Discovering ‘The Divine Swine’ in the Deep South

David Gilbert // Dallas, TX

I stayed late after class in culinary school in Charleston, South Carolina to watch a food competition. Afterward, the combination of my curiosity and hunger pulled me across Blake Street into Hannibal’s Soul Food Kitchen for lunch. The exterior was drenched in a blue paint that could be best described as “half off.”

Passing through the door that looked as if it survived many hurricanes, my eyes adjusted to the dim light as I was punched in the face with the smell of old fryer oil. The menu was scrawled on the wall and I could not comprehend it. I mumbled “pork chop” at the counter since it was the only item that made sense at the time, even though I had never eaten a pork chop in my life.

And then a black woman in a disinterested voice asked, “What three?”

Panicked, I returned a blank stare. I had not considered which sides I wanted with my pork chop. She proceeded to fill my plate with choices she made for me. Collards, boiled sweet potato, and Hoppin’ John hit my plate with a lunch lady-like splatter.

I sat down, staring down a plate of food that had me enraptured like a pre-teen boy reading his first Sports Illustrated swim suit issue. I knew I was in for an experience. I took the first bite through the fried golden crust of a tender juicy piece of pork. It took me a moment to process whether I had committed an enormous sin or had been transported to heaven. I decided that after nineteen years without pork, I now knew what ecstasy felt like. The crispy pork and sides were demolished in three minutes. Then it hit me. I was in the bona fide South.

David Gilbert is a world traveling chef whose website Beyond the Kitchen documents tastes and ingredients from around the world. He was selected to be the Executive Chef to represent the United States at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. He will start as Hotel Eilan Resort and Spa’s Executive Chef at the end of January. He tweets at@beyondthekit.

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