The third Husk opens in Greenville soon with a menu centered on ingredients much different than its flagship Queen Street restaurant. Yes, sustainable seafood will be imported from the Lowcountry, but chef Sean Brock has hunted the pre-colonial recipes of the Upstate of South Carolina for inspiration as well.
The 1903 dry goods store (with its original Ballard & Ballard wheat miller mural) is the first Husk that was never a private residence. Even Husk Savannah — slated to open December 27 — was originally a home. When Neighborhood Dining Group President David Howard showed Brock the building he knew it was special, a place “with some soul to it,” but as he climbed a ladder to reach the second floor landing — it tipped. Howard literally caught the ladder keeping Brock from the floor. “It’s taken me a few times up and down what’s now the staircase not to trigger that weightless feeling,” he says.
What follows are segments transcribed from recent interview with Brock at Husk Greenville.
The celebrated chef laughed and answered simply, “Why not?”
“We started to listen to everyone that spoke up at festivals and said ‘Greenville’ and the people the came into our dining rooms. Greenville was a place that was ready for us, and we have a mission to showcase regions — the possibilities of a region’s foodways — its history and its current state.
We sent Jon Buck (now Husk Greenville’s chef de cuisine) here for the last few months to explore and meet purveyors, get feet on the ground; we kept journals about who would fit within our ethos; who treats the soil properly. Our easy route is still the hard route — we’re not trying to overwork ourselves for nothing. We’re cooking the food that belongs in this place, so when someone from Sweden sits down in Greenville, it’ll be what it tastes like and feels like to eat in this part of the region today. It’s our shot at contributing something small to southern foodways here — what a privilege.”
Research has absorbed Brock as he’s dug into local archives about indigenous and Appalachian foods.
“I plan on spending a lot of my energy in the next decade focusing on Native American cooking. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and Greenville kinda pushed me back into that state of mind. We’ll have two or three Cherokee dishes on the menu right away. I’ve done a couple of things in Nashville (at Husk), but here it’s gonna be a major focus and could take years to find those seed and get farmers to grow the beans and squash and corn that were here.
We’ll do a fry bread for sure. It’s not a native food; it was the supplies given to the Cherokee to survive when they got kicked out: sugar, flour and lard. It’s a symbol of a really sad time — it was the fry bread that caused obesity and diabetes. We won’t deep fry it — we want to treat it ‘to order’ so it’s really fresh and sear it on the plancha and bake it in the hearth. We have these traditions — I mean this is Husk and we want to use them — but we’re not tied to them. It’s easy to do that. It’s more difficult to say ‘what are the possibilities of Cherokee fry bread right here in this town?’
Being inspired by Cherokee cooking sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s the most challenging thing that I’ve researched. What I’ve had to do is go past Google, go past, and keep going. That’s when it gets fun — the really exciting discoveries. If we can’t find them, then they’re at a very high risk of being lost and forgotten.
I’ve spent the last six months doing the research and collecting data. I know we’ll do a riff on the Cherokee bean cake. Take the whole fried corn kernel, put it in a pot, add ash from the fireplace, cook it until the skin comes off, then rinse it, put it above the fireplace, and let it dry really hard. We have our own grist mill in the restaurant, so we’ll take the hominy cornmeal and mix it with buttermilk and take whatever beautiful dried bean or fresh pea we have and fold those two together and wrap it, treat it like a tamale, throw it in the fire. Once the weather turns back, we’ll forage and use trees and barks and roots and wild spices to make a Native American-style ham. Their meat cures are fascinating and brilliant compared to how we do it. We use sugar, salt, and black peppercorns. Their recipes are spruce tips, juniper berries, sassafras root, ginseng, pine, and pine cones. Really delicious when applied to pig.”
No Afterthought Desserts
For a restaurant obsessed with plated produce, desserts were described as “exciting.”
“I want to do three desserts that are just insanely simple, the most comforting, delicious things. For instance, we’re taking black walnuts and turning them into a stack cake. And a buckle that we’ll stew apples in sweet potato juice and make cornbread biscotti instead of a crumble and put that over the top with a scoop of hickory ice cream made by throwing a burning log into heavy cream. It tastes like a roasted marshmallow. And the messiest, gnarliest one is kind of an ice cream sundae with Poppycock-style popcorn and peanuts.
I’ve had Nat Bradford, Glenn Roberts, and Brian Ward growing African Carolina Runner peanuts, and I’m so excited about using them. It’ll be chocolate ice cream made with Olive and Sinclair chocolate, our friends from Nashville, and a butterscotch made with sorghum and lime and a white powder derived from freshly pressed green peanut oil.”
Easy as P.I.E
Brock uses a theory he’s dubbed P.I.E to develop the ever-changing menus at Husk.
“The approach to putting dishes together is a system I call the pie theory: P.I.E. I’ve been using it for 10 or 12 years. P stands for product, I for ideas, and E for execution. We work with producers to get products in our hands, then we decide what we’ll do with them.
I always push myself, ‘Alright, what have I never done with a turnip?’ That’s always the first thought: what have I never done or seen done with something. That’s where the ideas come in. Execution is where the technical craftsmanship comes in. How long can we wait to cook the turnip? How vibrantly alive can we make each ingredient? Where does that fit into this kitchen, in getting it out onto the plate and what can we do when we’re super, super busy? We want food to appear insanely simple, but have just surprising intensity, deliciousness. We’re trying to take an ingredient and amplify it, going from acoustic to electric guitar like Bob Dylan. How can we boost the flavor of a turnip? What can we do to set off another part of your brain, another part of your tongue?”
Brock “boosted” said turnip with mere drops of derived country ham elixir applying the “soul of Southern food, that depth, that comfort, a nurturing aspect but very sneaky and healthy and minimalist.”