Food & Drink

Anthony Bourdain wanted more time to tell this Beaufort County, Lowcountry story

Anthony Bourdain has been remembered in recent days for his ability to drop into different places all over the world and take a seat at the locals' table without condescension.

More than a decade ago, the chef, author and television host immersed himself in Beaufort County's Gullah culture, becoming one of numerous celebrities to shine a light on a fading and little known way of life. His visit to St. Helena Island was condensed into a seven-minute segment for the Travel Channel's "No Reservations" episode about Bourdain experiencing South Carolina in 2007.

Bourdain died June 8 at age 61. While his experience in South Carolina will always be tied to his visits to Charleston's celebrated food scene, Bourdain briefly sneaked into the Sea Islands and offered the world a glimpse of Gullah cuisine.

On the show, he launched into a brief overview of Gullah history and dined at St. Helena's Gullah Grub with chef and owner Bill Green because the restaurant "is authentically Gullah as it gets," Bourdain said on the show.

Bourdain had talked to Green about returning, Green said last week.

"He was going to go a little deeper this time," Green said.

Celebrities have found this place in recent years and spotlighted the endangered Gullah-Geechee way of life.

Comedian Dave Chappelle and actor Norman Reedus stopped by while filming an episode of Reedus' AMC television show, "Ride with Norman Reedus." And W. Kamau Bell featured nearby Penn Center and Gullah culture on CNN's "United Shades of America" in May.

Martha Stewart has also visited Green for an oyster roast in Charleston.

The attention results in momentary spikes in traffic for Gullah Grub, which despite a location at a prominent St. Helena intersection still sees lulls in traffic.

Signs along Sea Island Parkway in front of Martin Luther King. Jr. Memorial Park advertise St. Helena's upcoming annual Juneteenth celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.

Green's son, William, noted that Gullah Grub would thrive at a more prominent location like Beaufort. But the mission of the restaurant and the family's community farm where they grow the produce for their dishes isn't about building a business.

"It's about way more than that," the son said.

The Greens saw development overcome their native James Island. The family's desire is to raise another generation in the ways of farming and cooking and help preserve St. Helena from the fate of other coastal communities once heavily populated with descendants of West Africa.

"It's pretty much a lost art," Bill Green said while ducking through the front entrance to his restaurant. "The cooking, farming — all of it."

His wife, Sara Reynolds Green, operates Marshview Community Organic Farm and with her husband teaches children how to grow and prepare food, using the farm and restaurant as training grounds.

During the spring, children planted tomatoes, squash, green beans and corn and harvested crops including lettuce, beets and collards.

Green's 11-year-old granddaughter, Zariya, has been helping at the farm since she was 4 and quickly moved into the kitchen at the restaurant. She said the classes help teach kids not only traditional methods and ingredients but how to add their own flair to a dish.

A fundraiser for the Gullah cooking school is June 28 at the restaurant, with live music, a packed menu of fried fish, squash casserole and cornbread and a screening of Bourdain's time at Gullah Grub.

In talking of a possible return to St. Helena, the world traveler said he wanted to know more about the number of different spices and prolonged cook times in Gullah "smiling and comfort food," Green said.

On "No Reservations," Green served Bourdain she-crab soup and Frogmore stew.

""Then we have something that's going to make you smile every time you take a bite, you're going to love it." Green told Bourdain as he added ingredients to the boil.

At the table inside the restaurant on Sea Island Parkway not far from Penn Center, Bourdain learned about the Gullah language over cornbread and sweet tea and lemonade.

Green told Bourdain about his second act training hounds and horses to conduct drag hunts — or fox hunting without the hounds — and the men later visited Middleton Place to experience the sport.

A Gullah man is a man of many trades, Green said.

"I would not last long in the Gullah community," Bourdain said jokingly.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the location of Martha Stewart's visit. She visited Green in Charleston.