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A Peek at Palmetto Bluff’s Lowcountry Celebration in South Carolina with Tyler Florence

Six hundred food fanatics turned out last weekend in Bluffton, S.C. for the third annual “Palmetto Bluff Lowcountry Celebration.”

Yours truly was among them, having been invited to partake in the feasting of all things Southern.

After all, who could pass up a chance to watch Food Network star Tyler Florence and a bevy of the South’s top chefs prepare oyster stew, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, fried catfish, fried chicken, fried shrimp, tater tots fried in duck fat, pulled pork sandwiches, and a mountain of crawfish.

Um, did I mention a lot of the food was fried? Hey, it’s the South. Don’t even bat an eye.

This was the third year of the festival, which is held at the posh Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a residential and recreational community on 20,000 acres, about a third of that set aside in perpetuity to remain undeveloped. Once home to 21 grand plantations, the area, about 20 miles northeast of Savannah, Ga., now boasts an inn with 50 upscale cottages, as well as rental homes and permanent homes.

You might already know that Florence is from South Carolina. What you might not know is that he owns a home at Palmetto Bluff, got married here, and that his brother, Warren, is the tennis pro here.

The festival included a day of cooking demos and tastings by chefs such as Donald Barickman and Donald Drake of Magnolias in Charleston; Chris and Idie Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala.; Frank Lee of Maverick Southern Kitchens in Charleston; and Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill in Charleston.

The highlight for me was the finale — a bonafide oyster roast in a very secluded, woodsy spot on the property, where an elaborate fire pit was constructed.

Cooks manned the toasty fire to roast heaps of oysters from Bluffton Oyster Factory, as well as mussels, shrimp, crawfish and peanuts in the shell.

If that weren’t enough, the substantial spread also included spit-roasted lamb and prime rib, and not to mention a slew of desserts such as Coca-Cola-chocolate cupcakes, peach cobbler, pecan pie and mini apple pies that were fried. Of course.

Because in the South, they definitely know how to live it up. Cheers to that!

More: My Q&A with Chef Kevin Gillespie of “Top Chef,” Who Cooked at the Festival

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