What it was like being on the other side of the Festival.

Dear Dad:

So many people asked me over the weekend what it was like to be on the other side of the Festival that I thought I would be the first to let you know. There are probably others who wanted to ask but didn’t think it was the right thing to do. Or people just speculated or asked others close to me. But here it is for you–my top 10 points on what it was like being on the other side of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival:

  1. First and foremost, it was great! For those of you that saw me, you know I enjoyed every second of it. I wasn’t stressed, I was able to do exactly what I wanted to, when I wanted to do it and with who I wanted to do it with. I had always heard it was a fun weekend but to finally experience it first hand as an attendee, I now can concur–it was a great time!
  2. Not that I wanted to jump in and help, but I did feel for the staff–especially for Randi Weinstein and Sara Donahue, when the weather was crappy during set up. They work so hard all year-long to develop a plan, to create the best events they can, and to have to deal with cold, rainy, muddy conditions, it turns all those plans into mush–literally. They did not let it stop them and worked hard to make it all work, and it did.
  3. I was not there to judge–I was there to celebrate. So many people came to me and either criticized stuff or wanted me to say bad things. Sure there were things here and there they can fix, but overall it was another amazing year and I was there to celebrate that, not bash it.
  4. It was nice to finally be publicly recognized by the Festival for doing a great job with starting and running it for 8 years. It might have taken them a year, but having Gillian Zettler, the new director, mention me and the accomplishments I had achieved for the event in a speech was a such great thing, and much appreciated.
  5. I did not realize how many frindge and unofficial events there were during the Festival–and how great they all were. The majority of my schedule was filled with these parties and they were honestly some of the best events I have been to in Charleston.
  6. I loved being able to do whatever I wanted to do! Take shots from a boob ice luge, sit back and joke around with friends about apps like Tinder, have longer than five-minute conversations with most people–I did it all and did not mind the hangover each morning as a result of it.
  7. Festival events should not start until at least 10:00AM. Having three days of early events, I will say it was hard to manage and do it with a smile. Now being on the other side, I realize it is really hard to be up and at ‘em at 8AM without bags under the eyes.
  8. It was great running into so many volunteers. Everyone was so sweet and said the nicest things to me all weekend. I did not realize how many people I had become close to over the years and really enjoyed seeing them all!
  9. I missed my ticketing team. Not that I wanted to deal with a single wristband or scanner, the team that runs ticketing is the bomb! LK, Paul and Kim….I loved seeing you and missed having the time together with you like I did in the past. Drop it like its hot!
  10. Having a golf cart is still key. It was so helpful and allowed me to get to and from with so many friends in tow. I walked away with a lot of swag, a parking ticket and three new umbrellas because of it.

So no need to ask, there it is to see. Being on the other side did two important things–confirmed my decision to leave and made me proud of being part of something so important for our city. Here’s to another great year in 2015!


Finding Out Who Your True Friends Are…

Dear Dad:

First of all, it has been some time since I wrote my last post. And, it was a damn good post. AND I have had a lot going on. Leaving a high-profile, high paying job was what some have called “ballsy” but the risk has paid off a million times over. Don’t get me wrong. It was hard leaving an organization that I built from the ground up, in my house, with most of my equipment and resources. The hours, the time, the money I put into the Festival was enormous but leaving it made me realize a lot of important things. One of which is who your friends really are.

What surprised me the most is who all were not just friends, but major supporters. The letters and calls from chefs from all over was overwhelming. Nico Romo’s email was one of the most touching and he and other Charleston chefs over and over said things like “I wish I had told you before how much we appreciated what you did.” I cried reading these and never knew the extent over how many people I really did help along the way.

One of my favorite calls was from Rathead. Here is someone who I don’t know super well, but well enough to love and adore him (and his wife). He called soon after to say he was first bummed that I was leaving but on the other hand was excited for me–we now could go out all night during the Festival and then best of all I could SLEEP IN! Amen to that!

Then there were the media. People who I have developed friendships with all of my career and ones I will probably work with the closest with my new business. They all were great, even those I was worried might run the other way when I reached out, since I was now part of the “dark side.” Not naming names, but the opposite has actually happened and so many of them have called and emailed me excited about the new venture and sharing their support.

