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A Tale of Two Parties...

Suzanne Pollak

I want to share the details of an unforgettable pair of parties I attended recently. Not to cause FOMO or to duplicate (impossible!) but to tell the tale of two grand hosts and perhaps reveal some of their trade secrets. These two are totally suis generis, never copying anyone, 100% marching to their own beat. Neither care about a party for a magazine shoot or aim to impress anyone they’ve never met. Rather, they want to spread the joy. And these ladies know how to have a ball at their own parties.

First, a white tie ball — an ephemeral, ethereal, exotic evening from another era. This was the type of party the very rich gave frequently in season at the turn of the century (not the turn in 2000, but the one in 1900!) Our host embraces an art of living which defines generosity, celebrations, and (it must be said) down-to-earthiness; even though nothing was down to earth about the fairytale ball to honor her granddaughter’s 18th birthday, except for the main course of braised short ribs and mashed potatoes. (The host didn’t want the usual filet.)


The Setting: None other than the Plaza, a palace of yesteryear. The cocktail hour happened in a spectacular space with two photographers snapping away (which allowed guests to slip phones in pockets or purse and fully enjoy the moment) while we sipped cocktails (passed spicy margaritas, non-alcoholic lemony drink, and of course champagne, in addition to two large bars.) Then we ascended the grand marble staircase covered with cascading white flowers* into the golden ballroom before we had one too many sips and weaved and wobbled upstairs. Has anyone today mastered the ancient art of descending a staircase? No! It’s a lost art.

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*Unbelievably, all the flowers were thrown away the next morning for the Emmy after party the next night. Why does a party planner insist on such waste just to stamp his mark on a party, discarding spectacular, eight feet tall arrangements only 24 hours old? 

The Seating & Eating: Once in the ballroom, finding our table was a bit of a puzzle. The table numbers (in three dimensional brass) were hard to locate, peeking out from the elegant white floral centerpieces. The number placement was a great idea because first, instead of looking for numbers on flags high overhead (which spoil the magic because — hello — no one wants to see the working details of a party, we simply want to be enveloped by magic for a few hours and not wonder how this was all produced) and second, the mystery of finding your table made strangers connect, an opportunity to introduce yourself to others and ask fascinating strangers for help. Two hundred people seating themselves takes time, but finally we sat, we feasted, we even consumed  three desserts on one plate. Why? Because our host couldn’t decide which dessert the Plaza chef presented at a pre-tasting she preferred. When in doubt, choose YES!

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The Dress: It must be said that white tie looks marvelous on men. White tie can be rented because who born after 1900 has a white tie hanging in their closet? White tie is a different uniform than a tuxedo. The tie, jacket, and shirt are unique. Yes, the jacket has tails! 

The Band: A 25-piece band and who among us has seen a 25-piece band since Barry White died? Just saying… 

The Extras: Dancers to add glitz and glamor. Six dazzling women dressed in beaded 1920’s style dresses, six movie star-looking men in tails, leaping and spinning the girls around the room. You could lose your bearings watching and begin to imagine whirling like that yourself. And, since the band read a crowd like bands did back in the day, the music called us to our feet. With a partner or without, everyone between the ages 18 to 85 everyone got the call. Dancing in a pair or solo makes no difference in the 2000’s.


OOPS: The only thing the 18-year-olds didn’t like was having to show ID cards to get a drink. No drinks for that crowd. But the 18-year-olds will never ever see anything like this again in their lifetime so who cares about a drink when they were privileged enough to experience an evening from another era? They have a story to tell their grandchildren in 2060.

The Welcome: The host herself greeted everyone briefly from the middle of the dance floor, explaining that some of the guests were at her own coming out party 63 years ago! Imagine! This means the guest list spanned three generations, maybe four. That range alone creates magic. 

The After Party: The Dean was invited (one of the cousins slipped me an invitation) but sadly I was too tired to attend. Bad decision on my part!

The Day After Party: An aunt of the granddaughter hosted a goodbye brunch at her house. We rehashed details of the previous night, relaxed, refueled, said our goodbyes until next time, until we realized there is no next time. The era is over…. 

