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Shortly after his Hilton Head Island restaurant, Roastfish & Cornbread, closed for the night Friday, Chef David Vincent Young got to work on the next day's meal. He had to cook sweet potato cornbread, Lowcountry rice and seafood gumbo for several hundred people for Saturday's Music to Your Mouth Culinary Festival in Palmetto Bluff. He started at 11 p.m. and didn't finish until 3 a.m.
He got out of bed a few short hours later to drive to the exclusive tented festival in Bluffton, where he doled out samples of his specialties for nearly four hours.
Young was among a select group of Southern chefs who attended the Culinary Festival, the culmination of a week's worth of events. With $200 tickets, it's one of the most exclusive culinary festivals in the Lowcountry with the recognizable talent to prove it. Bravo's "Top Chef" judge Gail Simmons served as host. This season's "Top Chef: D.C." winner, Kevin Sbraga, attended. Former "Top Chef" contestants Kenny Gilbert and Kevin Gillespie served the crowd crab fritters and deviled
The restaurants that offered samples of their wares were a who's who of Southern cuisine -- Magnolias and Hominy Grill in Charleston, for example.
Several Hilton Head and Bluffton restaurants had spots. The local entrants were accomplished in their own right. But being stacked up against a high-profile roster can be intimidating to anyone. How did they manage to stand out?
To Young, the late night was worth it. He produced about 20 quarts of gumbo and six deep pans of his sweet and crumbly cornbread. His booth was crowded with guests most of the day. The former Sea Shack chef will celebrate the one-year anniversary of opening his own restaurant on Thanksgiving Day. The event was a way to get the word out about his still up-and-coming restaurant to a largely regional crowd.
The way to make his food stand out among all the others, Young said, was by doing what he does best -- Gullah-influenced dishes he grew up with.
"It's the Lowcountry. You come here and you'll want rice and gumbo and cornbread," he said.
Most of the chefs used local ingredients of some sort -- a carrot soup with Carolina shrimp, for example, from Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C. Chef Matt Jording of the Sage Room on Hilton Head served a roasted pork tenderloin with cabbage in a Maytag blue-cheese cream. The pork was raised locally and the cabbage was picked from his father's garden in Hilton Head
"Can't get any more local than right outside your back door," Jording said.
Chef John Briody of Palmetto Bluff put a timely twist on Thanksgiving dinner. A team of four served plates of Turducken (a combination of turkey, duck and chicken) with Andoille sausage stuffing and a pomegranate cranberry gastrique. On the side was a butternut squash
Chef Lee Lucier from Robert Irvine's eat! (Hilton Head's own claim to fame is Irvine, the host of Food Network's "Dinner: Impossible") served pan-seared red fish with spiced collards and black-eyed peas in a vierge sauce. Southern cooking has gained a national following with the emergence of chefs such as Savannah's Paula Deen, Lucier said. Although not quite at the same level as some of the other Southern hot spots, the chef said, Hilton Head has started to build a stronger culinary scene over the past few years.
"Hopefully, we show what Hilton Head cuisine is all about."
Between Lucier and Young was Bluffton BBQ pitmaster Ted Huffman. This was Huffman's third time at the event.
"I was a little dumbfounded when they first asked me," he said. "There's all these accomplished chefs. And I just cook barbecue."
But a consistent crowd around Huffman's booth ate about 75 pounds of pulled pork. The lesson: if your cooking is good, it won't matter if you're a "Top Chef" or just the neighborhood barbecue guy.
Like Young says, "It's the flavor that has to stand out. You've got to have that flavor that punches you in the tongue."