Charleston’s Culinary Scene – Why Chefs Are Flocking to Charleston
Charleston’s culinary scene is booming, and chefs from across the country are flocking here to put down their roots. If food is your passion, then Charleston is your dream destination.
Who can blame them? Charleston’s food scene is hot right now. Restaurants are popping up everywhere, featuring both traditional and modern dishes bursting with flavor from farm-fresh ingredients. The city’s diverse neighborhoods and unbeatable hospitality only enhance the culinary experience.
Charleston is a vibrant dining destination that is luring food enthusiasts from all over with its delicious food and southern charm. Here is a deeper look into why the Holy City’s expanding food scene is causing chefs to pack up their knives and move to Charleston in droves.
A Diverse Food Scene
As a historic port city, Charleston was destined to become a mecca for aspiring chefs. Spurred by the Spoleto Festival in 1977, the Holy City quickly became a prominent food destination to accommodate the influx in tourists drawn by the performing arts scene.
Today, many chefs, bakers, craft brewers, local food artisans, and more have found their perfect home in Charleston. This has made the city not only the ideal setting for aspiring chefs to flex their creativity, but also a great place to live and explore the diverse food scene.
A Taste of Lowcountry Cuisine
Whether you’re ordering shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, oysters, okra, or Frogmore stew, you won’t be disappointed with Charleston’s traditional Lowcountry cuisine. With its fertile lands, coastal location, and varied cultural influences, Charleston was destined to stand out with its own exceptional culinary dishes.
Traditional Lowcountry cuisine draws from African, French, English, and European influences to create a one-of-a-kind comfort food that locals and tourists can’t stop craving. Here, you can find local chefs cooking up Lowcountry classics, while others branch out and put their own unique spin on traditional dishes.
Foodies come from all around the globe to taste the flavors of the many award-winning restaurants in Charleston. From fine dining to casual restaurants, Charleston has made a name for herself by offering some of the best food in the country.
Husk, FIG, and Hominy Grill are culinary hotspots in Charleston, and all are winners of the James Beard Award. Many restaurants in the city have also been featured in prominent food magazines, such as Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.
Want to take your culinary skills to the streets? Food trucks are expanding in Charleston, as both locals and tourists demand greater variety in their street food.
Whether you’re looking to nosh on Caribbean Creole, Southern BBQ, gorgeous Greek food from the beloved Platia food truck or a tasty dessert from Sweet Lulu’s Bakery, there are some amazing food trucks here—and room for more if you act quickly.
The Tourism Industry Continues to Thrive
Each year, Charleston attracts more than 5 million visitors for its historic downtown, bustling art scene, and culinary offerings!
In fact, South Carolina’s tourism is now a $19.1 billion industry, driven largely by the Charleston metro region. According to the 2016-17 Outlook Forecast from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the city’s economic forecast shows continued growth in the tourism industry over the next two years.
The thriving tourism industry is great news for chefs in Charleston. Locals and tourists alike are hungry for a taste of Charleston cuisine, and they have no shortage of options when it comes to exploring the city’s eclectic food scene. From guided food tours to the highly-anticipated Charleston Wine and Food Festival, the Holy City provides many reasons for foodies and chefs to visit year after year.
You know you’ve reached culinary success when your restaurant is one of the stopping points on a Charleston food tour. The city’s burgeoning food scene has grown so much over the past decade that tasting tours are a must for people visiting the area.
Charleston is a walkable city, making food tours extremely popular here. Give your taste buds a thrill and take a culinary tour on historic Upper King Street to sample the city’s finest food offerings.
Legendary Oyster Roasts
Ready to shuck some oysters? The Lowcountry Oyster Festival is the world’s largest oyster festival and attracts people from all over to devour steaming pots of oysters.
Of course, it isn’t the only oyster roast that is popular in Charleston. From Kiawah Island to Folly Beach, there are plenty of legendary oyster roasts scattered around the peninsula.
The Charleston Wine and Food Festival
Each year, foodies descend upon Charleston to attend the annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival to sample the rich flavors from the area’s best chefs, beverage makers, and artisans.
Now in its 35th year, the festival brings people from around the globe to celebrate and experience Southern culture and cuisine. This five-day event is just one of the many festivals that attract tourists to America’s Best City, with the Spoleto Festival drawing approximately 70,000 visitors each year.
Food Inspiration Is Everywhere in Charleston
If you need a bit of inspiration to fuel your passion for food, you won’t have to look far in Charleston. Inspiring figures are everywhere you look, from prominent chefs to local food artisans and Lowcountry farmers.