Rice 103: Pudding!

Suzanne Pollak

While the first two rice dishes in our Rice summer school series — paella and risotto — have great cultural pasts, rice pudding is personal, evocative, emotional... 

For me, rice pudding brings up memories of college dinner parties my sister & I gave for our friends. Instead of time at the library, we devoted hours devising menus and guest lists, then walked together to the grocery store to buy ingredients only to haul them back to our apartment (as we neither owned a car nor even possessed driver's licenses.) We had small monthly allowances so dinner parties were a creative way to please people on a culinary shoe string, with our financial resources combined. Rice was our standby dessert because pudding pleased everyone, even if it wasn’t their childhood comfort food, or ours. Rice pudding was easy to make, exotic to our friends, foolproof, inexpensive, delicious.

[Illustration,  Pepperidge Farm Cookbook , c. 1970]

[Illustration, Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, c. 1970]

Our recipe came from an old-fashioned standard, Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. We soaked raisins for a topping and always whipped heavy cream by hand to top the topping. Gilding the lily was our mantra straight through college, at least where food, parties, and dress were concerned. We didn’t always apply the philosophy to our studies — funny I should be a “Dean” now. But Charleston Academy classes always start with drinks followed by food, so perhaps none of this should come as a surprise.

Paella uses bomba rice, risotto: Arboria rice, both medium grain and starchy which do not make good puddings. This leaves long grain rice for puddings. Do not use ‘instant’ or ‘minute’ rice. Basmati and jasmine rice are excellent choices too. 

Pepperidge Farm Cookbook Rice Pudding

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.


  • 1 quart whole milk

  • ⅓ cup rice

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ½ cup sugar

  • Dash of cinnamon

  • 2 tablespoons rosewater


  1. Butter a 2-quart casserole. Put the rice in the casserole and pour in the milk. Add the seasonings and stir well.

  2. Bake for 3 hours, stirring every 15 minutes during the first hour to keep the rice from staying in the bottom of the casserole. 

  3. When cooked, sprinkle the rosewater over the top. Serve hot or cold, with or without soaked raisins (in brandy, cognac, or just hot water) and whipped cream.

"The Architecture of Dinner Party" for August VIE

Suzanne Pollak

George Best & his signature champagne stack, 1968. (We won’t tell you NOT to try this at home!)

George Best & his signature champagne stack, 1968. (We won’t tell you NOT to try this at home!)

“If you are asking yourself, Why bother? Let’s just go to a restaurant, STOP! The delights of a private dinner party cannot be replicated in the public arena. No waiting, no crowds, no loud party next to you. No feeling that you have to give up your table before you’re finished talking or eating dessert. At home, you can linger as long as you want under flickering candlelight. You can set your own pace, free from any pressure to give up your seats to those waiting.

You can and should move your guests wherever you please. Summer is for drinks on the balcony and dinner in the garden. Winter means cozy cocktails by the fire and dinner in the candlelit dining room. Spaces help set up moments that soothe, excite, and seduce, creating an atmosphere for meaningful conversation...”

Read the rest of Suzanne’s latest article for VIE Magazine, all about the careful construction of a good old-fashioned dinner party, HERE on their site!

Rice 102: Rainy Day Risotto

Suzanne Pollak

Risotto at its best has been lovingly tended to become a creamy dish, heaven to eat.


First, soften a chopped onion in a couple knobs of good butter; then stir in two cups of rice grains until they are coated too. Add four cups of homemade stock by the ladleful, stirring with a wooden spoon all the while. Risotto is a dish of love, something to make when you have the time — time to work out knotty problems in your brain or to just let that brain take a rest; time for when you feel like facing the stove and hanging out with a family member or friend. It’s a perfect dish to make over a conversation, even a three-way telephone chat. 

Start to finish takes 30-40 minutes, and similar to a soufflé (but easier to make) risotto waits for no one! Slip a little more butter into the rice before serving, then top with plenty of grated parmesan, chopped parsley, freshly ground pepper. Witness a few separate ingredients, probably already sitting on your counter, transform into far more than sum of its parts. If you can’t visit the seven wonders of the world, you can make one all by yourself right there in your very own kitchen. That’s the exquisite nature of cooking and feeding people.

