for women who have excelled in the food industry. And she has hosted more than 300 TV shows for stations like the Food Network, the Learning Channel, and PBS, all the while teaching cooking classes and writing columns for several publications. You can read more about her impressive background on her website.

Nathalie Dupree with Rosemary and Claire for Southern Cuisine by Authentic Food QuestWith the warm and witty Nathalie Dupree

Introducing New Southern Cuisine

“I’ve been very interested for years in really getting Southern cooking on the map as it is more than just what people thought it was… going to buffets,” Nathalie told us.

New Southern cuisine is a cooking technique Nathalie introduced to further Southern cooking’s reach. As she told us, “I had been living in Spain and London in the 1970s and then moved to the country and opened a restaurant in the state of Georgia. I found that Southern cooking needed new techniques.”

She gave the example of cooking zucchini which she said, “at the time, there were things like zucchini that weren’t well known and were cooked in the old way. I would stir fry zucchini, rather than cooking them soaked for about 1/2 an hour or so. I called them new so that people wouldn’t be expecting the old. Since that time it’s become pretty normal, I was just ahead of the trend.”

Nathalie Dupree at Hominy Grill for Southern Cuisine by Authentic Food QuestNathalie Dupree talking about New Southern Cuisine at Hominy Grill

Curious, we asked Nathalie her thoughts about the food that defines Charleston. And like we heard from chef Parker at Revival, rice is the State’s iconic ingredient. Nathalie told us, “I think seafood and rice are very Charleston. We get fresh seafood off the boats and people come from all over because of our rice culture.”

In terms of local dishes, Nathalie added, “shrimp and grits is one of the classic dishes” that best defines the region. Talking about the food in Charleston in general, she said: “I think the food in Charleston will stay pretty Southern and South Carolinian by and large.”

Shrimps and Grits at Hominy's Grill the Best Breakfast Restaurant for Southern Foods in Charleston South Carolina by Authentic Food Quest. Find the some of the best food in South Carolina at Hominy Grill, Charleston.Hominy Grill’s Shrimp & Grits, a local’s favorite
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In Summary

A journey through food in South Carolina is more than a culinary experience. It is taking a bite into history. Each dish has a story to tell. Home cooking brings everyone to the table and the experience is elevated with the use of sustainable and local ingredients.

Discovering the importance of the State’s rice heritage and seeing it expressed in different dishes was quite remarkable.

Nathalie Dupree, as well as chefs Fulmer and Parker, spoke with a deep respect for the land, history, and culture. They each strive to use the highest quality local products while celebrating ingredients and techniques of the past. Even though some cooking styles are evolving to reflect changing tastes, there is time-honored respect for South Carolina’s culinary heritage.

As chef Forrest Parker said, “to shed light on the background and history of the food, it’s important to acknowledge we are standing on the shoulders of giants. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”

Disclosure: Our time in South Carolina was in partnership with Discover South Carolina Tourism

Watch below video with Nathalie Dupree and Southern Cuisine

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Southern Cuisine Books & Resources

For more about Southern cuisine from Nathalie Dupree, click below and check out a few of her books

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree & Cynthia Graubart

Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree & Cynthia Graubart

Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits Cookbook

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43 comments

  1. This is such a legitimate resource with an expert on board! I am currently starting to study food writing/journalism and I am really inspired on how you are able to do a unique food article – something I’ve never seen in other food blogs. I’ve bookmarked not only this post but your blog for inspiration! Thank you for sharing, Kimanis!

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  2. Oh how I love Southern Cuisine, and shrimp & grits is my absolute favorite! I’ll need to check out Nathalie’s cook book. I enjoyed reading the perspective of each chef on what they consider to be “Southern Food.” Chef Parker’s insight was particularly interesting when he shared how there are people now going to great lengths to trace back some of the original grains and plants that were used in early cooking methods. It’s been years since I’ve been to Charleston, but it still remains one of my favorite cities to visit for the incredible food alone. I think it’s time to plan another trip, thanks for the inspiration!

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    • So glad you enjoyed the article, Heather. Yes, do check out Nathalie Dupree’s books, she is an amazing lady. We were also very intrigued by chef Parker. The commitment to South Carolina’s culinary heritage is remarkable. If you have not been to Revival, do check it out the next time you are in Charleston. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. What an educational and tasty trip you had to South Carolina. I’ve lived in a few places in South Carolina, including Charleston, and loved a lot of the food. I didn’t love grits so much though. I was introduced to Red Beans and Rice there and it is one of my favorite dishes to this day. That pork chop from Motor Supply sounds and looks so good. I’d love to go there and try the food.

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    • What’s favorite South Carolina city? We were quite impressed by the sustainable and diverse flavors. Claire raved about the pork chop from Motor Supply, definitively worth checking out. Are the red beans and rice the same as “Hoppin Johns”? We tried those and liked them 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Very interesting to get the perspective from a local chefs. I do love the trend to get more local and in season foods on menus. I certainly often go looking for comfort foods. But my grandmother was a lousy cook, so I am not looking for my grandmother’s cooking! But nice to have food that preserves the history of a place.

