Low country cuisine of the Georgia coast and South Carolina low country is similar to Cajun cooking and the food of New Orleans... It is strongly influenced by African cuisine. We had the chance to sit down with Executive Chef Matthew Chaplin of Florence’s Lowcountry Kitchen in Charleston, SC to hear more about the seafood, rice, and one pot meals that make this food special.
About Chef Matthew Chaplin: A Charleston native who attended the Culinary Institute of Charleston, Chef Matthew’s extensive skill set expands the culinary spectrum. He uses his southern cuisine expertise to enhance Florence’s already mouthwatering menu of Lowcountry classics with a twist for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, ranging from Fried Chicken & Pancakes to Shrimp & Grits, and Jambalaya. A humble, yet passionate chef, he was a delight to speak with and an even greater delight to dine with! His food speaks for itself. Go see him at Florence's Lowcountry Kitchen in Charleston, SC. https://www.florenceskitchen.com
Products mentioned in this episode:
- She Crab Soup Mix: https://www.florenceskitchen.com/product-page/can-of-she-crab-soup-mix
- Florence's Famous Hot Sauce: https://www.florenceskitchen.com/product-page/florences-famous-hot-sauce
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The Low Country cuisine of the Georgia coast and South Carolina low country is similar to Cajun cooking and the food of New Orleans and is strongly influenced by African cuisine. Meet us at the table to hear more about this seafood, rice and one pot meals that make this food special.
I'm Lainie, and I'm Laura Beth, and we are Steel Magnolias,
the strength of steel with the grace of a magnolia. We are here to have uplifting conversations about life in the south.
And we've got plenty of room at our table. So pull up a chair
Well, I have mentioned on this podcast before one of my all time favorite southern cities is Charleston, South Carolina. And I finally got to experience this iconic city with Lainie. Yes,
my second trip, but first time with you. Yeah. So I let you do a little itinerary planning for us. Yeah, and one of the things that is a staple of this city is She Crab Soup. So in the search for where to land on trying the she crab soup of Charleston, There's an older restaurant called 82 Queen that's pretty famous for their She crab soup. They're in the downtown Charleston area. Yeah, but we thought okay, well they also have a sister restaurant Florence's Low Country Kitchen, little newer, casual place. And we got to sit down with their executive chef. We're going to be sharing that interview with you guys here shortly.
But first, let's just talk a little bit of the history of Florence's. Okay, well, Florence's Low Country Kitchen is a tribute to Florence Mosley, the great grandmother of Jonathan and Patrick Kish of Queen Street Hospitality Group. Florence was born in 1908 in Charleston, and she and her husband Jesse Powell, really enjoyed their life in the low country crabbing, fishing, visiting the Limehouse farmers market and creating delicious home cooked southern meals. Some of their favorite meals were crab, shrimp, fish and fried chicken and waffles. And Florence passed her recipes down to the great granddaughter, Tyler, who married Steve Kish, the founder of that Queen Street Hospitality Group. So thus was born this restaurant with these old recipes.Yes. And speaking of old recipes, one of the ones that we did find out is shared between the sister restaurant is this she crab soup recipe. And Executive Chef Matt Chaplin is at the helm of all that. And before we get into reading a little bit about his culinary background, I just thought it was remarkable that the lineage and family ancestry he has goes back multiple generations to a family that lived in Charleston, that occupied land, like going back to the foundation of this country. And you just hardly find people these days that have been here. And maybe their parents have also lived in Charleston, but going back as many 4 or 5 generations- that'sunique that he has was just so unique. So well, he
Matthew Chaplin, their executive chefs attended the Culinary Institute of Charleston. He's had experience in dive bars, food trucks, he studied organic cuisine and Asheville, North Carolina, he has experience as the protein chef at Middleton place, lots of different directions that he went and he has kind of put a spin on some of these old recipes. The chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits and that kind of thing. So it has his own touch. So we got to experience some of those wonderful dishes and we can't wait to tell you about it.