My “out of the office” friends and family have all been amazing. You have supported my efforts, been my biggest cheerleaders and have helped take care of my boys during all the trips and late nights I have had while building the business.

Wow, and the clients. I love each of you so much and am beyond thrilled that I found a mix of people who fit perfect with Home Team’s philosophy and personality. I can swear, drink and say whatever the hell I want around you and it makes my days go by fast as I enjoy every single minute.

I appreciate all the calls and emails I got from those who really did not know me well and that I never really spent much time with. The volunteers, the community leaders, the people who I always looked up to over the years. Each note has meant the world.

But as I expected there are some that showed their true colors and even though I thought our relationships were real and deep, now that I am not in a position to help them, I am no longer a person they need in their lives. Most of these so-called friends are ones that I can write off as “part of that chapter” and I am glad I know who is and who is not real friends.

So to the people who love me, that support me and have done all they can to be a true friend, thank you. I will always be the same for you and can’t wait to share this new chapter together.


To New Beginnings

Dear Dad:

A philosophy you always instilled in me was that change was hard, but change was good. It is hard to make a change when things are good, but I also believe it is important to follow your heart…and your head and take a new path when it presents itself so clearly.

So today I announce a new beginning and not an ending. I have been honored to have started and led such an incredible organization that has really helped Charleston elevate itself as a leading culinary destination. When the thought of a food and wine festival in the city was first discussed there were only a dozen or so restaurants/chefs paving the way, Mike Lata was a young chef at Anson just beginning to think about starting his own place and Johnson & Wales was closing its doors. But dreams were in the making and big things were about to happen. The Festival was an exciting part of that and I am beyond words when I think of where we have come, and what this city has become.

I have a ton of memories, enough to write a book or two. Most of which I cannot share openly because they were private and intended for me to experience. Some have been amazing and I have and will share more with you in the coming years. And some have not been so great. Egos are prevalent and some of the things I have had to deal with were unfortunate. It is a shame that people’s motives are not always pure, but for those who’s are…thanks!

I am leaving the greatest staff there is. It is what is making leaving so hard to do. They breath, live, love, give, care, cry, sweat, hurt…all for the organization and the Festival is extremely lucky to have them. And they will always be a part of my family.

My friends now are far and wide and I have had so many adventures traveling around visiting them. The SIIS tour, Memphis in May, Lambstock, Symposium, Music to Your Mouth, Aspen and New York too many times to count–all have been life changing experiences.

So many will ask why, and my only answer is why not. I never intended to run the Festival and always wanted to get back to doing my own thing. It is time. I am ready.

I will remain a part forever and cannot wait to see what happens next. And to those that loved, supported, championed and cared for me…thank you! I will always be grateful for you and am proud to call you my friend.

Until we meet again,


A little storybook to say it even better:

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The Greatest Friend You Could Ever Have–Lisa Buzzelli

Dear Dad:

You could only be so lucky to have a friend like Lisa Buzzelli. And this comes from someone who has had a ton of friends in and out of my life. Lisa is one of the most caring, thoughtful, entertaining, engaging, loving, inquisitive friends I have ever had the pleasure of having.

I have only known Lisa for a few years (make that 10) and have had some really incredible moments with her. Whether she knows it or not, she has had a major impact on me and my life, as well as my kids, my family, my friends, my profession, my city…and on and on.

When I first met her, she was the manager at newly opened IMAX Theatre (which has since closed). It was then when I got to see how talented she was and to see her love for the city. She lead the charge in creating synergy to the area and was smart with her approach to marketing Aquarium Wharf as a destination. She thought big and had incredible vision. She assembled one of the best staffs I have ever seen who were equally as talented, passionate and creative.

It was obvious to have her part of the Festival when we were coming up with the initial concepts. She instantly agreed to serve as one of the original Planning Committee members and headed up all of the marketing efforts. I learned from her how to be super creative, how to turn over every stone possible and how to do it all without spending a dime. She is queen of collaboration and cross-promotion.

Since her early days on that Committee, she has remained one of the few original volunteers that is still extremely involved in the organization and has appropriately been named “Queen Volunteer”.

