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We travel to Charleston to take a peek inside four kitchens to get the stories behind their signature dishes.

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- [Narrator] Steeped in culinary history, with easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and a seemingly endless supply of vast, diverse produce, Charleston has developed a cuisine all its own. We're going into the kitchens of five of Charleston's top chefs to see how they translate the Lowcountry's rich, culinary history and its prolific bounty into their signature dishes. Behind the Dish, Charleston. Lowcountry cuisine is as distinct as it is diverse, from Gullah Geechee garlic crabs to a bucket of ice cream drumsticks, Lowcountry crab rice, to backyard-style barbecue spare ribs, when it comes to food, the Holy City is heaven on earth. For chefs Carolyn McNeil and her son Kenyatta, their restaurant, Nana's Seafood & Soul, honors the beloved matriarch, their family history, and a legendary local crustacean. - In Charleston, crab is king. You can't go anywhere, to any seafood spot, that doesn't have crab. - We are known for our garlic crab with the special garlic butter that we use. - [Kenyatta] Garlic crab is what brings our family together. - [Carolyn] Hi, I'm Carolyn McNeil, co-owner and chef here at Nana's. - [Kenyatta] I'm Kenyatta McNeil, co-owner and chemist at Nana's Seafood & Soul, located in Charleston, South Carolina. - Nana was my mom. I learned to cook Gullah Geechee from my mom. It's taught me a lot and it has inspired me to share with my son, Kenyatta, and to pass it along from generation to generation. - Gullah Geechee cuisine was the style of cooking that slaves brought over from West Africa. Far as how you cook your food, slow-cooked, nothing's rushed. We take time with everything. - My mother's cooking meant a lot to me, and it stayed with me, and I'm doing some of the same thing that she did. Crab was like, a special dish for us on Friday, Saturday, the weekend. That was our fun , just eating crabs. - Here at Nana's, we try to stick to the original style of garlic crabs with our own twist. Our garlic crab sauce is what makes us different from all the other garlic crab. We add our own special seasons. Just like our ancestors, we still put that lovin' out. Food, we still take our time and cook it. There's nothing rushed. That's Gullah Geechee cooking. Everywhere in Charleston, you can get blue crabs, but to get that special blend of seasonings, that spice, only Nana's has it. Our crabs, we get it local. Here at Charleston, crabs come in on the daily. We usually get two, three bushels a day. We like using jumbo males. They're more sweeter. The rustier the crab, the better. First thing we do is fill a pot of water. To the pot we add our crab seasoning, which is a blend of garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, and onion powder, then we add hot sauce and mustard. And finally, cayenne pepper, and a bottle of Old English. The beer gives that crab a better flavor, and also holds the meat together. We stir everything together, that way everything is mixed well. Once the seasoning is boiling, we add all our crabs to the pot. We add them all at once so they all cook evenly. We cook our crabs until they're red. Once they turn red, you know the crabs are ready. When we clean the crabs, we take the shells off. Take the dead man, which is the lungs and the guts and everything. Once we have our crabs clean, we dip it in our garlic butter. Once we dip it in our butter, they're ready to be served. - The mac and cheese is my mom's original recipe. I just added to it the crab and different vegetables and seasoning. I start with a pot of boiling water. I add my macaroni. I cook the macaroni about 20 minutes, where it's not over-cooked, it's not under-cooked. And after it has been cooked, I remove it from the fire and let it cool. Once it's cool, I add my Carnation milk along with margarine and my seasoning. And then, I add garlic salt, pepper, hot sauce, and mustard. They just spice it up. I add my eggs. I add the eggs because the eggs help pump it up, where's it not dried and flat, but it gives it a better taste. And then, the crab meat along with the cheese. After mixed together, I add bell pepper, onion, celery. We add the bell pepper and onion and celery to give it flavor. It gives it a better taste. Mix everything together. Put it in the pan. And place it in the oven at temperature of 350, and let it bake for about an hour and a half. When I pull it out of the oven, it is