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Women In Charge: The Female Face of Charleston’s Culinary Scene

a group of people preparing food on a table

Today marks the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting the right to vote to all Americans, regardless of sex. We wish to celebrate this landmark of women’s suffrage, and to recognize the non-white female voices that were largely left out of this historic amendment, despite the efforts of the many nonwhite suffragists who marched, organized, and lifted their voices in support of the 1919 cause. When we celebrate women and their remarkable achievements through the generations, we’re reminded that it’s always crucial to be intersectional in our support – women are most powerful when they unite toward a cause without exclusion. In Charleston, the female presence in culinary spaces is ever-growing and ever-changing. We’ve been delighted to watch the influence of women of all races shape our dynamic F&B scene from every direction, and we’ve highlighted a few of our favorite female F&B voices below for you to peruse. We encourage you to check out their social media, read their books and articles, listen to their podcasts,  donate to their causes, and eat at their restaurants! In doing so, you’ll be honoring the women of Charleston culinary culture past, while helping to build toward Charleston’s female-powered future. To learn more about the women of Charleston’s culinary history and their massive contributions to our eating habits in the Lowcountry, sign up for our Downtown Charleston Tour, and let one of our licensed guides give you the lowdown while you taste some of the city’s favorite dishes.

 

The Cocktail Creatives: Taneka Reaves and Johnny Caldwell describe themselves as “curly ladies who talk cocktails daily”. The pair met as freshmen at the College of Charleston and cemented a partnership as local virtuosos of everything spirit-related. Calling themselves The Cocktail Bandits, Taneka and Johnny have gained a robust following for their blogs and posts centering a feminine take on creative cocktail recipes (#gentleladysips) and have authored a book on Charleston history told via cocktails called Holy Spirits! With COVID affecting the events the two regularly attend and host, they’ve kept the creative hustle moving with virtual masterclasses on cocktail craftsmanship.

The King Street Mama: Kim Onam Brown has been overseeing King Street institution Mama Kim’s for nearly 50 years, feeding hungry college kids with her generously-sized rice bowls of comfort. The walls of Mama Kim’s are plastered with pictures of smiling students, basking in the glow of Mama’s boundless hospitality. After Mama Kim’s storefront was damaged during the riot in late May, devoted fans raised over $16,000 to help Mama rebuild. Mama has no interest in retiring, and, fueled by the hugs of decades of kids grateful for a hot, hearty meal sold at a reasonable price, she shows no signs of slowing down.

The Juice Queen: Ruchi Mistry opened Huger Street health-oasis Huriyali with her husband in 2015. Inspired by her upbringing in India, where her mother regularly juiced the beautiful fruit and veg available on the sub-continent, Ruchi wanted to bring the spirit of wellness through healthy, fresh eating to the peninsula. Her shop’s colorful exterior is as bright as the food and drink on offer inside, and Huriyali stands as a vegetarian and vegan-friendly space in the heart of a meat-loving city (and region). Guests hungry for something other than barbeque are frequently delighted by Huriyali’s chromatic smoothie bowls, sandwiches, and (of course) juices to nourish body and soul. 

The Conscientious Critic: While Hanna Raskin’s restaurant reviews for The Post & Courier have been known to stir up controversy in the local F&B scene (she’s famously been banned from eating at a few local establishments that take issue with her frank appraisals), we’ve always appreciated her straightforwardness as a deviation from the Southern convention of sugarcoating unpleasant experiences. We also appreciate that Hanna is willing to take on topics that the Charleston old guard would rather overlook – like the use of a Black woman’s image by a white-owned downtown restaurant to promote a “down home” Southern feel to tourists.

The Nonprofit Luminary: As Chief Farm Officer and co-founder of Fresh Future Farm, Germaine Jenkins leads a team that has been lauded nationwide for their radical approach to combating disinvestment and food desertification in their North Charleston neighborhood. Germaine emphasizes investing and reinvesting in her immediate community by hiring from the neighborhood, paying living wages to the employees of Fresh Future Farm, and promoting education of both modern sustainable farming practices and the ancestral farming methods used by West African and Gullah farmers for generations. In addition to their urban farm, Fresh Future Farm also operates an on-site grocery store with sliding scale pricing, making their fresh produce and specialty items accessible to everyone in their neighborhood. Germaine’s model of promoting food justice for her neighbors is both inventive and inspirational, and we’re excited to watch and help her vision grow in years to come. 

The Soul Food Matriarch: Martha Lou Gadsden turned 90 years old this year, marking nearly forty years since she opened Charleston mainstay Martha Lou’s Kitchen. At the time, Martha Lou’s was one of the only restaurants on the westside of the city – an area that’s now rapidly developing as Charleston’s gentrified spaces creep ever northward. Always a proponent of using fresh produce in her cooking and preparing meals with love just as she would at home, Martha Lou’s has become one of Charleston’s most sought-after destinations for travelers that come to Charleston seeking authentic Southern meals, untrammeled by the influences of fancy chefs (though many of those travelers check out the fancy chef’s places too). In a city now marked as one of America’s foodie capitals, that Martha Lou has built one of the most enduring houses of soul food in Charleston is a testament to her vision – good, rib-sticking food, always prepared with care.  

The Brine Expert: Known locally as The Pickle Lady, Raychelle Bennett is easily one of best-loved vendors on the Charleston Farmers Market Scene. Known for her hot and spicy pickle samples, (followed by a cool down dill sample), fans of her pickles keep coming back both for her briny expertise and for her sunny disposition. For the pickle lover that’s ready to branch out from cucumbers, The Pickle Lady has a variety of other vegetables on hand, from okra to carrots to green beans,  all pickled to lip-smacking perfection. Anyone can pickle, but it takes an artist to nail a consistently delicious pickle, time after time, and Raychelle is a master. Her pickled beets are a fan-favorite, and have been said to charm even the beet-haters among us. 

The Piquant Podcaster:  Lindsay Collins, a veteran of Charleston’s F&B scene and host of Effinbradio, delivers funny, unpolished takes on the many quirks of living (and eating) in and around Charleston. Her COVID episodes have left us feeling a little less alone as she lays bare her anxieties as an F&B professional and mom in the tumultuous year of 2020. Her interviews and stream-of-consciousness episodes are a perfect mix of goofiness and frankness, and always include a fascinating peek inside the curious world of Charleston’s F&B scene from a seasoned pro. As a bonus, she’s also one of our favorite social media follows for her hot intel on where to find the best local tacos and for beautiful photos of what she’s cooking at home.

 

-Palmer Stowe

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