Top Chefs in Charleston
Charleston has already attracted the top culinary talent from across the country and currently boasts many famous chefs, including James Beard Award-winning chefs Sean Brock of Husk, Mike Lata of FIG, and Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill.
Other notable chefs include culinary legend Nathalie Dupree, Michelle Weaver (executive sous-chef at Charleston Grill), and Frank Lee of S.N.O.B. (Slightly North of Broad Restaurant). Each of these culinary experts has left a lasting mark on Charleston and has helped shaped the city’s food scene.
Local Food Artisans and Farmers
Nothing beats the taste of freshly caught seafood and farm-to-table ingredients. The local food artisans and farmers in Charleston take pride in providing locals and visitors with ingredients that are locally sourced and bursting with flavor.
Visit the Charleston Farmers Market held at the beautiful Marion Square on Upper King Street, and this passion will be on full display. Charleston locals are fiercely dedicated to supporting the community, and it’s an inspiring sight to see.
A Taste of History Through Gullah Cuisine
There is something special about eating a dish that was passed down in someone’s family for generations. Many restaurants in the Lowcountry have kept the recipes of their ancestors near and dear to their hearts, including the Gullah people, the direct descendants of the West African slaves.
Traditional Gullah restaurants are hard to find in Charleston, but places such as Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston still offer traditional Gullah dishes, such as stewed greens, okra soup and fried pork. Gullah recipes have been passed down for centuries, reflecting their collective memory through their delicious cuisine and preserving the Palmetto State’s rich culinary heritage.
The Perks of Living in Charleston
Whether you are an aspiring chef or not, Charleston is an undeniably attractive place to live, work, and play. In addition to its booming food scene, the city offers residents a wide variety of perks that makes living here a dream come true.
History Is Everywhere You Look
With over 300 years of storied history, Charleston is a history lover’s paradise. Many of the neighborhoods in Charleston are easily walkable, allowing you to stroll along cobblestone streets and view the stories etched in stunning works of art and architecture.
From its original settlement by English colonists in 1670, Charleston has been home to patriots, artists, and pirates. The city has also survived wars, fires, and natural disasters, making its history particularly diverse and enthralling.
In addition to its historical architecture, Charleston residents also get to enjoy mild weather for most of the year. While summers can turn uncomfortably hot and humid, winters are mild, and residents love how sunny it is year-round.
If you plan to visit Charleston, consider coming in the spring. Not only are temperatures perfect this time of the year, but its food, architecture, and culture are on full display with the Wine and Food Festival in early March and the Spoleto Festival USA in May.
A Great Place to Raise a Family
With its beautiful communities, friendly atmosphere, thriving economy, and excellent schools, it’s not surprising that Charleston is consistently named one of the “Greatest Places to Live” by Outside Magazine. If you’re looking to raise a family, you couldn’t ask for a better place to settle down.
In fact, that’s exactly what former NYC chef Michael Toscano did when he left Manhattan for Charleston and opened Le Farfalle in 2016. The Holy City’s reputation for Southern hospitality does not disappoint.
Big City with Small Town Vibes
Despite being the second biggest city in South Carolina, Charleston has managed to retain a charming, small-town feel. This is partly due to the friendly nature of the locals, but also because Charleston’s historic architecture makes you feel as though you have been transported back in time.
Charleston has managed to preserve much of its history and is bursting with culture. This is a source of pride for residents, many of them actively trying to preserve the many qualities that make the Holy City a unique place to live.
After working hard all day in the kitchen, chefs can unwind on one of stunning barrier islands and beaches that surround Charleston. Whether you are looking to catch some waves on Folly Beach, have fun with the family on Isle of Palms, or take a day trip out to Sullivan’s Island, there is a Charleston beach that will fit your mood.
Thriving Art Scene
One of the biggest reasons why Charleston’s food scene is so remarkable is because of the city’s thriving art scene. Although the city has been making delicious food for centuries, it wasn’t until the rise of the Holy City’s vibrant art scene that foodies began descending upon Charleston.
Spurred by the Spoleto Festival in the 1970s, Charleston’s art scene has been growing steadily ever since, bringing in both international artistic talent and local artists. Today, visitors and residents can catch a performance at the Dock Street Theatre or find a piece of fine art in one of the many art galleries in historic downtown Charleston.
Food and culture have always been intertwined, and this connection has never been more prominent than in Charleston. With over 300 years of culinary history, the Holy City has made the national press in recent years, thanks to its eclectic mix of new and old dishes. From traditional Lowcountry favorites to modern takes on classic dishes, you will delight in every dish.
Charleston is full of culinary opportunities. With its Southern charm, mild temperatures, and historical beauty, it’s not difficult to see why so many chefs are putting down roots in the Holy City.