bubbly, buttery. You can smell the flavorings, just smell in the crab. And there you have Nana's garlic crab and crab mac. - When you eat crabs, the meat is always sweet. Our garlic crabs, you know, it's gonna have that sweetness to it, along with the garlic butter. It opens up your senses. The crab mac, you're getting the macaroni flavor, and then with adding the crab, you get the crab taste added on to it. I love the taste, it's just having crabs. - Even though Nana's no longer with us, we honor her through our cooking with the garlic crabs and the crab mac. These dishes are special because they symbolize family gathering. They bring people together. From the neighborhood that we were in, we love our grandmother. She's known to feed everybody. That's the concept that we keep, and you know, that's our version. We try to feed everybody. - It brings everyone together. Nobody turns down crab. - [Narrator] Next, we head Uptown to the inspiring and inventive Butcher & Bee, where Chef Cynthia Wong shares her cool, creative take on an iconic, hot Southern staple. At the wonderfully eclectic Butcher & Bee, the menu is constantly changing based on what's in season and whatever their chefs can dream up. Executive pastry chef Cynthia Wong has fully embraced the restaurant's creative approach to food with her chill take on a Southern classic. - The ice cream drumstick takes my love of fried chicken and puts it on its beak. It's that cool, kind of, Southern thing of chicken and waffles being one of those icons and so, making a waffle ice cream, and forming that until it looks like a piece of chicken is a way to have fun. I'm Cynthia Wong. I'm the executive pastry chef at Butcher & Bee in Charleston. If you had to distill Southern cuisine down to an icon, it would be fried chicken. That is where the ice cream drumstick comes from. It's just a play on Southern cuisine. Fried chicken and ice cream are two of my favorite things, so I thought I would combine them together into the ultimate mash-up. I thought, wouldn't it be funny if I made an ice cream where it looked like a chicken drumstick that looked like fried chicken, and was made with waffle ice cream? I was also inspire by ice cream treats from my childhood. The ice cream truck coming through my neighborhood, and staying there in the summer. Feeling that joy again of eating a treat like that. I just thought it would be really fun to bring the joy of eating a fried drumstick, transferring that whole feeling into an ice cream treat. Since everybody loves the pairing of chicken and waffles, I thought, what better way to pair the two, and make the ice cream a waffle-flavored ice cream? The waffle ice cream takes the fun a bit further with great, brown, tasty waffle flavor, and also, it's just got this nice, really fluffy mouthfeel texture from having the waffles in it. To a pot, we're gonna add cream, milk, sugar, and glucose. We're gonna bring it to a low boil to make sure the sugar is dissolved and not clumping with the glucose. To it, we're gonna add some broken up waffles to the mixture. We continue to cook it 'til the waffles soften and gradually start to fall apart, and they thicken and bind the ice cream in the place off egg yolks. Blend the mixture together with a hand blender so it's nice and smooth and homogenous with no clumps or big waffle chunks in there. Continue to cook it down until it's thick and coats the back of the spoon, just as you would cook a traditional ice cream base with eggs in it. Once it's fully cooked, we're gonna cool it in an ice bath, occasionally stirring the mixture. It cools evenly. To freeze the ice cream, we actually freeze the base in a Pacojet canister, and put it in the freezer overnight. Once the ice cream base is completely frozen, we put the canister in the Pacojet container, and we Pacotize the ice cream. We turn it on, and the blade comes down, shaves ice cream really finely, and goes back up the machine. And you've got ice cream! The finished ice cream is light and fluffy. It's almost got like, this nice, marshmallow texture because of the starch in the waffles that's cooked with the cream and the milk and the sugar. After we Pacotize the ice cream, we put the ice cream in a piping bag and we put that piping bag of ice cream in the freezer for a little bit to firm up so that we can pipe it, just like you would pipe icing in a piping bag. When it comes to serving ice cream drumsticks, just like fried chicken, the best way to enjoy them and to serve them is out of the bucket. We take the ice cream that's in a piping bag, and pipe the base layer down