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Meet the chef Q&A: Kevin Johnson

The South might be just as famous for its hospitality as it is for its food. It’s no surprise, then, to find a warm, neighborhood restaurant with flavor-forward cuisine right in the heart of South Carolina Lowcountry—and that’s exactly what Kevin Johnson, executive chef and owner, has created at The Grocery.

Located in Charleston, S.C., The Grocery takes an authentic approach to Southern cuisine. Although Chef Johnson menus some Southern favorites—albeit with a twist—much of The Grocery’s menu aligns with the emphasis on seasonal, local produce seen in traditional Southern cooking.  “We’re a vegetable-focused restaurant, and we highlight produce as center-of-plate,” he says. “We rely on fresh ingredients from local producers, and we draw inspiration from what they provide.”

Here are some additional insights on Southern cuisine from Chef Johnson.

Q: Regional American cuisine—and Southern cuisine in particular—is enjoying a renaissance of sorts today. What is it about Southern cuisine that resonates with consumers?
Celebration of the South seems to have spread outside of the Mason-Dixon Line. Southern food has a certain familiarity to it, and Southern cuisine is regarded as one of the true original regional cuisines. It has historical relevance and, through its ingredients and foodways, is very traditional.

Q: How do you menu Southern dishes at The Grocery?
There are definitely restaurants that are more “Southern” than us. Since the South has a lot of influences from African, French and European cuisines, we find ourselves drawing inspiration from those areas as well. Many of our flavor profiles come from the Mediterranean rim even though we focus on ingredients like corn and peppers—ingredients that are traditionally Southern. For example, in Charleston right now, we’re inundated with tomatoes and okra since it’s the end of the growing season. Typically, you’d see a lot of fried okra or stewed tomatoes, but we’ve taken that concept and presented it in a different way. We roast small, tender okra pods in a wood oven, and we serve them with an African-spiced tomato gravy.

Q: Name some ways you incorporate almonds onto The Grocery’s menu.
We work with almonds frequently, since much of our food is influenced by Spanish cuisine, and almonds are the main nut of that area. We use them to garnish dishes or puree them into romesco sauces, sometimes with traditional red pepper or squash and pumpkin in the fall. Right now, we’re doing a cantaloupe and almond gazpacho.

This post is sponsored by Almond Board of California

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