It’s a big day for chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston. Today he got word that he’s one of five nominees nationwide for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef. And he’s the only Southern chef in this elite group (which includes his bro-friend David Chang of the NYC Momofuku empire).
We chatted with him shortly after the announcement to get his reaction. “My name was the first one called and I almost threw up. Those are emotions you never knew you had,” he says. In celebration of his latest honor, we’ve compiled our favorite Brock Bites that we at Southern Living have eaten over the past year.
Carolina Gold Rice Puff with Boiled Peanut Puree and Pickled Okra
Charleston Wine + Food Festival: “A Tribute to Frank Stitt”
Earlier this month, just back from a trip through West Africa (the birthplace of soul food), Sean had the roots of Southern cuisine on his mind. So for this tribute dinner to the godfather of modern Southern food, Frank Stitt, Sean riffed on the traditional flavors of West Africa “in a 2013 Charleston context.” The delicate rice puff, a product of overcooking, pureeing, and dehydrating Carolina Gold rice, was the bite-sized vehicle for a smear of boiled peanuts topped with slivers of pickled okra.
Dear Mom, we want a do-over on school lunch. THIS is bologna. It’s house-made using the meat from deliciously fatty Ossabaw pigs, then stuffed with cheddar cheese, poached, smoked, fried, and topped with chow chow.
Heirloom Apple-and-Sorghum Stack Cake
Sunday Supper South
We absolutely love that Sean went old school for his part in this epic 22-course meal at Westside Provisions District last October. A star-studded posse of Southern chefs each prepared a dish, and man did they pull out all the stops: Scott Crawford’s beef belly with a pine-vinegar glaze; Jeremiah Bacon’s ricotta gnudi with stone crabs. Sean, a native of southwestern Virginia, drew from his self-proclaimed hillbilly heritage and baked his grandmother’s apple-and-sorghum stack cake. Ingredient for ingredient, tablespoon for tablespoon. A bold move. But one that underscores his reverence for tradition.
Crispy Southern Fried Chicken Skins and Fried Pimiento Cheese
Yes, we know that Southern food is about way more than just fried stuff. And we’re thrilled to finally see veggies get their due. But good gravy, these two bites are each worth their weight in Lipitor. We all know the skin’s the best part of fried chicken. Sean serves a generous pile of skins, all crispy and fatty (who needs lip gloss?), with a spicy-sweet concoction of Louisiana Hot Sauce and Steen’s Cane Syrup. In a word: addictive. And the fried pimiento cheese! It’s meltingly gooey and topped with a dusting of grated pork heart country ham (a man known to use every single part of an animal: he’s curing pig hearts in the style of country ham). Bless him!
Blue Crab with Black Butter, Apple, and Tarragon
Music To Your Mouth at Palmetto Bluff
At food festivals, chefs tend to trot out the big meat guns. We’re talking pork to the nth degree. So at Music to Your Mouth, it was incredibly refreshing to dig into Sean’s delicate salad of blue crab. The crab, drizzled with clarified black butter, was piled with honeycrisp apples, dusted with a very nutty burnt butter, and dabbed with a tarragon puree.
Scallop with Turnip and Black Truffle Dashi
If you want the full Sean Brock experience, go to McCrady’s, where it’s all about ingredients served at their peak, flawless technique, and a juxtaposition of flavors that only a genius (or the truly mad) can pull off. For this dish, Sean killed the scallops to-order and sliced them super thin in a simple broth, then topped with braised turnips and raw black truffles from Tennessee. Truly beautiful in its simplicity.
It should be noted Sean is no stranger to the Beard Awards. He was nominated in 2008 and 2009 for Rising Star Chef. When he won Best Chef: Southeast in 2010, he responded with a “Holy sh*@!”, and then went on to thank his mom, his wife, his family, food, and bourbon—in that order. Here’s to hoping Sean picks up some more Beard Bling on May 6 when this year’s winners will be announced during a gala at Lincoln Center in New York. We think it’s high time that New York got Brocked again.
For the full list of this year’s nominees, visit the James Beard Foundation website.