into silicone ice cream molds. We add the chocolate cookie finger bone. It's just a lot of fun when people bite into that ice cream drumstick and gradually discover that there is a bone in there. We pipe more ice cream in the mold on top of the cookie finger, and we make sort of like a fat ball of it at the end of the mold so that it's shaped like a drumstick. After you put that last layer of ice cream into the mold, we freeze it overnight. Once the ice cream has frozen overnight, we take them out of the molds and pinch the skinny end to make it look like the skinny end of a chicken drumstick. It goes back in the freezer just to firm it a little bit, so it can withstand the heat of the chocolate that it gets coated in. And now, it's time to make the breading. Take your waffles, put them into a plastic bag. Crush them with a rolling pin, and we want nice, uniformly small, little bits. We're gonna pour our crushed up waffle bits into a bowl, and then, we're gonna crush our cornflakes in the same manner. We crush cornflakes in a bag, put it into a bowl, and mix cornflakes and the waffle bits together. I like the adding the waffle bits to the ice cream drumstick breading because you just get that much more waffle flavor. Now we have all our ingredients together, it's time to coat in bread the ice cream drumsticks. Working quickly, we take the frozen ice cream drumsticks, dip 'em in the melted chocolate, and bread them with the waffle and cornflake mixture, working really quickly and making sure that the drumstick's totally coated so you get a nice crunch in every bite. Once you've coated all six of your drumsticks, you're gonna freeze them again just to firm them up so that when you bite into the chicken drumstick, the texture is nice and firm, and not kind of, half-melted ice cream. Just like you would get a bucket of fried chicken from the grocery store or the gas station, we're gonna put a piece of doily paper in our bucket and load it up with the drumsticks. We're gonna load six drumsticks into the bucket, and there you have it. It's our bucket of ice cream drumsticks. The best way to enjoy your ice cream drumsticks is with a glass of sparkling wine or champagne, just as you would enjoy fried chicken. When you bite into the drumstick, you get that nice crunch from the waffles and the cornflakes, and when you get into it, you get the smooth, creamy, fluffy, waffle flavor ice cream. It's sort of, nice, real, brown, caramelized flavors going on, a lot of sweet nuttiness. The ice cream is the texture and color of chicken meat, and when you keep on going, you find the bone in there, which is the final surprise. The ice cream drumstick really does capture the story I'm trying to tell, which is a story about a real, deep seated love of Southern cuisine, of growing up in the South, but also having fun with your food. - [Narrator] Located well South of the Mason-Dixon, Charleston dishes share many of the same African and Cajun influences ubiquitous of the South, but its unique access to rich waterways and bountiful lands has made Lowcountry cooking an unparalleled cuisine. It was here in his 20s that Sean Brock, chef-partner of the intimate 22-seat, ingredient-driven, McCrady's restaurant first fell in love with the Lowcountry's vibrant flavors. - Lowcountry crab rice is a dish of celebration. It's a dish that combines two of our most prized ingredients, prepared in a very, very simple way, and to us, that's the perfect plate of food. My name is Sean Brock. I'm the chef-partner of McCrady's restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. Lowcountry cuisine is the food ways of coastal Carolina and Georgia, cuisine that was born in the rice fields. When I came to Charleston in the 90's to attend culinary school, I fell in love immediately with its cuisine. McCrady's is a restaurant that we designed to explore the possibilities of Lowcountry cooking through a modern lens. Lowcountry crab rice is an excellent example of the way we approach food. You take the idea of a dish that's been cooked for hundreds of years, and try to reimagine it for today's world. Cooking Carolina gold rice here is very serious business. We understand how much work has gone in to getting this rice into our kitchens. To a pot of water over high heat, add salt, white pepper, and a freshly crushed red bay laurel. Red bay grows all along the coast here. When I think of Lowcountry cooking, that's the quintessential flavor that comes to mind. Once the water comes to a boil, you actually take the rice and slowly pour it in, so each grain goes in separately. And