Chef, author to appear at Taste of Gullah

·3 min read

Jun. 9—Kevin Mitchell's path was set when he was just 6 years old, whipping up dishes in his grandmother's kitchen. By age 7, the New Jersey native knew he wanted to be a chef.

"When I would spend time with my grandma, my brothers could go outside and play. But she wanted me to stay inside and cook with her. I think it was partly her wanting me to know how to do it, but I also think she saw something in me," he said. "When I was 7, I saw a television news story about the Culinary Olympics, and I saw these guys with crisp white shirts and tall hats. And I knew I wanted to be a chef."

Mitchell started working in restaurants at 16, eventually going on to attend culinary school and earned a bachelor's degree in food management. Later, he went on to complete a master's degree at the University of Mississippi. He moved to Charleston and became the chief instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.

Through his journey, he found himself continually drawn to the history of the Gullah people. This population, descended from the enslaved people stolen from West Africa, created a vibrant culture of food and traditions in South Carolina and Coastal Georgia.

"I first became familiar with Gullah cooking when I was working Charlotte Jenkins who was writing a book about it and needed a test kitchen, so we used mine at the institute to try the recipes," he said.

"But Gullah cooking centers around 'making do' so many of it is one pot cooking. It definitely centers around seafood and rice."

Mitchell's interest in the food of the Gullah people grew deeper after he was tapped to help his colleague, David Shields, at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, write a book on the topic.

"'Taste the State: South Carolina's Signature Foods, Recipes and Their Stories' came out in October 2021. It's an ode to South Carolina food and ingredients," he said. "It's an encyclopedia of sorts with 84 different dishes. We've researched food and recipes from the 1700s and 1800s to tell these really interesting stories about the food."

The book has seen much success since its release and is already in its second printing. It's available online at Amazon and other similar retailers.

Mitchell relishes sharing these stories which is why he signed on to appear at the upcoming Taste of Gullah event. The chef and author will sign copies of his book during the fundraiser, being held from 5 to 7 p.m. June 17 at the Historic Harrington School Cultural Center located at 291 South Harrington Road on St. Simons Island. Proceeds from the $30 ticket price will go toward supporting the African America Heritage Coalition and its work.

In addition to Mitchells appearance, there will be food trucks and vendors, including Country Boy Cooking, Southern Soul BBQ and Luvenia's Catering. They will serve traditional Gullah favorites including fried fish, collard greens, chicken livers, pulled pork and other favorites. Chip Wilson and the Golden Isles Elite Singers are slated to perform. Tours of the historic Harrington School will also be available. Tickets may be purchased at EventBrite.

Mitchell is looking forward to the event and sharing his work with attendees.

"I'm always excited to celebrate the culture, and though not originally from this area, I have a lot of love for the food and culture," he said.