Sean Brock, chef of McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, is the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef from the Southeast.
Brock thanked “my mom, my wife, my family, food and bourbon,” according to the Foundation’s twitter report from the James Beards Awards in New York City Monday night.
It is the third straight year a Charleston chef has taken the regional award. Last year, it went to Mike Lata of Fig, and to Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill in 2008.
Late last week, Brock said: “I don’t need to win. Just being there is enough for me.” As he explained it, he will be in the company of famous chefs Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter and asking himself, “What am I doing here?”
This was Brock’s third straight year at the world’s most prestigious competition for cooking. He was nominated in 2008 and 2009 for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award. In 2009 and this year, he was nominated for the Best Chef for the Southeast award. Chefs from Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia compete in the category.
The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit organization established to celebrate, nurture and preserve the nation’s culinary heritage and diversity.
Brock guesses that what sets himself apart from many other fine chefs is that he does more than cook. He grows a garden dedicated to heirloom Southern seeds, and he is especially proud of his work to help restore the original benne seed to the place of honor it once held in South Carolina.
“I have a ton of it planted,” he said. “I plan to take that seed and give it to every farmer in Charleston.”
What we now know as the sesame seed has little in common with what once was known as the benne seed, which was genetically modified for oil production.
“Every benne wafer you’ve ever eaten is a fraud,” he said. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to taste.”