I had been trolling through Facebook, catching up on stuff, when the event popped up in my newsfeed. Twice.
Intrigued, I followed the link to the Facebook page created by a group of women – chefs, line cooks, bartenders, front-of-house personnel, cookbook authors and farmers – who collectively call themselves Bad B------s of Charleston. The group had just hosted a 1950s-themed multi-course dinner that focused on the food of women home cooks and had posted a couple of photos from the event. The next event, a 1960s-themed dinner featuring recipes inspired by “the baddest ... of all” Julia Child, took place May 18.
I was all in because, OK, (1) I’m a BIG fan of Julia Child, (2) I have a lot of respect for a group of women who want to own the rhymes-with-witch word and (3) really, who doesn’t – at some point – want to think of themself as a too-cool-for-you kid? Admittedly, I have issues.
The problem would be securing a ticket to the dinner ... the first event sold out in a day and the only way to know when/where to get a ticket was through social media. The BBs announce the date of the event on Facebook. Tickets go on sale at noon 10 days ahead of the event through a link on their page. No other advance sales; no friends first; it’s truly a first-come, first-served system.
The day of the ticket sale, I leaned over to my editor and said “don’t bother me for the next 15 minutes or so, I’ve gotta try and get a ticket to this dinner.” At 12:10 p.m. I scored. I bought the 32nd ticket of the 60 that were sold.
Planter’s Inn & Peninsula Grill was the host site for the May BB dinner.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But once I arrived and was greeted by the hostess for the evening, Nikki Anhalt, of FIG restaurant, any apprehension I had was set aside and sheer enjoyment of the evening began to take over. The courtyard was set up for cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres of chicken liver mousse, vegetable tartar and pimiento cheese puffs. The dinner crowd, made up mostly of women (there were a couple of husbands and four or five male members from the local restaurant scene), had more or less taken the dress suggestion and were, if not in true vintage, at least channeling the fashion of the 1960s. The atmosphere was fun and festive.
Once you got inside, handwritten place cards denoted your place at the table and the dinner began. Using Julia Child as the inspiration, recipes were derivations of or updates to the originals.
As the evening wore down, and later through phone and email conversations, I learned more about the BBs and their mission from Sarah Adams, one of the organizers.
Adams, a former sous chef at FIG, and pastry chef Kelly Kleisner, of Oak and The Macintosh, were working together on a pop-up dinner at Butcher & Bee when inspiration hit: Why not find a way to celebrate women in the food and beverage industry, while also helping women seeking careers in the kitchen, front-of-house or related positions? Along with Adams and Kleisner and Randi Weinstein, of Butcher & Bee, the BBs nonprofit was formed.
“We’ve worked hard,” says Adams, who has put in over 15 years in the Charleston-area food and beverage industry. “Some people may not like the name, and that’s OK.”
“It is a boy’s club,” explains Chef Blythe Kelly, of Columbia’s Cellar on Greene. “Women have to be louder and more vocal” in the kitchen.
Kelly, who is not affiliated with the BBs, says there are not many women in the restaurant kitchens in Columbia. “It’s a very small group, and we all know each other. We want to be recognized as chefs first, then women.” She has worked for about 10 years with Ricky Mollohan at his restaurants – Solstice, Mr. Friendly’s and Cellar on Greene – and credits Mollohan for recognizing and respecting the hours and hard work that she and others put in, nurturing them and playing to their strengths.
The BBs nonprofit is raising money for scholarships to help defray the cost of continuing education for women in the hospitality arena, whether for school courses, seminars, or exams. Adams says there will be an application process in place by the end of the year. So far, the BBs have raised almost $16,000 in two months from the ticket sales from two dinners and some additional underwriting and voluntary matching of funds, putting the BBs more than halfway to their goal of $30,000.
All of the BBs have committed to the project through December, so there will be more events after this series of dinners winds down. When asked about how sustainable the project can be and looking further into the future, Adams responds, “We are all volunteering our time, so it really depends how we can continue the organization and our careers.”
If you go
Follow the Bad B-----s on Facebook for ticket information and availability. Ticket prices run about $80 per person.
▪ June 15, 1970s-themed dinner at McCrady’s
▪ July 11, 1980s, location to be announced later
▪ August 16, theme and location TBA
▪ September 20, theme and location TBA
The May menu
First course: Smoked Mackerel Nicoise with preserved lemon and olive oil, confit farm potato, soft egg, heirloom tomatoes and summer beans by Emily Hahn of Warehouse
Second course: Quenelles of Black Bass with curry broth and spring vegetables by RaeLynn Vasquez, Heart Woodfire Kitchen (“quenelle” refers to the torpedo shape of the food created by the chef using two spoons to form a portion and can be sweet or, in this case, savory).
Third Course: Vidalia Onion Tart with bacon and fresh thyme, Holly Herrick, author of “The French Cook” series.
Fourth Course: Coq Au Vin variation: chicken roulade with roasted onions, carrots, mushrooms and salt-glazed potatoes with chicken glace by Kim Florence, [ONE] Restaurant
Dessert: Reine de Saba (an intense chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache topping) with creme brulee and brandied cherry coulis by Claire Chapman, Peninsula Grill.