Yeah, if you don't follow us already on Instagram, I would encourage you to do that at Steel Magnolias podcast we're going to be posting some photos and video of just our experience. After our interview, we sat down and ate an amazing spread of food with Chef Matthew so without further ado, here's our conversation on Lowcountry cooking.
Well, we are excited to be sitting with our new friend Matt. And so Matt, one of the ways I wanted to start here we are a southern culture podcast, but we actually have listeners all over the place. So with that, how would you describe Low Country cooking, and even some of the key components of that will Lowcountry cooking is very different than most cultures. We focus on primarily fresh, locally grown goods, things that are predominantly only grown in this area. Things that have been grown on the plantations since the beginning of the Americas we use a lot of Rice's we pull a lot of fresh seafood from the rivers, fresh shrimp, fresh crabs, fresh fish. So what I pride myself here in the restaurant on is our accessibility to fresh proteins and the use of them and all of our dishes. So low country cuisine summed up would probably be fresh, flavorful, and local. Talk to us just briefly about the spices are seasoning in a low country dish.
So a lot of low country dishes focus on a blend of American and French spices. We use a lot of baby leaves and things, a lot of black pepper, a lot of butter. Yes, there's just about everything you can have in southern food has at least a trace of butter in it, if not a pound.
That's so good. Everything you just described. It's so good.
Now, this city in particular has had a lot of influence from the Gullah culture. And for any listeners who aren't familiar with what that is. The West African slaves that came over to this area were that that's their culture is Gullah. And I know they even brought with them some ingredients that came to the region. And I was just curious kind of what would you say their influence has been on the food here?
Oh, geez. A low country cuisine is pretty much primarily made of Gullah cuisine. Almost everything that the low country is known for everything that we specialize in, was all brought over from West Africa by the Gullah community that settled in the barrier islands here off of South Carolina. They were the first ones to initiate putting local seafood in their dishes. They were the first ones to include local shrimp. A lot of the dishes that people will have come to know really well hear things like Frogmore stew or low country boils and chicken purloughs. Those are all actually Gullah centered meals. In their culture, it was predominantly one pot meals, they would cook it over their fire feed their entire communities. And that was brought to America with them. They would start doing large pots of seafood, all boiled off with some spices and some herbs in it. And they would serve it over the rice that was being grown here. They would serve it with some vegetables that they brought a lot of vegetables from here, all the seeds were brought from West Africa or from the Caribbean. So it's it's just about any one pot meal that we're known for is actually a Gullah meal.
Wow. Okay, so that kind of reminds me of red rice. Can you talk to us about Charleston red rice? That's
another wonderful single pot meal. Yes, well, red rice is a white rice. here in Charleston, we primarily use Carolina gold rice, that's one of the more featured Rices of the area. It's all locally grown. And the key component of red rice is to cook that rice in a tomato broth rather than just water. You crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, some seasoning, some broth, some water, you put it on the pot, you put all your onions, your peppers, your sausage, everything down in one pot and you cook it until it stiffens up. And because that water is tinted from your tomatoes and your tomato paste, that is what gives red rice its color. It also gives it all of its flavor. It is an incredibly different flavor profile from any other rice ever have and my opinion, you throw the right amount of sausage and spice in there. It's absolutely amazing.
Wow, is that what it would typically be served with would be like a sausage. It's usually
I use andouille sausage here as well as country style crushed pork sausage, onions, peppers, bay leaves, salt, peppers, garlic, all sorts of stuff.
If I wasn’t hungry. I am I now.
So I am curious. As a chef, what do you look forward to? That's like And season like what are some of those things you like so ever since I was a little kid growing up in the country, I have looked forward to tomato season here. It is my all time favorite thing. When I was young and me and my family grew a bunch of produce and vegetables and we grew tomatoes and it was almost tradition. Every time we got our first tomato, me and my dad would go out, we'd pick it. Cut it thick slice white bread, Duke's mayonnaise, salt and pepper. All it needs is the best. It's so simple. There's no cooking involved, but it is what I've looked forward to more than anything else in any other season in this town since I was little.
It is hard to beat a good tomato sandwich.