Summer School: RICE 101 - Paella Night

Suzanne Pollak

Hot take — some carbs are good for you! Cole Porter sang of romance: It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely. At the Academy, we sing similar riffs about rice. It’s delicious, it’s delightful, it’s delectable...

Paella Night


Paella might be the pinnacle dinner party menu, the perfect food to knit together a group, especially when cooking over an open fire with guests standing around watching. It’s primal, it’s ancient, it’s deep. First off, to be in the hands of an Engineer of Paella is comforting and exciting. All will be good. You can feel it.

The feast begins with the visual — platters of fish and vegetables, a sack of bomba rice, pot of fish stock, bottle of Spanish olive oil, and tins of spicy paprika and saffron laid out on trays — teasing the eyes. This engineer had the largest tin of saffron the Dean had ever seen! Joy number one: watching a confident cook take charge, knowing exactly what to do with the order of ingredients. Your eyes, nose, and stomach anticipate a feast. A patient wait is required for the ingredients to transform into one of the world’s magnificent feasts, and a patient wait is just what we all need. Off the devices and face to face — right there the night becomes unforgettable. Meanwhile the wood smoke and tomato smells seduce the nose…

This particular engineer knows how to riff like any accomplished cook. No artichokes at the market? So what! Martha Vineyards Morning Glory Farms had asparagus just picked. What to serve first? Not too much at such an opulent feast. But guild the lily with local oysters. In this case honeysuckle oysters from waters pulled just that morning.

Here are the paella steps according to the Engineer’s method:

1. Shuck oysters.

1. Shuck oysters.

2. Build the fire.

2. Build the fire.

3. Lay out ingredients.

3. Lay out ingredients.

4. Sauté onion and green pepper.

4. Sauté onion and green pepper.

5. Sauté soft shell crabs and monster shrimp!

5. Sauté soft shell crabs and monster shrimp!

6. Sauté garlic and green onion.

6. Sauté garlic and green onion.

7. Add tomatoes whirled in the blender.

7. Add tomatoes whirled in the blender.

8. A good dose of paprika…

8. A good dose of paprika…

9. Be generous with the saffron!

9. Be generous with the saffron!

10. A quick stir…

10. A quick stir…

11. Rice makes an entrance.

11. Rice makes an entrance.

12. Time for asparagus and eggplant.

12. Time for asparagus and eggplant.

13. Scallops and swordfish enter the picture.

13. Scallops and swordfish enter the picture.

14. Add stock.

14. Add stock.

15. Add rice!

15. Add rice!

After we’ve heard the rice bottom pop and the paella has rested, it’s time to serve. The engineer decided to put the paella in the middle of the table as centerpiece. Who needs plates? The communion continued with everyone eating straight from the pan. Eat the triangle of paella in front of you. Communion and communication make a dinner party its best.

This Professor of Paella pulled off the two main tricks: all the flavor absorbed in the rice and the crusty layer on the bottom, Mmmmmmm. Plus two other secrets, including a fistful of saffron threads from that bottomless tin. The Dean was so mesmerized she forgot to find out the source and price for a treasure of saffron that huge. The other secret is the Bomba rice. Two expensive ingredients but WOW!

Remember a paella cannot be thick. This engineer owns three paella pans all the same size, perfect for serving six people from each pan so the rice is thin and gets that essential crust. But who wants 18 for a Paella feast? Five or six is perfect.

"An Authentic Voice" for July VIE

Suzanne Pollak

“Corene” by Jonathan Green (1995)

“Corene” by Jonathan Green (1995)

“What makes very young people able to turn passions into a living, marrying their gifts with the discipline to create their life’s work? How can they know so early, possessing the confidence and necessary focus to keep them on their path? I dreamed of being a painter but derailed in college, distracted by thoughts like, If I am not Picasso, is it worth it? If my work is not going to hang in the Met, what does that say about me? In I am not ‘in,’ then can I still keep going forward and not give a damn what anybody thinks?

