Food & Drink

How Columbia landed a prestigious charity event

It all started, as some things do, with a casual conversation over a meal.

During the S.C. Chef Ambassadors’ trip to the James Beard House in New York City last August, Vanessa Driscoll Bialobreski, founder of Farm to Table Events Company, began making small talk about the food, her newfound organization The Charitable Plate and the James Beard Foundation, with Isabela Wojcik, the Director of House Programming at the James Beard House.

Finding common ground — the local mission of The Charitable Plate aligns with JBF’s national goal to support up-and-coming talent in the culinary world and preserve American culinary traditions — one thing led to another, and now Bialobreski’s Farm to Table Events Company will host a Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner at City Roots Monday, April 3.

Victoria Jordan Rodriguez, JBF’s Director of House Operations and House Events, says that the James Beard House hosts over 200 events at the house in New York and “one of the outcomes of these events is that people and organizations want to work with JBF — but not necessarily in New York.”

For those folks who want to work within their own communities, the JBF has a Friends of James Beard Benefits program that allows local chefs the opportunity to host an event that supports scholarships and other culinary programs. Columbia’s event is one of four planned, so far, in 2017 and the second within the state (Golf Kitchen and Voysey’s at Cassique at Kiawah Island has a dinner Thursday night).

“We ask the chefs to pull together a really unique event for FoJBB,” says Jordan Rodriguez. She says she has attended every sort of event from multicourse dinners in gilded rooms, to outdoors under tents, to events that were part of ongoing festivals. “Each group is different.”

Jordan Rodriguez will be attending Monday’s dinner and points out that money raised at the event will be split 50/50 with JBF and The Charitable Plate, Bialobreski’s scholarship fund for future farmers, chefs and local food-related businesses.

Bialobreski and chefs Frank Bradley and Kristian Niemi began the basic planning for Monday’s dinner in August 2016. “We started pulling chefs together ... really wanted to use everyone but there’s only so much room in the kitchen,” she says.

In December, 11 chefs from Columbia got together at The Oak Table and talked for three hours. “It was a great feeling sitting there in the private dining room at The Oak Table, seeing all of the chefs brainstorming menu ideas. It’s always been our goal to bring Columbia chefs together with local food and what these chefs will create is a unique dining experience,” says Bialobreski.

Of the menu planning, Bialobreski says, “The chefs went around the table and everyone had ideas for each course. Starting with the first course, everyone weighed in with their thoughts and then honed it down.” No specific course can be attributed solely to a single chef as they will all be collaborating.

Bradley, executive chef at Bourbon, who along with Bourbon’s chef/owner Niemi will act as host for the event, says “It was fun to see everybody’s ideas coming together (for this event). They are all leaders.”

He says that he has worked with just about everyone involved with this dinner. “The fifth anniversary dinner (for Farm to Table Events Company, with 15 chefs and three bartenders) was a lot of fun.”

Bradley is most excited about the opportunity to cook for the James Beard Foundation and to work with the other chefs. “This is not a competition. It’s a great opportunity to build on the food scene in Columbia. We’re always on the back burner, like the youngest child compared to Charleston and Greenville. This will bring some great publicity to Columbia and show folks that not all the talent is in Charleston.”

Bradley will be responsible for part of the charcuterie plate for the reception and the pork belly for the main course. “We’ve been curing a mangalista hog and ham from Holy City Hogs in Wadmalaw for the charcuterie.” Bradley’s portion of the main course will feature a pig belly sourced from Gray Moore at Carolina Heritage Farms that has been cured with salt and Bradford watermelon molasses and then roasted to a crispy finish.

Russell Jones, chef and owner of Tallulah on Devine Street, says he will be doing the terrine persillade with Hanna Hands rabbit. “It will be heavy with fresh herbs, I’d like to have fresh green peas, but we’ll have to wait and see because of the freezing weather. It will be really green and Charley (Scruggs, pastry chef at Tallulah) is making crackers to go with it.”

He and the staff at Talullah will also be contributing house-made pickled vegetables to the charcuterie board to be passed during the reception. Jones echoes Bradley’s thoughts on the dinner as an opportunity to make more folks aware of the talent here in Columbia, and that Bialobreski and Farm To Table Events Company deserve a lot of praise for bringing attention to the ever-growing Midlands food scene.

Mike Davis, chef and owner of Terra in West Columbia, is the only chef in this group who has had a solo experience cooking at the James Beard House in New York. “It’s good that we’re getting the James Beard Foundation — who celebrates American cuisine — setting its eyes on Columbia,” he says. “There are very few 100 percent local, chef-driven restaurants in Columbia. That’s why I’m excited about places like Tallulah coming on board. It will be great coming together with everybody and celebrating locally-owned restaurants.”

Davis, in addition to contributing to the charcuterie course, will be butchering the catfish and supplying the broth for the fish stew on the second course. He will also be preparing the Manchester Farms quail for the third course. The birds will be stuffed with a farce (seasoned sausage-like ground mixture) of chicken and quail, individually wrapped in caul fat and grilled.

“I hope people will get excited. I hope they learn about the James Beard Foundation and what it means for chefs,” Bialobreski said.

Bradley sums it up this way: “With that many names on the bill, why wouldn’t you (come out)? You don’t event have to look at the menu.”

The chefs:

Mike Davis (Terra), Blake Fairies (Tallulah)), Wes Fulmer (Motor Supply), Lou Hutto (LowCo Barbecue & Catering), Russell Jones (Tallulah), Travis Rayle (Hunter-Gatherer), Charley Scruggs (Tallulah), Sarah Simmons (Rise Bake Shop, Birds & Bubbles), Todd Woods (The Oak Table), Kristian Niemi (Bourbon) and Frank Bradley (Bourbon).

Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner & Auction, hosted by Farm to Table Event Company

When: 6 p.m. Monday, April 3

Where: City Roots Farm, 1005 Airport Blvd.

Tickets: $150/person; there will be a silent auction.

The James Beard Foundation

Named after American cookbook author, teacher and champion of American cuisine James Beard, the mission of JBF is to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable. Programs include educational initiatives, scholarships for culinary students, publications, chef advocacy training, thought-leader convening and the annual James Beard food industry awards. The Foundation also maintains the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs.

The Charitable Plate

Vanessa Driscoll Bialobreski created The Charitable Plate as a way to provide scholarships to fund the advancement and growth of future chefs, farmers and new local food-related businesses, and educational pursuits to strengthen the local food system. Grants are given out after an application process and are dependent upon funding availability. Learn more at