The Charleston Wine and Food Festival is finally here. Chefs and foodies from all over the country are converging on Charleston. Foodies are instinctual gifted at seeking out the best food experiences possible from long distances away…..much like how sharks can smell fresh blood from a mile away. This year’s feeding frenzy promises to be one of the best ever.
One of my favorite events at the festival is the Sunday Gospel Brunch . Unlike the Dine Around events that can set you back $175 this year the brunch is a more reasonable $75. It is held under the main tent in Marion Square from 11AM-1PM and features some very talented Charleston chefs and choirs. This year there are ten local chefs participating and guests had to choose in advance which chef would be serving them. The chefs did not announce what would be on their menu as people purchased tickets. The only thing you knew was that the Bloody Marys would be flowing and music would be in the air! The Charleston Food Bloggers have the inside scoop on what courses Chef John Ondo from Lana Restaurant ( www.lanarestaurant.com ) will be serving. John says, “The Gospel Brunch is a lot of fun. I get to think outside of the box because at Lana we don’t serve brunch. It is a nice creative outlet for me. This year each restaurant or caterer will be feeding 50-60 people a three course meal. We (Lana) will be doing fennel cured salmon and potato latke, then a crispy pork belly with Bloody Mary broth, and then finally an olive oil cake.” Now that sounds like a fantastic brunch!!! Here is some of the rest of our Q & A with Chef Ondo.
Charleston Food Bloggers ( CFB ) : What are a couple of your favorite Food and Wine Festival memories?
Chef Ondo: Each year brings new memories. Some memories are about the great food and some are from working with other chefs. I would have to say my favorite was working with John Currence from City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. We had an absolute blast. Another good memory was the year I partnered up with Robert Stehling from Hominy Grill and we won our cooking competition.
CFB: In case the readers don’t know, Chef John Currence is scheduled to compete on the coming season of Top Chef Masters Season 3 starting on April 6th and is a recent James Beard Award Winner….CFB has got to find an excuse to head to Oxford, MS to try City Grocery!
What are a few of your favorite restaurants in the US?
CFB: Do you enjoy meeting other great chefs from around the US? Anyone in particular you would like to meet or work with?
Chef Ondo: For the most part I’ve always enjoyed meeting other chefs but sometimes you meet the occasional chef whose ego is so big it’s not worth wasting my time trying to talk to them.
CFB: Yeah we feel like many chefs are gaining rock star status. Sometimes that may be well deserved but we can see how it can inflate some egos. What music or rock stars are you really into right now?
Chef Ondo: I am a big fan of the old school stuff like ZZ Top, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Hank Williams. I also really like opera. My cooks hate that I listen to the opera on NPR on Saturdays in the kitchen.
CFB: Speaking of opera, we hear that you spent some time traveling in Europe. Where there any things about Italy that blew your mind?
Chef Ondo: Italians have such a beautiful attitude towards eating and food. It is absolutely amazing. They have a profound respect for the simplest things and ingredients. Its like they inherently know that simple food is the best food. Most cooks want to add something to a dish, but the Italians are more likely to take something out.
CFB: Your menu at Lana is fantastic. However, most menus over time slowly evolve. Any ideas or dishes on the Lana menu you are working on now?
Chef Ondo: Our menu at Lana changes each season and sometimes once during that season depending on product availability. Our menu is constantly evolving and that just corresponds to us. As we grow in life and as cooks our menu will evolve with us.
CFB: Besides cooking, what are some of your other passions or hobbies?
Chef Ondo: I don’t even know if the stove at my house works, so I rarely cook at home. I love riding my motorcycles and I also enjoy working on them. I am not the best mechanic so as long as it still works when I am done, but I enjoy it. I enjoy a quiet day spent with my wife or watching soccer. I used to play but gave it up because of a lack of time, and loss of step….. I wasn’t that fast to begin with.
CFB: Chef, we bet you like the Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Khris