Jonathan Green knew in his very being the irrelevant nonsense of those distractions, which don’t mean a thing at the beginning of a career — or maybe ever. That’s why I love him. He actively chose to master one field (actually three: painting, fashion design, and the social graces) instead of being a jack-of-all-trades.”

Read more about Charleston-based painter Jonathan Green in Suzanne’s latest article for VIE Magazine HERE

Charleston Academy in Cosmopolitan

Suzanne Pollak

“And remember: In a sea of square-shaped biscuits, always make a heart-shaped one.” -T.A.

“And remember: In a sea of square-shaped biscuits, always make a heart-shaped one.” -T.A.

In her article “This Instagrammable Hotel Will Make You Forget Literally All Your Responsibilities,” Taylor Andrews writes about “errrything you have to do when you stay at The Beach Club, no matter what time of year you go….”

And guess what #7 on her list happens to be? “Learn how to throw a Southern Dinner Party. [The Dean] taught us how to throw a proper dinner party that included creating the perfect fluffy biscuit and shrimp and grits, but you can organize any sort of etiquette or cooking event with her if you’re interested in a different kind of Saturday-night rendezvous.”

We loved having Ms. Andrews visit while in town. Read her complete list via Cosmopolitan HERE!

Style Blooms Eternal at the Chelsea Flower Show for June VIE

Suzanne Pollak

Queen Elizabeth II at the Chelsea Flower Show. Photo:  Prima

Queen Elizabeth II at the Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Prima

“What is it that makes this flower show so special? It’s more than queens and duchesses. Designs, such as one suspended in air in 2011 and one made of three hundred thousand individually crocheted poppies in 2016, are not simply a passive art experience. The attendees of the flower show become active participants. Our visual sense takes in the exhibits like we do the portraits at the Tate or the National Portrait Gallery; beyond our eyes, our imaginations might leap into action and plot changes to our gardens. Some people take it a step further and become part of the show by wearing fashions with a theme. How many times can adults wear their inner passions without looking loony? How many opportunities do we have to be fierce, fabulous, and maybe a tiny bit frivolous? The show is the venue to see the intermingling of artistic visions: the flowers, the garden design, the crowd, and the fashion choices. It is like a natural museum come to life — a living exhibit and a contemporary art installation all at once.”

Read more about the Chelsea Flower Show HERE via VIE Magazine!

"There's No Place Like Home (And By That I Mean Yours)" for May VIE

Suzanne Pollak

biscuit rolling Rainbow Row.jpg

“The houses I’ve lived in — and there have been many — meant everything to me. They’ve alternated between a calm oasis I refused to leave in the midst of chaos to party palaces where I couldn’t get anyone to exit on time. Growing up, my dipolmatic family met everyone through our homes in Afria. For eighteen years, we threw weekly dinners with every nationality seated at the table; our biannual parties for hundreds lasted all night. As an adult, my houses have been my most valuable assets. I used them to design the life I wanted at different times. My taste developed by organizing interiors and gardens. I used our rooms to add value, conjure joy, and help create more meaningful lives. I want every cubic inch to give its all….” - Suzanne Pollak

Read more about the Charleston Academy — what we do, how we do it, and why exactly — according the Dean herself, in the May issue of VIE Magazine HERE!

The Modern-Day Mary Poppins for April VIE

Suzanne Pollak

images 9.40.47 PM.jpg

“Meet Dennise Church — part modern-day Mary Poppins, part house whisperer, part intuitive soul seer who knows when someone needs their hand held spiritually. She flies around the country organizing, advising, and even putting clients to work as she sees fit, transforming and working her magic in ways that a life or business coach does not. Her specialty is making people feel differently about their living spaces, helping them to find stability in the midst of the turmoil in the world….”

Read more about the Dean’s personal M.P. in the latest issue of VIE HERE.

Wine + Food Q&A: Insider Edition

Suzanne Pollak

A. K. lives with Jason Stanhope, chef at FIG, and their son Leo. [Photo by John Boncek]

A. K. lives with Jason Stanhope, chef at FIG, and their son Leo. [Photo by John Boncek]

Living with JBFA Winning Chef Jason Stanhope

Q&A with A. K. Lister

Q: Who does the cooking at home?