the water's at just the right temperature. Once the right settles to the bottom, give it a couple of good stirs to make sure that it's not clumped together, and then reduce the heat to simmer and allow it to cook for 10 minutes. I'll start to taste and test the rice, tasting one grain at a time, until when you bite into it, there's still a tiny bit of give. That point, you want to strain it and allow it to slowly carry over and continue cooking. Place it back into the same pan, and this point, you slowly fold in a little bit of a butter. This is a technique that we refer to as Charleston ice cream. Once the butter is folded into the rice and it's completely emulsified, then the rice is ready to serve. The plating of this dish is something that we thought through over and over again, trying to figure out the best way to have the dish appear to be very, very simple, but have all these hidden, little pockets of flavors. In a non-stick pan or cast iron skillet, over high heat, add the butter. Allow the butter to become foamy and bubbly. Once it becomes foamy and bubbly, add the crab and its roe. Carefully place it into the skillet in a very, very thin layer, being careful not to break up any pieces of the crab, and that point, just allow it to sit and cook. This is when you start to listen. You listen for a crackling and popping, and that's how you know the crab is starting to turn golden brown. That point, sprinkle on your base. Don't stir it in, just kind of add it over the top, and the let residual steam keep that base through, and every once in a while, kind of peek gently underneath the crab. Look for a crust to form. Beautiful, golden crust. Once that's nice and crispy, evenly browned all the way, little squeeze of lemon juice, and then lightly fold that together. Once the crab is ready, now it's time to plate. We take a tomato jam, concentrate of tomatoes that we cooked down and emulsified with a little olive oil. Put a few dollops of that on the plate. And then, carefully place the rice next, taking the side of your spoon and carefully spreading it out into an even layer, kind of being careful not to mash the grains of rice. After that, a sprinkling of freshly minced chives, and then, carefully scoop the crispy crab on top of the rice. Spread the crispy crab evenly over the rice, and we finish with a grating of cured crab roe, and a sprinkling of benne seeds. They're the precursor to sesame that came from West Africa, and that's our Lowcountry crab rice. What I really love about this dish is it's essentially equal parts crab and rice. To receive a plate with so much delicious, crunchy crab on there over this beautiful, floral, perfectly cooked rice, it's just amazing. This dish really embodies what it means to sit down and eat a meal in Charleston. It tells an incredible story, the history of this place and this food, and it's amazing to be able to keep that tradition alive. Lowcountry crab rice is a beautiful example of my journey as a chef, from my very first days of culinary school, to today, sitting over this plate, obsessing over, trying to make it the best I can. Every single time, I pay true respect to such a classic dish of such a beautiful city. - [Narrator] Coming up, prolific pit master Rodney Scott shares his love of down-home cooking with his backyard barbecue-style spare ribs. Born into the barbecue business, chef Rodney Scott has been going whole hog his entire life. So it came as no surprise that when he set out on his own, chef Scott set the Charleston's barbecue scene aflame with signature dishes like his spare ribs covered in a secret rub, and slathered in his special Rodney sauce. - The barbecue spare rib is a cut that I've enjoyed my entire life, and I have a very intimate relationship with barbecue, spare ribs, and pork. I'm Rodney Scott, owner at Rodney Scott's BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina, and I love spare ribs. Southern backyard style barbecue is basically when you are cooking with what you have around. You have your wood, you have a grill, and you just invite people over, and cook and eat. Growing up in a farm here in South Carolina, We had a celebration every year at the end of the year with a whole hog, and the spare rib definitely represents the way that I grew up, the way that my family made the ribs, because it was basically cut directly out of the hog, and cooked straight into the fire. I think I remember having my first spare rib when I was about eight years old. We were cooking at home in the yard, and some ribs were on the table. It was tender, it was