You're absolutely right. And that Duke's mayonnaise is the one. The only.
It is it is we are on the same page on that for sure.
Okay, now I've already looked over the menu here at Florence's kitchen. And I'm just curious, what is your favorite dish to prepare on the menu? And then secondly, it may or may be the same but what's your favorite thing to eat that's on the menu.
So y'all are asking me to pick a favorite child? No. That is a very difficult thing. I can never get down to two that's down to one. Okay, fair enough. One of my favorites is our fried green tomatoes. It's my favorite thing to make because the presentation of it is absolutely gorgeous. We do a bed of yellow stone ground Marsh Hen mill grits, we do a golden brown fried breaded green tomato. In between each tomato we put a layer of pimento cheese we stack them three high. And then we top it with our housemade red pepper jam which is a sweet pepper jam. And it's beautiful. The presentation is great, but the flavor tops everything. It's also one of my favorites to eat. The other one that's my favorite is our shrimp and grits. It is very close to home for me. The recipe I used was my father's recipe he used to make it for me all the time growing up, and it's kind of like my tribute to him in the restaurant and I brought his recipe in for that it is fantastic. I use a red eye gravy, which is a little different than what most people do here. So it's a coffee and ham based gravy. I do once again the yellow stone ground grits. The red eye gravy I use fresh local shrimp grilled to where they're not quite chewy, like a lot of people seem to do around here. And then I top it with a good handful of bacon and some green onions over the top. And it comes out absolutely fantastic. That is something that I eat almost every day.
Would your dad have topped it with the green onions. That's such a good addition.
He used to serve it just plain. And he'd serve it in the morning breakfast bacon on the side. Yeah, I got the idea of it. So I just took that bacon on the side and crumbled it on there. I love the flavor of a chive or green onion or anything like that. It's like a little bit of herbal note to what is a very butter heavy meal. And you get that little twinge of onion flavor on the top which sets it off.
Sounds delicious. Okay, well you've already mentioned stone ground grits. We did a whole episode just on grits because if people have not had good grits, they don't know what they're missing. But what are what like just tell me a little bit about your favorite grits.
The only ones I use both in my restaurant and at my home is Marsh hen mill grits. They're yellow stone ground, locally made out near Edisto they're all from right here. It was previously Geechie boy Yes. And I use them at the past three restaurants I've been at and I've been using them in my home since I was a little kid they they've always had just in my opinion a superior product. There's a bunch of them around here that are great. But that would hands down be my favorite.
Okay, now the reason we are here was we were drawn to try your she crab soup. As most people who come in
and this some of you if you've ever heard of the restaurant at two queen in Charleston, that's the sister restaurant to Florence's Low Country Kitchen. And similar she crab soup and you guys even sell the mix. I understand for that. So one, just wanted to hear about your particular she crab soup and then is this mix. If I tried the mix is it going to get me off to a good start?
So our She crab here is a very traditional cream based sheet crab it's a low and slow cooked long process sheet crab I start with obviously your mirepoix, which is your your carrots and your celery and your onions that have all been minced up. You sauté them down until they've all sweated and they're almost nothing. You add in a bunch of roux, your butter and your flour. Add in a whole bunch of cream and milk, some spices, some seasonings, I use fresh lump crab and crab roe. I do mine with excess Sherry because I think the flavor of sherry is amazing in a good she crab soup. And then once everything's in the pot, like I was talking earlier about the one pot meals, it all just simmers and steeps. So I've making a big ol pot of tea, you know, I let those flavors soak in, the roux thickens the cream and and after about four hours at a low temp, we have the perfect She crab, as far as the containers go of the pre made She crab that cuts that four hours out. That cuts all of your prep for your mirepoix, that cuts the need to make a roux out all you really need is that container plus some lump crab, some crab roe, some cream and milk.
Now, you aren’t going to need sherry, but you are going to want it. Okay, the way that I do mine, I do a good bit of sherry in and then I also like to top mine with a little drizzle the sherry on top. Something about that, in my opinion just sets off that cream base perfectly.
What's crab roe?
