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    THE HOT SEAT: Ashley Christensen of AC Restaurants

    THE HOT SEAT: Ashley Christensen of AC Restaurants

    Ashley Christensen is that rare combo of a “people’s chef” and a “chef’s chef,” a consummate professional utilizing French and the occasional modernist technique to reinterpret the Southern classics she grew up on in North Carolina. With the opening of Poole’s Diner in 2007, she helped fuel a Raleigh, N.C. food scene, and while that flagship restaurant is still cooking on all burners, her reach has expanded through a growing number of restaurants, as well as accolades, including the James Beard Award for the Best Chef in America in 2019. Still, eat at any of her restaurants, and there isn’t the sense of the larger national conversation -- instead, Christensen’s food feels like it’s cooked just for you, which it is, of course. Her food is at once intimate and comforting, yet horizon-broadening too, so yes, she is a one special cook. 

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    THE HOT SEAT: Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse, Alexander City, AL

    THE HOT SEAT: Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse, Alexander City, AL

    If you know much of anything about Southern cuisine and restaurants, chances are, you know the name Rob McDaniel. He’s been nominated for numerous James Beard awards, and his long tenure at SpringHouse on Lake Martin outside of Birmingham, AL has allowed him to evolve as a chef respecting the seasons and sustenance from his home state. 

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    THE HOT SEAT: Chef Jason Stanhope of Fig

    THE HOT SEAT: Chef Jason Stanhope of Fig

    It makes all the “best in Charleston lists,” it’s probably been suggested by two or more of your friends, but chances are, even after all the build up, a visit to FIG in Charleston, SC will live up -- or surpass -- that reputation. That’s in large part because of the steady hand of Chef Jason Stanhope on the helm, a James Beard Best Chef: South winner who loves to cook and loves to build a team that excels at every aspect of a restaurant experience.

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    THE HOT SEAT: Chef Brandon Carter of FARM Bluffton

    THE HOT SEAT: Chef Brandon Carter of FARM Bluffton

    Chef Brandon Carter followed that second tide with his move to Bluffton as head of culinary operations for Palmetto Bluff, but he soon made his own name beyond the confines of the community by opening FARM Bluffton, which looks to that Lowcountry landscape for its daily menu inspiration, then melds it with imaginative preps from cultures far beyond the state. 

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    The Hot Seat: Chef Andrea Griffith of Pursell Farms

    The Hot Seat: Chef Andrea Griffith of Pursell Farms

    By Stephanie Burt of The Southern Fork

    Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Ala., is a long way from a childhood on front porch stoops in Philly, but Chef Andrea Griffith has found a home  at high end  Southern resorts, first at Greenbrier in West Virginia, then at Primland in Virginia, before settling years ago in Alabama. In the kitchen at Pursell, she excels at cooking from the Southern seasonal bounty and making a name for herself hosting delicious culinary events. Often those events center around the Sea Island Forge installed at the resort, so it only seemed right to put her on the hotseat. With her usual charm and down-to-earth grace (and probably with a pair of tongs in one hand), she obliged.

    Chef Andrea Griffith on Sea Island Forge Kettle



    Do you have a grilling or campfire memory that started your love of outdoor cooking?

    I grew up in downtown Philly, and we were never outdoor people. I mean steaks on the grill, sure, that sort of thing, but when I met my ex-husband, he took me camping, and yes, it was the most horrific experience of my whole life [laughs] but cooking over a campfire was awesome. I realized that there was nothing I couldn’t do. That wasn’t that bad.

    What’s one meal that really shines on your SIF Kettle?

    People seem to flock to my play on Mexican street corn with a homemade ranch-style aioli.

    What is something you’ve cooked on the SIF Kettle that surprised you?

    I’ll do a sourdough boule with pickled onions and goat cheese, or you know, pull out the double Griswold cast iron skillet and do fried chicken. The surprising thing is you can make about anything on a SIF.

    How would you describe your style of cooking?

    I am a purist. I want to take an ingredient and make it taste like what it is. I’m modern American cuisine, then I pair with accentuating flavors. For instance, mushrooms are one of my favorite things. But I want them to taste like mushrooms, not covered up with other flavors. That’s just one example.

    What type of wood do you like for your SIF Kettle?

    I like a hickory / cedar blend. Chestnut for smoking or grilling. And that hickory doesn’t put up as much black fumes.

    What’s something tricky about open fire that the average cook needs to know?

    I teach guests in an open forum on the SIF, so I’m used to lots of questions. It’s really all about getting to know the kettle. With a gas grill, you set the temperature, and then it’s set, but here, you have to maintain it. A lot of people are afraid it’s too hot or not hot enough. But the more you work with it, the more you know what you need.

    What is your favorite element of the SIF Kettle?

    The beauty of the grill grate arm. I can do a whole side of salmon, use the dome, producing steam, and I don’t have to flip. Finding the right place for the heat and then using that dome to not have to flip fish is a thing of beauty.


    Summer South of the Border Grilled Sweet Corn

    From Chef Andrea Griffith, Pursell Farms, Sylacauga, Ala


    Serves 6 people


    6-8 ears of fresh sweet corn with husks, washed and silks removed

    1 c. Hellman’s mayonnaise

    1 tbsp, dried dill (or 2 tbsp. fresh, finely chopped)

    1 tbsp. garlic powder

    Salt and pepper to taste

    1 bunch cilantro, stalks removed, finely chopped

    Hot sauce to taste

    1 c. crumbled cojito cheese


    1. Fold husks around corn, twisting slightly at the end, then place on a medium hot grills, and roast corn in husk until almost cooked.
    2. While corn is roasting, in a bowl, mix mayonnaise, dill, garlic powder, and salt and pepper, and set aside.
    3. Remove corn from grill onto platter, then pull back husk of each cob (husk should all be at the stalk end but not removed) and brush each cob well with the mayo mixture.
    4. Return corn cobs to the grill, keeping kernels exposed, and grill until they begin to char.
    5. Remove from heat and immediately sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
    6. Drizzle with hot sauce as desired, top with crumbled cojito, and serve warm.