Husk, the restaurant that has been a hit in Charleston since its inception in late 2010, is undergoing a few changes this year to include casual dining at the bar and patio to make the destination more accessible.
SC Biz News sat down with Steven Chandler, general manager, Husk in Charleston, to learn more about the restaurant.
Question: We hear all the time about restaurants being “farm-to-table.” What sets Husk apart from the others?
Answer: Farm-to-table is a weird moniker. Everything comes from a farm. What sets us apart is this idea of commercial farming. There are massive farms dedicated to feeding the populace products that aren’t good for the human body, or the planet. Our ethos is to cultivate relationships with local farmers: beef, pork, vegetable, seafood purveyors. We hold this near and dear and support those individuals who grow food in a wonderful way by using organic methods that aren’t chock-full of GMOS. By doing that, we are also being mindful of the environment in that we’re not trucking or flying produce across the country.
By working with these local individuals, we’re supporting them in a very big way and showcasing our local products, most within a 50-mile perimeter.
Q: Tell me about your executive chef.
A: Ray England has been here two years and has an impressive background in the food industry, including working at Tom Colicchio’s restaurant Craft in Los Angeles. He is an extremely talented chef who has taken locally sourced southern ingredients and used them to create southern dishes that go beyond the ordinary.
Q: Your menu appears to change daily. Is there anything that is always available?
A: Cornbread and pimento cheese. Because we source locally, we use what we get in. Customers will recognize familiar ingredients like beef, pork and especially seafood, of which we have an abundance.
Q: How many customers can you serve at any given time?
A: The main house seats 112. Then there’s 30 each on the two piazzas, 12 at the bar, 32 at the lounge above the patio and 40 at the patio outside.
Q: What is the vibe?
A: Husk’s vibes are usually informed from the homes in which we operate. Our Charlestown home dates back to the 1860s and features local art and seasonal floral designs. It was once a single-family residence and more recently an art studio.
Q: What is one of your most popular dishes?
A: A roasted oyster dish with garlic butter.
Q: What strategies do you employ for staff training to ensure excellent customer service?
A: For me, it boils down to hiring. We truly take our time hiring people who are passionate about hospitality and taking care of our guests, learning constantly and pushing themselves to be the best they can be. We conduct daily training on food, spirits and beverage and take a lot of time to ensure that we are constantly educating ourselves. When I find myself at restaurants these days, I notice that some staff seem miserable, so we take the time to ensure that we are hiring those who genuinely love what they do. There are always new wines, bourbons and spirits hitting the menu, so we are constantly evolving and changing.
Q: How do you keep up with industry trends, incorporating them into Husk’s offerings?
A. We’re more interested in being trend setters, than trend followers. Sustainability is important to us and we keep that in mind whether it’s a trend, or not. We’re constantly trying to push boundaries, while keeping true to our ethos; that’s what is important to us.
Q: What desserts and cocktails are popular now?
A: As was mentioned before, we’re constantly changing and that applies to desserts and cocktails too. Our pastry chef, Katie Spitzer, takes southern staples and puts her own twist on them. She recently made a version of banana pudding, which was excellent. She also baked a decadent mayo cake with chestnut cream/foie gras caramel. She incorporates sweet and savory items into her dishes and the results are delicious.
We also have between three and five house made ice creams available at any given time. Katie is always cognizant of dietary restrictions so you will always find desserts that are gluten free and at least one ice cream that is dairy free.
As for cocktails — we follow the season and are generally driven by what is available. Our bar is really committed to our bourbon program, and we carry upwards of 250 labels. We are constantly pushing to get the coolest, rarest on our shelves, paying homage to heirloom corn from whence we get our name. Once a year we travel to Kentucky to hang out with some very cool distillers and at that time we select a bunch of single barrels.
Q: How do you engage the local community?
A: We contribute to the economy by purchasing from local purveyors and hiring local staff while making sure that we provide a great place to work. As part of the Neighborhood Dining Group (NDG), we are always involved in local food festivals, events and charities.
Q: Tell me more about the new bar and patio concept at Husk.
A: The bar and patio are now known as a ham and oyster bar and are more casually driven, having separate menus from the house. The whole goal of the bar and patio is to make it easier for people to enjoy Husk since it’s generally difficult to get reservations. We’ll now be accepting walk-in and are looking forward to what the future brings.
Stephanie Kalina-Metzger is a contributing writer for SC Biz News.