So crab roe is the reason it's called she crab. Crab roe is the eggs of the female crab. Okay? They are crab caviar. Yes, it is amazing. They're small yellow balls of flavor. That is where a lot of she crabs will get their color. Yeah, you'll see some cheap crabs that are darker hue of cream than others. Those usually use more carrot or more crab roe or they'll put some sort of a hot sauce in it. But the crab roe themselves is what gives it that little touch of orange.
Okay, so good. Okay, so speaking of hot sauce, you have hot sauce here, right?
I have the hot sauce.
Tell us about your hot sauce.
I am a hot sauce fiend first. Ever since I was little I, it made it my goal to try and find the perfect hot sauce. And I never could you get a lot of hot sauces that are hot for the fact of being hot. Yes. And then you get a lot of hot sauces that are pepper centered, which are very flavorful, but sometimes don't give you that heat that you want. And I've set off to try and make that perfect blend. So I have a Cayenne Pepper based sauce. And I use a lot of seasonings that I'm never going to disclose. But I will tell you that come in product. I have something that has heat, you'll feel it in the back of your throat, you'll taste every herb and seasoning that I've put into it. And it finishes with a touch of sweetness. So the only thing I will give away is the brown sugar. Okay, and and so so it's it's balanced to the point that it won't completely light you unnecessarily on fire. But it complements in specific, the fried chicken that I have here. It complements it so perfectly. It is my favorite hot sauce. Ever since I've come up with it. I throw away every hot sauce bottle that was in my house. And it is the only one I use now not by us at all or anything. But it is the only one I use. And I've been requested for the past three Christmases to make sure everyone in my family gets a bottle for Christmas. So how long until you're ready to bottle this and put your name oh, I am ready. I am I am already ready. But there are a lot of stipulations to get through. We previously had taken the initiative to try and get FDA certified for bottling. Our facility here is unfortunately a little too small. We don't have some of the necessary equipment to do it on a mass scale. But we are looking into some places now that have the facilities and equipment available who are FDA certified kitchens, so that I can take my recipe to the market. So that's what I'm looking for. But until it's available in stores, you can definitely buy it on our website. You can buy it in the restaurant. Yeah. And it's it's amazing makes great Christmas presents. Well I'm planning on getting a little of that even if it's a Christmas present to yourself. That's
okay, talk to us Chef Matt about oysters. Oysters in Charleston, oysters and Charles best ones. Um, well, that's a loaded question. It is So how do you like?
So there are a lot of people who say that, you know, they'll only do steamed oysters. There's a lot of people who only do fried oysters. There's a lot of people who only do raw oysters. I am one of the people who only does raw oysters i and joy them other ways, but primarily, if you want to get the true flavor of an oyster, you got to eat them raw. And I grew up like set out in Hollywood where me and my best friend went out in a jon boat on the weekends and picked her on oysters and ate them in the boat. Not Hollywood, California. Hey, check out the city of lights the city of one stoplight. And so I would say Bowens Island is a is a great local place that does steamed oysters they're incredibly famous. They're no frills, all just good seafood. On a little tiny island with the view most beautiful scenery you've ever seen. It's great. fried oysters. I'm we do a really good fried oyster here. We do we have a secret menu item that's not on our menu. It's a fried oyster po-boy that we sell. Gotta gotta ask for them can't find and raw oysters. There's a couple of places around town that have very good raw oysters. There's only a couple that really specialize in the local oysters though. There's there's a bunch of people who do Pei oysters or Virginia oysters and granted the season down here shorts as sometimes you have to go for those. But I would look I know that even though it's a chain, Rappahannock downtown always has a focus at least two local ones they usually use like the steamboats from out in Hollywood, or the single ladies from Edisto. Which are absolutely fantastic. If you really really want good local oysters, then skip the restaurant and go to the seafood markets. Because that is where you're going to get true local oysters, you're going to support local people who are going out and picking these oysters for living. And it is unadulterated deliciousness.
Okay. That's a great tip. So those are all you might need to put that on the itinerary. Yeah, I know. All right. So last question. I am curious to know totally just your own opinion, must say things to do in Charleston for an authentic experience for an authentic experience.