juicy. Some of them had a bite to 'em. It was always my favorite part. Rodney Scott's BBQ is basically a simple, backyard-style barbecue where we cook with wood and hot coals. And cooking barbecue and spare ribs, that's what I grew up doing. Doing it for 35 years, it's just been one of my favorite parts. The barbecue spare rib represents my dedication to my entire life of cooking the whole hog. My style of sauce is a vinegar-based sauce. It's basically white vinegar and pepper and lemons that we like to use. It helps with the flavor and the texture of the whole product that we're putting the sauce on. First thing we do is we add white vinegar to the pot. We're gonna add whole slices of lemon just to give it a little citrus to the flavor. You wanna bring the vinegar to a simmer, so it can take some of the bitterness out, so it won't be so strong. Once the vinegar simmers, we will add the peppers. We'll add the black pepper and we'll add the cayenne. Then, we add the secret spices, and that finishes off everything and we let it cook for a hot second, just to make sure everything marries in the pot. Secret spices came in from a family tradition, and when I moved to Charleston, I added a little, just a slight twist to it. We'll remove it from the heat, because if not, the peppers and everything will float to the bottom, and if it's still cooking, it will stick and burn. Once the sauce is cooled down, now we'll go and start prepping our spare ribs. The spare ribs that we use are pretty much a 10- to 12-bone spare rib. We get all of our spare ribs from local hogs. The first thing that we do is we remove the membrane from the spare rib so that we can let all of our secret rub and spices get into the meat. We grab our special rub and we sprinkle it all over the spare rib. We turn it over and we sprinkle on both sides. Special rub is basically some paprika, a little bit of cayenne pepper, a little bit of black pepper, some kosher salt, and several other secret ingredients. We don't really rub it too much into the meat because the rub is kind of intense, so we don't want it to be over-salted. Take the spare rib and we put it on the pit with the thickest part of the spare rib towards the center of the pit. We take the mop, and we mop it with the sauce. We use the mop simply because that's what I grew up doing. That's what I'm accustomed to, and it's a lot easier to use the mop. It covers the whole rib just about in one stroke. Once the ribs have been mopped, then we flip them over. We flip them over 'cause we wanna cook the other side to get that equal char a nice smoky flavor, but what we're looking for is we want the bone to start protruding, to stick out just a little bit. To finish the rib, we mop the second side, and then we flip it back over again to make sure that everything is done, and everything's tender, and the rib starts to bend when it's done. Once they're at that perfect tenderness, we pull them off 'cause they're ready to serve. When you order the plate of spare ribs here, we'll give you a full plate of meat and a healthy serving of collards. We will take the rack of ribs and we're going to slice them bone to bone. That means, every bite, you'll be able to pick up one bone and have meat on each one. We're gonna place the ribs on a plastic tray that's covered with butcher paper, and we're gonna stack 'em where you can just easily grab 'em just too far. Next, we'll put the collard greens in our paper boat, and lay it on the side, right next to the ribs. You get your own side of Rodney sauce added to the plate, and we serve it with two slices of white bread. White bread's been a big staple in the South for me, where everything that we ate, once there was meat, there was a simple white bread. We add the white bread to the tray, and there you have Rodney Scott's spare ribs and collard greens. The spare ribs are smoked over the pit, direct hot coals, and the texture just has a slight bark on it, but there's still a tenderness. So, when you bite into the rib, you get a slight tug, but not so soft that it falls off the bone. The flavor is unique because it's the low smoke, and it's a vinegar sauce that's wrapped around it, along with that oaky and hickory type of flavor that's all wrapped in. I love sharing spare ribs with people that come in and enjoy my barbecue. With the spare rib, it goes way back to just enjoying ribs and the different styles and flavors that I've enjoyed my entire life. Being the person behind this barbecue is pretty much representing the person who I am.

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