Whew! What a whirlwind trip!
Jason and I returned from Charleston Wine + Food Festival late last night still dreaming of one incredible dish from the night before. We arrived at Cooper River Brewing Company for "Fowl Mouth," an upbeat event featuring all things winged-fowl, and checked in at our table with Virginia Wine Board and Barboursville Vineyards, clinking glasses with friends Rachel from Boxwood Winery and Pat from Early Mountain Vineyards. Dozens of tables were set up across the parking lot, and the tempting smell of barbecue smoke began to fill the air as acclaimed chefs began cooking their quail, duck, pheasant and turkey.
We walked from table to table, meeting chefs and discussing everything from bourbon to Virginia wine to Lambstock. We were being fed well and treated with the warm hospitality for which Charleston is known. We tasted pheasant boudin, bacon-wrapped quail, pickled chicken hearts, cold-pressed turkey, pistachio with foie gras, and barbecued duck with Vietnamese noodles, but one dish in particular stole the show, and now, we can't stop talking about it.
I picked up my plate featuring fried Manchester Farms quail tossed in Tennessee-style hot sauce over crusty Carolina gold rice sourdough with housemade buttermilk ranch and fermented green tomato, a play off the classic Tennessee hot chicken, and bit right in. My eyes widened, and as I looked up, I could see the excitement flicker in Jason's eyes, too. This was amazing; the flavors were perfectly balanced. The quail was juicy, the skin crispy, and the sauce fiery. The heat was offset by soft bread, creamy ranch, and tangy pickles. I gushed, "Jason, this is the best thing I've eaten all week." He agreed.
"It's from a catering company," he said.
"Stop," I replied. I couldn't believe it.
There's something especially inviting about a chef who displays absolute humility as you shower him with heartfelt praise of his work, and Executive Chef Todd Mazurek of Salthouse Catering is no exception. Chef Todd received his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University and has worked in some of Charleston's best restaurants, so he knows flavor and technique like the back of his tong-wielding hand. Obviously passionate about his craft, we look forward to seeing him again soon – especially if he's cooking!
Chef, if you want to come to Richmond and make us hot quail, we've got a bottle of Octagon with your name on it.
– Kristel Poole