Shaun Garcia – The Past Meets the Future
by Lynne Brandon
Greenville – S.C. As a small boy, Shaun Garcia thought working in a kitchen was boring. As a man he learned serving good food was about hospitality and taking care of people. Like many in the restaurant business, the Chef de Cuisine at Soby’s and The Loft at Soby’s, Shaun learned to cook from family. Shaun learned about the lost art of canning or “putting up,” at the hands of his great-grandmother and grandmother who pickled and preserved food in the great tradition of the South. He recalled asking his grandmother for advice with making pear preserves,” said Garcia. “She said she would be right over to show me. It couldn’t be described over the phone.” Now he ascribes to the same philosophy. “You have to experience food by smelling it, feeling it, tasting it and seeing it.”
Shaun breaks from tradition when it comes to sharing recipes. “It is the greatest compliment so I pass them on if someone asks,” said Garcia. I took him up on that, and he was happy to share the recipe for the creamiest, smoothest grits I have tasted.
The Southern chef is proud of his heritage and likes to cook up a little history lesson with his food. Bourbon is a celebrated libation in his sauces and was highlighted during Derby week in a mint julep BBQ sauce, Bourbon sauce for smoked shoulders, Bourbon Chocolate Cake and other recipes. “Bourbon shows America’s spirit at its best,” said Shaun. “Farmer’s grow and cut the corn and use oak barrels for storage. It has America all over it.”
His Gullah Shrimp and Grits is, he said, a customer favorite. “It is easy to make and most folks have these ingredients in the house,” explained Shaun. Necessity is the mother of invention and the popular Southern dish harkens back to folks on the coast eating shrimp and grits for breakfast since the foods were handy. These were the days before meal planning and people ate what they had available. Adding vegetables from the garden made the dish versatile, and voila, the shrimp and grits dish was born.
Other southern staples connect the past to the present such as the all-American favorite, tomato which shows up on menus as fried green tomatoes, salsa and chow chow, a relish made from unripened tomatoes, great on a burger or as a side to fried chicken and pan gravy. “These foods, along with old favorites like pimento cheese make people think about the past and offer a taste of time,” said Shaun. “They are bouquets of history.”
Farm and fresh are emphasized to diners and prospects alike. Relationships with farmers are cultivated and considered an instrumental part of the restaurant and chef’s success. Soby’s has its own garden from which to pick heirloom tomatoes, corn, peppers and other vegetables that end up on the menu. “The seed to the plate” (farm to table) thinking is not new,” said Shaun. “We are just going back to our roots. This is the way we ate 50 years ago.”
Don’t let the simplicity fool you. The taste will make you a believer.
Start with fresh ground grits (not instant) and cook slowly according to directions in salted water. Add dairy at the end – heavy cream, butter and white cheddar cheese, salt and pepper, all to taste.
Serve as a side with an “over easy” egg perched on top of a friend green tomato and home made biscuits with jam or sorghum molasses for a bonified Southern breakfast.