From New Jersey to London to Charleston, Nathalie Dupree has been all over, but for the past 13 years she has called the Holy City home. Between founding the Charleston Food and Wine Festival, being awarded a 2013 Woman of the Year by French Chefs in America, writing cookbooks and appearing on food television shows, she certainly keeps busy. And as a three-time James Beard Award winner for her cookbooks, she certainly knows a thing or two about Southern cooking.
Read on for Nathalie’s thoughts on Charleston, eating out, traveling and more.
What is the inspiration for your cookbooks?
I guess I would say at heart, I’m a teacher, and it comes from seeing the things that people struggle with, as well as the foods that I’m encountering and enjoying that I think people will want to replicate.
What is your greatest achievement?
All the wonderful young mostly women and a few men that I have been able to educate and bring along and are writing books themselves and doing all sorts of things in the culinary field.
What made you decide to create the Charleston Food and Wine Festival?
It was time, haha. So we had a wonderful community of chefs and no one seemed to know about them, and no one seemed to know about Charleston, either. Nobody was really pushing Lowcountry cuisine outside of the area, so I just felt that those were all things that people could be educated on—the Lowcountry cuisine, the good chefs that we have here, and information about our foods here in South Carolina and how historical they are ... .
What are your favorite places to eat in Charleston?
Well I love S.N.O.B, or Slightly North of Broad, and Hominy Grill, which is a James Beard Award winner. I think Charleston Grill has a wonderful young woman chef (Michelle Weaver) and she’s just fabulous. There are so many here, it’s like what don’t I like? We have Husk down the street that’s very famous and has a James Beard-winning chef. We have FIG, which also has a James Beard-winning chef.
Out of all of the places that you’ve mentioned, where’s the best place to go for brunch?
Oh there’s a big article about that in the paper this weekend. I think High Cotton is very well thought of for brunch and also Hominy Grill.
What do you like to get there?
Well I love pastries, I have to confess, and I love bacon and eggs, so some variation of all of those things—and I love grits, and shrimp and grits!
What is something that every visitor should put on his/her to-do list while visiting the city?
You know, there’s too much to do here! But certainly just walking the streets of Charleston is something you should do. We have so much history here—our slave museum is terrific. The old slave mart really brings you a good understanding of the influence slavery has had on this area and what emanated from it.
What is your favorite thing to do while in Charleston?
Walking and eating are daily obligations in Charleston. You can’t go half a block without finding a plaque about a historical event, someone that lived there, going to a place where the Confederates lost, or going out to some of the forts—Fort Sumter, where the first shot was fired, gosh that’s a wonderful thing to do. There’s a little ferryboat that goes out there.
Is there anything off-the-beaten path that you would recommend visitors doing in Charleston?
Well I certainly love Charles Towne Landing, which is off-the-beaten path. It’s where the original site of the city was—which is hard to imagine now—and very beautiful.
What is the best memory you have of the Lowcountry?
Let’s see, what was the first time I came here … I came here many years ago, but I think my best memory is standing with my husband on the Battery and feeding seagulls and birds. We also have a wonderful place that sells oysters called Bowens Island, and that’s a place that I love to eat.
As a cook, whenever you travel, how do you decide where to go eat?
I try to get recommendations from friends. I am not interested in overly done, overly complicated food. I like restaurants where you can understand what you’re eating and what you’re ordering. I see food as the bonding thing for people, that having a conversation over food is terribly important. One of my criteria is being able to talk—there’s no sense in eating somewhere if you don’t like the company you are keeping.
What do you never leave home without?
I have a notebook with me at all times. I write down every meal that I eat out. I keep a record of what I ate, just because it helps me so much later when I formulate what’s in style, what I like to eat, what I want to do books about. I’ve been very interested for years in really getting Southern cooking on the map as it truly is, rather than just what people thought it was, by going to buffets ... .
I have been a big component of new Southern cooking and teaching people that Southern cooking has theories and techniques, just like French cooking does.
What is your most cherished treasure from a trip?
Other people bring back jewels and diamonds and designer clothes. My suitcase is full of Parmesan cheese and whatever I can smuggle in that’s food. I have to admit that I bring back strange implements from trips, so I might bring back, say, a gill, a little measuring cup from London, or a little press to make pasta with, a lasagna gadget if I go to Italy. I even lugged back a molcajete, this big Mexican bowl thing that’s made of lava.
Nathalie Dupree's Perfect Day in Charleston
Morning: Getting up in the cool of the morning and putting on your grits to cook. Then going out and walking on the Battery and coming home to eat shrimp and grits.
If I didn’t make my own shrimp and grits, I would take the trolley and go up to upper King Street and go to Callie’s biscuit shop where, it’s called the Hot Little Biscuit, and they make a wonderful grits basket with shrimp in it. They make it out of biscuit dough. They just have wonderful biscuits, so I would go there for biscuits and breakfast. Then I would come back on the trolley, once again getting off on my favorite shopping area, King Street.
Midmorning: During the day I would go out for a walk probably to the Preservation Society and up King Street—my hands were meant to hold charge cards.
On a Saturday I would go to our farmers market, which is just fabulous.
Lunch: Then I would probably cut up and go to S.N.O.B. for lunch, probably because it was close.
Afternoon: There’s a very nice Spoleto renaissance hotel in Charleston Place. They have very nice teas and places where you just sit and talk to people.
Certainly in the rest of the time I would be out walking the streets—I just get out and walk.
I might even go down to Middleton Place during the day and ride a carriage and look at all their sheep and pheasants and old camellias, old tea plants. It (the plantation) is really one of the most remarkable ones because they do so much historic, like plant rice or plant wheat and show people how it was planted and how it was cut and all of those things. You really get a sense of what it was like in those days and what it was like to live here.
Evening: Then sitting on my piazza is certainly part of something that I do. Then walking to the Waterfront Park to see the sun go down, or to the Battery.
There’s just so much to do here there’s not enough time!