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    • Lol..Linda. That’s funny, that’s why chef Wesley offers a more refined version of grandma’s cooking 🙂 Hearing from the people behind the food makes a huge difference to understanding what you are eating. Appreciate you stopping by!

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  5. Till I read this I was not aware of southern cuisine. So much goes into cooking and preparing a dish. The chefs do a great job. And the food disappears in no time. Great pics.

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  6. Wow!! I totally agree that foods come from a very rich history of the past. I’m living in Thailand and it’s interesting to taste different kinds of Pad Thai in every province. You mentioned about Vietnamese Cuisine, I sooo love to taste the Pho Bo’s variety throughout the regions of Vietnam. Anyway, if I would be in South Carolina this year, I’d surely go to The Vendue, Charleston’s Art Hotel – wanna stare at the original French paintings while having a Fine Dining. Thanks for the helpful info!

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  7. Surprised to know that there’s a part in US that is into rice culture! I am not a foodie though I cannot relate however this post gave me some basic knowledge about the southern cuisine in SC. And oh, I felt like my appetite to eat increased after reading this 🙂

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  8. I have never had a chance to taste southern cusisine but from your post, it looks like it really gets all the local flavors on the plate! That lobster, shrimp, crab dish looks beautiful. Would love to try Shrimp & Grits one day soon! 😀

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  9. I love the cuisine of Charleston with all that seafood (my favorite) and rice dishes. Would love to explore that and the menu at Revival sounds amazing. Great concept. I bet it was all delicious. (How do you two stay so trim?!)

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  10. I loved reading about your food trails in South Carolina.I really adore Motor Supply Co.Bistro for there considerations and efforts towards sustainability of resources. It was really interesting to know so much about Nathalie Dupree too. She is truly an icon in southern culinary world.

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    • We appreciate your feedback, Anjali. Getting to meet the chefs, including Nathalie Dupree was a real honor. Everyone we spoke with places a huge emphasis on sustainable and local food. Indeed, Motor Supply Co. Bistro is a great example of that. Hope your travels take you to South Carolina soon.

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  11. I love Southern cooking! The Lowcountry Pirlou featuring Carolina Gold Rice looks like a piece of art that could be hung from the wall it’s so beautiful! And I love grits, so that Shrimp and grits is just taunting me through the computer screen right now. Time to book a trip to South Carolina!

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  12. Lovely! I think the food is such an important aspect of a culture and I appreciate the trail through South Carolina. I also love the focus that many of these chefs place on sustainability. It’s great that people have become aware of food sourcing such as organic and local, but we also need to be aware of the sustainable nature of our food supplies in the long run. Thanks!

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    • You are so right, Mary. We could not agree more with the idea of more awareness of where our food comes from. We were quite impressed at how much South Carolina chefs emphasize sustainability and buy local. Really important for our food in the long run!

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  13. What an exciting experience. I love doing food classes while I am on a trip to pick up different dishes to try back home. It is a challenge as I am a vegetarian. I particularly loved how you described the experience ‘A journey through food in South Carolina is more than a culinary experience. Lovely post.

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  14. Wow after reading your post I am feeling so tempted to try these out. It was interesting to read about the cooking technique of the New Southern cuisine. It looks like you had an awesome culinary experience!!

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  15. I’m craving some southern cuisine now! I love Chef Parker’s explanation of how the history of South Carolina has influenced the food so much. I also find it really interesting that they are trying to recover the lost grains and vegetables. It is so cool how food and culture go hand-in-hand! Really enjoyed reading!

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    • Thank you so much, Shelby. So glad you enjoyed the article as much as we did meeting the people behind the food. The work by chef Parker of reintroducing lost grains is truly fascinating and important. We now have an even deeper appreciation for South Carolina food. Cheers.

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  16. Absolutely love how in depth this is! That you questioned the chefs and immersed yourself fully in the culture of South Carolina. I would love to try some of the foods you described, they sound delicious!

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  17. I’m a chef, I get pretty excited when I get to see other Chef’s work. Because you can see the different ways people pour love into the food they send out to the customers. I live in the south, but when I think south, I think bbq pork or fried chicken. That second dish looks too pretty to eat.

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    • That’s wonderful to read Natalie. It is truly fascinating to hear the different perspectives from chefs. The ones we spoke with were in South Carolina and that’s why they focused on the rice heritage. What part of the South are you in? Cheers.

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  18. What a wonderful opportunity! I am incredibly supportive of restaurants that have sustainability as part of their mission. CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) are horribly destructive to our environment in multiple ways. Using Heritage Pork is a conscientious way to treat our natural resources with care – plus, it tastes so much better than pork raised in a CAFO!

    Reply

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