But more than a hard worker, she is a dedicated and thoughtful friend. She is the first to send you a card and a little gift “just because”. Her gifts are extremely thoughtful including the pez with labels, the lottery tickets, the liquor and wine and much more.

Lisa is a part of my family. When she agreed to become Chase’s godmother, she took it extremely seriously and still remains active in his life (yes sending cards and gifts for every holiday–who does that?). And because I know her like I do, I am sure she lights a candle for him when she goes to church.

“Lisa B” as we call her, is one of the best people to have while you are out to dinner or at a bar. She asks a million questions, which I love, and really cares to find out how you are, what’s new in the world and how she can help out. I could sit around for hours with her on a deck or dock somewhere, shooting the shit, drinking–her Miller Lite, me red wine–and laughing about our lives.

My only regret is she does not work with me day in and day out. I wish there had been a way to have her part of the Festival team full-time. I know she would make an incredible addition and would really help continue to elevate the event to enormous potential.

Dad, I know you have had friends like Lisa and as you would do, I embrace her and treasure every moment we have together. I hope to continue to learn from her and to become a better person just trying to be half the friend she is to me and to so many others.

So to friends like Lisa! May they always be around and always know how amazingly great they are.



This is who to be thankful for…

Dear Dad:

What a more appropriate time than this week to let you know what I am really thankful for. Well besides the normal things in life–kids, husband, family, friends, killer job, awesome life, etc. I am super thankful for all of the people who probably never get thanked.

If you don’t know it already, I have a huge heart for those people who work behind-the-scenes thankless jobs. Yes you know them but many just walk past them without blinking an eye or saying a thing. These are the people who do the disgusting jobs, the jobs that require you work horrendous hours and who sacrifice so much that others take for granted daily. Yes I am talking about the guy I drove past at 7:00AM in the Snyder truck that was going to pick up the rentals from the night before. They are the cooks and chefs that stay in the kitchen, they are those cleaning up the trash as people lavishly consume at a holiday function. They are the dishwashers, the driver of a shuttle, the crew laying out pipe and drape. They are people like Eric and Patrick at PDA. Most people would never meet them but they are some of my all time favorites. Without them, the events or experiences you enjoy the most would not look or sound so good.

It is upsetting to me when people disregard those who work these jobs. And worse, treat them like they are better than they are. These people to me are some of the greatest people around. They are my friends, my colleagues, and sometimes my family! That is why the first thing I do when I go to an event is not go to the bar or find the food station. I look around and find the “crew”, say my hellos and get excited to know they are with me for the night. And even though my job requires me to spend the majority of time in front, welcoming and celebrating with others (which I love to do as well) most days I would prefer being in the backup spaces, catching up with my friends, thanking them for what they do and helping them with their jobs.

I know that if anyone knows this better than me, it is you. You raised me to be thankful, giving and loving to all no matter what they do, what they have or who they are. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your love for people, especially the people in the background, because they are some of the most amazing people around. People like Arnold at Hospitality Staff. No matter what he is doing–cleaning up trash, serving you a beer, welcoming you to an event–he does it with the biggest smile and spirit and makes your day that much brighter.

So this thanksgiving, I thank all of those who probably have not been thanked all day, who are probably working away. What you do amazes me and the world is a better place with you a part of it.


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Chefs, the most generous people I know!

Dear Dad:

I hate to write two back to back letters that are chef related, but in light of what happened last week in the north with Hurricane Sandy, I have no choice.

If you don’t know it already, chefs (and restaurant owners) are some of the most generous, giving people ever. I am constantly amazed by how much they donate to charities ALL OF THE TIME. And it is not just local charities, it is national campaigns and projects. It means flying all over the world, taking time out of their kitchens, most of the time donating the product they serve and working their ass off for causes of all shapes and sizes. I often worry that they do too much and at some point they will all start saying no. But they don’t and they give, give and give.

And it is not just giving to charities and communities, they give to others. They give just by coming out on a busy night to say hello or by sending some special dish for you to enjoy. It is never necessary and always appreciated. They give to their staff’s by mentoring, providing opportunities, experiences and more. They give their life and sacrifice a lot personally by having long and late hours, sweating hard in the kitchen and working most holidays and special occasions, when most others are at home with loved ones enjoying the fruit of their labor.