Because you've been here a while and your whole life I have. So I feel like we're getting a good source.
I would definitely say that if you want to experience what made Charleston Charleston, take a trip out to the plantations. Middleton plantation is beautiful. I used to work in their kitchen out there on the property. They have a functioning rice paddy, where they make Carolina gold rice. So it's a good taste of the old days and how Charleston came to be. Magnolia Plantation is beautiful as well. Past that, of course, you've got your standard tourist places like the angel oak, which I will never take away from its beauty. It is absolutely awe striking and how massive that tree is. I would recommend going to see that. But 400 years old, is that right? That's approximately what I think they think that you can't even wrap my mind around a tree that you also can't wrap your arms around. Past that there's a bunch of local spots here that aren't really the tourist I'm coming to Charleston to see that's what I'm doing is that are off the beaten path places that are new. One of my favorite spots in town is a music venue. It's called the poor house. As well as being a music venue on Sundays. They are a farmers market. During all their shows, they have a food truck on the deck that's a local food truck. And there's a delicious restaurant attached to it as well. So it's it's everything in one little spot. We have literally a farmers market every day, in the season here, then and all different parts of town. There's one every single day of the week. So any day you're here and it's spring or summer, go get yourself some fresh produce. They usually have people out there like Rio Bertolini, who's making fresh local pastas, fresh food trucks, people making local cheeses and breads. That's my, my most wonderful place on earth is a farmers market.
There's a lot of great makers, all in Charleston in every realm, not even just food. I mean, there's so many people doing so much. There’s so much cool, good stuff made in Charleston.
And if I could give one recommendation for a restaurant that is in no way A Charleston restaurant. There's no low country cuisine to whatever just opened up. It is a place downtown Charleston called Pink bellies. Pink bellies like the color pink. Oh, yes. It's a good friend of mine Thai. Okay. He grew up in Saigon, Vietnam. And he came through California. And he settled down here. And when we were younger, we both ran food trucks. And he has taken his food truck to an actual brick and mortar restaurant. And it is some of the most delicious food that there is. But it is a small, small spot on Upper King kind of away from all the tourists stuff. And they're only open Thursday through Sunday. Is it Vietnamese? It is. It is about as amazingly authentic as you can possibly get. But he puts his spin on things that are so fantastic. The spicy garlic noodles, probably my favorite dish in this entire town. Oh, my
goodness. You know that this is now added to our list. I know. Ancient Yes, she does. And I do too. On top of it all he has brought one of my favorite treats from the West Coast over here. He while out there fell in love just like I did with In and Out Burger. And he does an animal style burger on his menu. That is so good. It's it has nothing to do with Vietnamese cuisine. It is it's a char, char broiled burger on freshly made bun. And it is sloppy and it is messy. And it is fantastic.
I know I'm so glad you mentioned that. Those are the sorts of things that it's so important to dig around and find either talk to some people once you get into town, or just take that rabbit trail or reviews of places online to just really try and figure out some great places that might not be on the typical agenda. So thank you for that recommendation is literally what I'm here for. Sounds so fabulous.
Well, we are very excited that after putting all these wired mics away, we're gonna get to eat some of this wonderful Low Country cooking. And I don't even know what to tell you. I want to try first because there's so I already trust you and that you're going to choose well. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Blessings on you as a chef and this restaurant too. I'm excited to be here. Yeah. So we'll put all the links to find your way to Florence's if you come to Charleston, but also links to make some purchases. Some of the products that we mentioned today. So you guys can feel like you're here even if you can't physically come and visit us right. And I love giving gifts of things like that too. So food gifts are fun to me, they're the best.
So before we officially sign off, I just wanted to make sure that everybody knows that we will be taking summer break next week and stay connected to us so that you know when we are back with new episodes. We are excited to get some time to continue to travel the wonderful southeast South southern portion of the United States and research and just continue to come up with more content of the wonderful culture that is the south. So with that, I will leave you with peace be with you. And also with y’all!