Growing up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Travis Grimes has Southern roots that reach deep. In high school, Grimes’s extracurriculars consisted of working at local restaurants with old time Southern chefs. There, he learned the true essence of Southern cooking while exploring ingredients and flavors from the agrarian South.
Armed with passion and experience, Grimes studied at Johnson & Wales, graduating with a culinary degree in 2000. As an intern, he worked with James Beard-winning “Best Chef Southeast” Louis Osteen at Louis's Restaurant. Next came another pivotal stop in Charleston, where Grimes helped open Cypress Lowcountry Grill on East Bay Street—right next door to McCrady’s. It wasn’t long before Grimes was working for the neighbors, as sous chef for Michael Kramer at McCrady’s in 2003, eventually working alongside Sean Brock, who took over as executive chef in 2006.
Working so long in tandem to create a new kind of Southern cooking, Brock took Grimes along to open his new restaurant, Husk. Alongside Brock, Grimes helps to implement and refine the charcuterie program at both Husk and McCrady’s, all while incorporating indigenous and heirloom products, pork products from Virginia pigs (his pig prowess helped him win Memphis’s Cochon Heritage BBQ in 2013), and sustainable seafood from the nearby Atlantic—recalling his early inspiration and continued motivation in the rural South.
Why: I have a 2-year-old son. That aside, the importance of a charity like this is apparent.
Interview with Travis Grimes of Husk – Charleston, SC
Antoinette Bruno: May I call you Farmer Travis?
Travis Grimes: Absolutely! I've definitely dabbled in … call it what you want, molecular gastronomy, the avant-garde; I was with Sean [Brock] when he was reaching the zenith of that work. But then we switched to farming and local [sourcing], so we touched base on that and experienced the joys of farming.
I then got he bug for charcuterie. You catch it and you catch it all the way—it's all you do, any spare second you have … pâtés, bologna … You make your first meat, and it's like gold fever. Watch out, it'll take over your life! I had it for almost four years, but now that this restaurant is up and running, it's finally coming to a point where I can begin to focus on a couple of projects instead of the mayhem of trying to keep this thing glued together. Now it's time for me to get moving forward again, find inspiration in a personal project like that.
AB: How closely do you work with the other restaurants in the group?
TG: We work together with McCrady’s. What they're working on, we're working on. We meet in the middle and compare notes so we move twice as quickly. We make Mountain Dew vinegar; they make Mountain Dew vinegar, permanent ginger vinegars, rum and coke. They’ll send over a sample of something to taste.
AB: Why not just make one big batch of Mountain Dew vinegar?
TG: Because somebody has to put in that extra legwork in one of the kitchens and everybody's busy. By that rationale, I could make all of the pickles for both restaurants, which are a very time consuming thing. Maybe one day when we've expanded and I get tired of running around the restaurant, maybe they'll let me run the commissary. That would be my baby. I'd make butter, pickles, pasta, and food for all the restaurants.
But there’s a beauty to having the freedom to change the menu daily. The day could be gloomy and you're not inspired by that dish anymore, because that's a sunny day kind of dish. We're all moved by different things. Sometimes you drive into work, and something tells you that you need to change the entire menu—it happens! That is how we go about our dishes. Something from last season that has been pickled will become this season's accompaniment. I’m constantly stockpiling ingredients to work with. This is the rule—it has to be from the South. We are a Southern restaurant using ingredients from here, but that doesn't mean we have to serve mac and cheese. We want to break that mindset using Southern ingredients. We enjoy highlighting cornbread and those things, but it's about showcasing this versatility, the ability to cook with the ingredients.
AB: Tell me about working with Sean Brock.
TG: I have been cooking with Sean for six or seven years. He lets me run wild with the menu. When the farmer brings me something, it's time to move on it. I never know what might walk in the door. I got a call yesterday about rhubarb in Tennessee, which I will use to make vinegar all for next year. I'll buy it now and make stuff that's cool so next season I can use it to make something cooler.
The very first year that Husk opened, it was a very difficult time for us to cook because we hadn't been able to stock up our stockpile. Now we're making so many things, every year we add ingredients to our pantry. Everybody else can just call up their guy and say, "Send me this product." We figure out how to make it. When we make something one season, we have to wait to use it in the next season when it's developed. We made peach vinegar last year and now we have to wait for the peaches this year so I can have fresh peaches marinated in peach vinegar. I didn't have that option last year, but now I do. We constantly build new things. We don't have to have a reason for making it. We just need to make it. We will find a reason. If we do a project and it comes out well, we'll figure out something to do with it. Not everything we do has with a plan in mind.