Chefs give to me in so many ways. They have given me some of the best meals of my life. They are my friends and support me emotionally and professionally week in and week out. They entertain me–they are fun, crazy and sometimes beyond wild. They give to what I do with their time, their ideas, their food, their venues and more.

So that is why I am writing this. It is time to give to them. First, there are so many chefs that lost hundreds of thousands of food and revenue last week after the hurricane. Some lost their restaurants or worst, their homes. But even with that said, most of those affected are out their donating their food, time and services to others in need. That is how amazing they are! But they too need to be supported and I encourage everyone reading this to go visit their restaurants as much as possible. Or if unable to jump on a plane, make a donation to one of the charities assisting their efforts.

We also need to give ongoing and unconditional support in our own towns and communities. Thank them more for what they do, patronize as much as you can, tell your friends and family how amazing they are.

So this is my thank you to all of the chefs who I am blessed to have as a friend, supporter, champion, mentor and guaranteed-good-meal-provider!


p.s. I have another letter coming about the behind-the-scenes staffs that also need the love and support. But while out, be sure to tip, and tip well!

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Sean Brock is the “Southern” Man

Dear Dad:

I had to turn on some Drive By Truckers while writing this, in honor of my friend Sean Brock.

I don’t think people who are in the culinary industry in Charleston (and around the south, and hell the country) could deny the impact Sean Brock has had on them in some way, shape or form. For me, Sean has had a lasting impression, one I will never forget and one I want to continue to keep growing through the years to come.

I feel like in some ways I have seen Sean grow up. When we first met, he was the “new kid” in town, just joining the reigns at McCrady’s. My early memories of him was a shy boy who liked to do a lot with foam. And man was it some tasty foam. He was filling some big shoes with Michael Kramer’s departure and came in not trying to replace, but bringing something new to the table. I loved going in his kitchen (and still do) because it was always filled with “science projects” and young cooks hovering around wanting to learn more. He has continued to build his kitchen, now in various shapes and places, and it is outfitted with more preserves and Ball jars than before. Whatever it is filled with, you know it is good and pure.

In my opinion, Sean gets criticized too often and is sorely under appreciated. I have told him this a million times and wanted to dedicate a blog as a thank you for what he has done for me and for Charleston. We are lucky to have him and hope he stays here for a long, long time.

Here are some of my highlights to date of and with Sean and can’t wait to add more to the list in the future:

  • My all time favorite thing about Sean is his smile and laugh. Anyone who has been around him when he laughs, can’t help to laugh with him. It is memorable, contagious and a true trademark of his.
  • His love for learning, growing, developing, mentoring, etc. He is so passionate for what he does and how he lives. He does not sit still and takes advantage of every moment. To him sleep is a waste, because it is time away from what he loves. That says a lot.
  • How can you not love someone who loves (and has) a pug. I too have a pug and I knew the minute Sean and his wife Tonya shared my passion for the cute, pudgy, food eating, snorting, silly noise making dogs, that we would be life long friends. #obeythepug
  • I knew when Sean invited David Chang (who was just making a name for himself at the time) to Charleston to be part of the Festival, big things would happen for us as an organization. And it did and has. Sean has had a huge part in inviting so many of the amazing talent that has been part of our event. Wylie Dufresne, Paul Liebrandt, George Mendes, Richard Blais, Marco Canora and this year April Bloomfield, Ben Shewry, Daniel Patterson and Chris Cosentino where all in some shape or form here from a phone call/invite from Sean. He is gracious about asking, welcoming to those that come and super supportive to our mission and efforts. That speaks volumes and even though he is busier than ever he is never too crazy to answer a call or a request.
  • He is surrounded by great people. In general I hate it when chefs have “people” but in this case, it is appreciated and welcomed. Kristin Cunningham is a saint and keeps on top of it. Jeremiah Langhorne, Travis Grimes and the entire kitchen and front of the house teams rock it at the restaurants. David Howard is an incredible leader and supporter. And Melany Mullens and the rest of the Polished Pig girls really give it their all. If only all chefs could have “people” like these.
  • Damn the boy can cook. There is nothing I have ever had of Sean’s that I did not “love”. And I have had a lot of his food. From 10 course meals at the restaurant, to pig/lamb/cow/squirrel cooked at a Fatback Collective/SFA type event, I have had my share of flavors and tastes. With every bite, you can taste the history, the time and energy, the love he has for cooking. I look forward to the next time I dine with him (which just so happens to be a Magnus Nilsson dinner next month) because I know it is guaranteed to be good, if not great, if not the best.
  • I love a good ole Southern boy and Sean is that true and true. Even though he looks like he might not have showered sometimes, if you look closer you will see that the torn looking shirt is Billy Reid, along with the pants, the shoes, the hat. He carries the southern brand to its finest and has shown the world how cool a redneck can really be. #makecornbreadnotwar
  • He never complains and never says no. He is one of the most giving and caring people I know. Look at his schedule–New York one day, Atlanta the next. Charleston in between and on to the next. It is all for good causes, including preaching the southern life. He should be applauded for that! Thanks Sean.
  • There are many moments I just can’t write about. Mostly because I got “brocked” and could not handle my intake of pappy at that moment in time. I am always jealous that he cannot only hold his own, but functions astonishing well and pull overnighters like it’s no one’s business. He is polished and cool no matter what, and he always brings something interesting to the mix, aka how to throw up drinking sprite while eating a banana.

