Charleston Wine & Food is almost here! This weekend we are excited to host a hospitality lounge for local and visiting chefs in sunny South Carolina, and in anticipation of the event, we’re catching up with some of the city’s best chefs. Here, we talk to C0-Executive Chefs Graham Dailey and Ramon Taimanglo of the legendary Peninsula Grill all about their early culinary inspirations and what makes Charleston dining unique.
Let’s talk about the early days. Graham, before you worked in kitchens, you worked on shrimping and fishing boats. Is it safe to say seafood is a passion of yours? What was the most important thing you learned doing that work?
Graham: Seafood is definitely a passion of mine. I love every moment of the journey from ocean to plate: from fishing local waters to create an exceptional meal at home or going to the docks and picking up the Lowcountry’s freshest seafood from professional seafood purveyors and creating a memorable dish for our Peninsula Grill guests using the very best local ingredients.
Tell us about working under Anthony Bourdain. Any memories that stand out?
Graham: Working with Anthony Bourdain was memorable, to say the least! He had quite the affinity for drinking Greyhounds (vodka and grapefruit juice), even when we were getting slammed!
Ramon, you lived in numerous locations around the world, including Italy, as part of a military family. How did this shape or inspire your passion for food? Was there a definitive food experience that you had in your youth that you still recall?
Ramon: Growing up in a military family and being able to travel around the world and live in amazing food destinations, like Italy, made me see that there is more than just meat and potatoes. Travel at an early age opened my mind and my taste buds up to a whole new world of tastes, smells, and textures.
You dined at Peninsula Grill as a guest long before joining the culinary team – what was the experience like for you, as a young chef?
Ramon: Having the chance to dine at Peninsula Grill while I was a young cook was a great experience and had a tremendous impact on my career aspirations. Peninsula Grill was, from the very start, the very definition of an exquisite dining experience. From the high-quality service to the decor of the restaurant to incredible food consistently put forth by the culinary team, Peninsula Grill has always been a beautifully choreographed dining experience, and it made me yearn to be a part of such a classic, refined, and beloved restaurant.
Graham, you’ve been with Peninsula Grill from the beginning — how has it evolved since first opening in 1997?
Graham: Peninsula Grill was an instant classic, and it has changed in only very minor ways. We have shifted to serving lighter fare that is more refreshing and enjoyable than heavy sides and entrees. Although we have made slight changes, we have stayed true to our French-American cuisine. There are several menu items so beloved, like Lobster 3 Way, A la carte steak, and the Ultimate Coconut Cake, they will always be a part of the Peninsula Grill experience.
How have you seen Charleston’s dining scene evolve overall? What trends are you seeing now that you’re excited about?
Ramon: The Charleston food scene has evolved into all spectrums of the culinary world, from barbecue to fine dining and everything in between. I love great barbecue, so I’m jazzed about the recent restaurant openings by talented pitmasters.
Graham: The dining scene has grown exponentially. The culinary talent and cuisine offerings have expanded because everyone needs to eat! I love seeing authentic restaurants come alive and transport diners to a specific food region of the world. It is exciting to enjoy the flavors of other countries.
Peninsula Grill is an iconic and uniquely “Charleston” restaurant. What does that mean to you, and how would you describe it to someone who’s never been?
Graham: Peninsula Grill has maintained a standard of excellence for 20 years. The southern hospitality from the service staff and the French cuisine with southern flair create a memorable dining experience that wows guests. There is an art to executing fine dining, which is an experience that completely mesmerizes guests with superior service and delicious cuisine.
What are you most looking forward to at Charleston Wine & Food?
Graham: I am looking forward to seeing some of the regular customers of the area and reconnecting with the chefs of the area. As chefs, we work hard when we have to and then take personal time for ourselves when needed, but when events take place, it is nice to have a more relaxed atmosphere where we can all reconnect and share stories.
Ramon: I am excited to participate in the opening night festivities for the festival. It has always been a fun event, and it is an opportunity to see many colleagues.