Culture. Tradition. History. For Chef Forrest Parker, these are the go-to ingredients essential for memorable Southern dining and abundant living. You can literally taste this trinity in the dishes served up throughout Charleston, where Parker leads culinary tours.
"As a chef, I draw heavily from a culturally rich Lowcountry history," said Parker, who is the Executive Chef at the Drawing Room, the restaurant in The Vendue, a boutique hotel in Charleston. "Our dishes reflect the taste of time and place."
Representing the culinary aesthetic of South Carolina is a perfect fit for Parker. A native of Anderson, Parker attended College of Charleston never suspecting it would indirectly lead to a career in the kitchen. To earn spending money, he studied vigorously to become a licensed tour guide and worked a hodgepodge of cooking jobs. When he heard iconic James Beard Chef Louis Osteen was opening a new restaurant, Parker correctly sensed it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"To be on the opening team of that restaurant as a young culinarian was such a formative experience," he said. "To work under Louis Osteen changed the course of my life."
It was the 1990s and Charleston was in the midst of a culinary renaissance. As Parker describes it, the city was ebbing away from the "Age of Fed-Ex" - a time when chefs routinely had ingredients shipped into their restaurants from far-flung places - and cresting toward a new focus on locally sourced and heirloom foods.
He worked hard to develop his culinary skills under Osteen's tutelage, and the effort paid off in the form of offers to head his own kitchen. He soon found himself at the helm of operations in Minneapolis and, eventually, Opryland in Nashville. A few years ago, a job opportunity for his wife led him back to Charleston, which was now leaving its own unique footprint on the nation's culinary map. Parker was immediately caught up in the energy.
"I still find it fascinating - all the research being done on heirloom crops specific to agriculture in South Carolina," Parker said. "I might not understand all the technicalities of it, but to be in the room with these researchers and listen to their findings and suggestions is humbling and exciting."
From 2012-2016, Parker channeled his enthusiasm into thoughtfully prepared dishes at the historic Old Village Post House Inn, located in the heart of Mount Pleasant's quaint Old Village. It is part of the Hall Management Group, which he credits, along with the operation's legendary executive chef, Frank Lee, for providing guidance and support.
"My success is not mine alone," said Parker, who also writes a lively food blog and is very active on social media.
He invites foodies to experience cuisine infused with South Carolina culture, tradition and history.
"Come experience why we do what we do and what we do it with," Parker said.