So as you can see, I have a lot of reasons to write this blog to Sean. I am sure his cheeks will get a little pink with embarrassment, but he deserves a little praise and cheer. He is such a wonderful person, has such great intentions and has such incredible aspirations. I just can’t wait to see what he does next. Right, Montel Williams!


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You Asked for It…Politics

Dear Dad:

I am probably not alone when I say I am really sick of politics right about now. And, please take this as no insult, Mr. Past Politician. But always around this time of year I get so tired of the bashing, the insulting, the “I’m better than the other guy promising the exact same thing.” So what am I doing. Writing about it. Because amongst all of the negativity and craziness of elections, I have to admit that politics has had and still has a huge impact on my life.

Yes, I know rule #1 is to not ever talk about politics but I can’t help it…it is in my blood. Being raised by you Mr. Senator, Honorable Ernie Passailaigue, made me love politics. You showed me the good. You showed me why to be a “public servant”,  which despite what anyone says or knows, is the true definition of most politicians. Sure there is a paycheck but that amount of sacrifices and long hours is not worth the amount any check can give. You were the ultimate politician. You cared, went door-to-door because you wanted to hear what people wanted and needed. You called people back no matter what time of day or night. You helped people with any and all causes. I was always at awe of your dedication and love for your constituents, your district, your city and your state. If only all politicians could be like you.

And a lot are! Being raised the way I was by who I was (Mr. I have a bridge named after me) made lots of doors open. I met several who were in the state legislator and they were all like you. Thank god…there are some great people running our state (and our country). Even though there are people in it for the wrong reasons like personal gain, there are a handful that were just “sick of” issues and wanted to make a difference. Both Democrats and Republicans. I have had the pleasure of getting to know so many great politicians and they have all done a lot great things to make the place I live better. And that is what politics is all about.

I love being a mix of both a Democrat and a Republican. I don’t consider myself green or independent, but I find myself supporting the best person as I see it. That is the beauty of politics. You have a choice and you can “vote” for people who you feel is the best candidate. Why the majority of people don’t care, don’t vote and don’t get involved baffles me. EVERYONE should vote, no matter which way they want to.

So I guess I am writing this to thank you for getting me involved in the process, system or whatever you want to call it at an early age. I loved going door-to-door, loved meeting the people and hearing their stories. I loved going into people like Jean and Bennett Helms house and being offered cookies while they shared their stories of Charleston past, present and future. I loved the BBQ picnics, the gospel services, the donors and best of all the polls on election day. It was all incredible and something I will never forget or stop doing.

I have always wished I could be a politician (even though my job is very political). I guess I am a little selfish and want to spend the time in my own way. I also hate that we have gotten ultra consumed by people’s deep personal issues and/or past instead of what they do day in and day out. Bring on the debates, please be true to what you say and thank you for serving, but keep it clean and positive and focus on hope and the future.

And now after re-reading this I might become a speech writer (another dream I had and maybe another blog). But what I promise, thanks to you and your dedication, is that I will always give back to the place I live, to my family and friends and to the beliefs I have.



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