One more day until the Charleston Wine & Food festival kicks off! OpenTable will be hosting a hospitality lounge for all of the chefs and talent participating, including the South Carolina locals and visitors from all over the country. In celebration of a fun, festive weekend ahead, we’re talking to some of the city’s best chefs. Here, we chat with Jared Rogers, who helms the kitchen at Charleston hot spot Pawpaw — find out all about his inspirations, what he loves about Charleston, and what he sees for the future of southern cuisine.
You grew up in Virginia — was southern food a big part of your childhood?
Definitely. I started working for Richard Perry at Chateau Morrissette, and he was from Charleston. That kind of put a plug in my head about cooking in Charleston. He showed me all the staples and dishes, and how to make bacon and stuff like that.
I ventured out to San Francisco after high school, and I didn’t get a chance to get out here for 13 years, I got so busy with my work out there. So I’ve been trying to get back here for at least the last seven years, but I finally found a job out here and got this restaurant open.
Tell me about moving to San Francisco and working for Bruce Hill. What were some of your biggest takeaways from cooking in a different part of the country?
That was amazing. Just the sensitivity they have to ecological cooking, organic cooking, seasonal cooking, and respect for ingredients is unparalleled in San Francisco. It definitely leads the pack. That really was an education in utilizing cool ingredients and farmers market-direct stuff, stuff I’ve never seen before that was just mind blowing to be honest.
Are you seeing a lot of farm-to-table and working with local producers now?
Yeah, I’m working with GrowFood Carolina, a farmers’ market cooperative — I have become actually their best customer. I’ve seen some amazing stuff here. The seafood is amazing here, with all of the varieties of fish. It’s so much fun. Definitely enough to keep me super happy here.
Why did you want to move to Charleston? What attracted you?
I came here as a kid, and then working with Richard Perry who cooked in Charleston for many years.. Just hearing about it and knowing about it because I’m from the South. I just wanted to get back to the South. My family still lives in Virginia, so I wanted to get back closer to home.
California is amazing and I miss it, but I just wanted to seek a new challenge, and I love the South. Charleston has always been where I’ve wanted to be.
What about the concept at Pawpaw specifically — what made you excited about that?
This place is cool. I’ve been involved in this project since its inception. We’re doing southern staples with light touches, farm to table. We’ve got an awesome wood grill, and we’re incorporating smoke into different ingredients. We’re keeping things lighter, so I’m trying to do a lighter approach to southern cuisine but still show respect to those staple recipes. I’m very happy with the food we’re making right now.
What do you love about the Charleston food and dining scene now? Anything especially exciting about it to you?
What’s exciting about Charleston is there’s a lot going on. In California and San Francisco you’ve got thousands of amazing restaurants, and in Charleston it’s kind of joining the pack of New York City and San Francisco in terms of where it’s going. It’s pretty exciting to be in a city that’s established, but I definitely see it becoming one of the best.
What’s the future of southern food?
I think the future of southern cuisine will continually evolve into a nouveau southern cuisine versus taking roots on the staples, and become its own. Older southern cuisine will be a staple, but there will be a new side to it.
And what does that look like?
I think it will be like what happened in California with Chez Panisse and Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck. Sean Brock started that, and people are taking it and running with it the way they did in California.
The return to the ingredients themselves.
What are you most looking forward to at Charleston Wine & Food this weekend?
Meeting some chefs since I’m new to the area, and trying to make some new friends. Collaborating with people and learning. And meeting Gail Simmons, who’s having a party — I’m pretty excited about that.