A: Jason makes our 1.5-year-old son Leo an omelette almost every morning while I have my coffee and get ready, as leisurely as possible. Otherwise I am the home cook, relying on “one pot wonders” like soups, stews, or curries that can be stretched to feed us all for a couple days. I really do look to so many of Suzanne’s tried and true recipes for hearty meals that will fill up hungry people.

When friends are coming over for dinner, I tend to start with an idea then ask J a million questions until he finally takes over and makes it look and taste more amazing than I ever could.

What time does Jason come home at night?

He’s usually home by midnight but I try to be fast asleep by then. Leo, on the other hand…

How often do you eat at FIG?

I would say once or twice per month, but at least half of those meals are “take out” after our pre-service visits with J and mainly include Carolina Gold Rice and vegetables for Leo and something I’m supposed to taste test. #Blessed !

What is your favorite food to eat at FIG?

Oh man, I love the pate. It’s not something I order every time because I think it’s better suited for sharing with a table, yet too many people I’ve met have been burned by bad pate. Even if you do love it, pate for one seems like an intense order. FIG’s is the very best anyway, made with such carefully sourced ingredients and practiced technique, then served with gently toasted brioche! Piquant dijon! Perfect pickles, a little salad, fruity mustard according to whatever is at the height of its season. Fun fact: it’s the only recipe FIG doesn’t seem to share, maybe because nobody’s homemade version turns out quite like theirs.

I could go on...

How does a chef’s life (hours, physical strain, food expertise) impact a partner?

As with any partnership, the lifestyle comes with ups and downs. J’s hours at the restaurant are so long but I’ve learned to appreciate having time to do my own thing. I’m never disappointed to see him, that’s for sure, and we search for little ways to carve out some QT here and there. Learning how to balance our parental duties is a bit more complicated but I think we are calibrating as best we can.

Has Jason ever given you cooking lessons?

Not exactly, but he has given me a million indispensable tips over the years. I wouldn’t know how to hold a knife correctly if it weren’t for him. I would probably still be overcooking my eggs.

What have you learned from Jason, in terms of food? Have your culinary tastes changed since you have met?

We actually met when I worked at FIG as a host while in college, so I think we were both already on the trail of good food and followed our mutual interests from there. J’s style of cooking is all about finding the purest expression of an ingredient, and he works so hard to source only the best product. The motto goes something like, “Don’t F it up!” That’s pretty inspirational for a girl who grew up eating nothing but well-done meat and canned vegetable casseroles at all of our family get-togethers. Now my goal is to make J proud when I cook all my fave soul food dishes with righteous ingredients and as much integrity as I can muster.

Does Jason have pet peeves in regards to food prep or serving or meal times?

Yes! When he does cook at home, he likes to sit down and enjoy the food at exactly the right moment, temperature, place, etc. In a perfect world, I do too. But I am so bad about trying to do one last thing before I eat, whether it’s cleaning the kitchen or situating Leo for maximum food (and wine) enjoyment. Mom probs! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What do you cook for Jason?

Again, I’m always whipping up a big soup or stew. We seldom eat dinner together but I like to know he has a respectable midnight snack option when he gets home -- even if he ends up making a turkey sandwich instead.

What are your culinary rituals at home?

Breakfast is our family meal. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I end up feeding Leo popcorn and yogurt on the couch for dinner. The days are long and can feel lonely at the end; I lose start to lose my fight for civility. But I know that no matter what the night holds, we can look forward to being together in the morning, sitting (mostly) at the kitchen table while we eat our eggs, toast, coffee, cereal, juice, fruit, etc., musing on the the day or week ahead. It’s so ordinary but can be a beautiful ballet through a certain lens, i.e. if we’ve all had enough sleep.

What do you serve guests?

Tagine has historically been one of my favorite party foods! J gave me a beautiful pot for it couple years back and it makes for such a spectacular, and yet so secretly simple, feast.

Lately though, we serve guests a “party size” version of whatever we are having for breakfast or brunch (including XL omelettes) because it’s a much easier meal to host when you have a toddler who needs to go to bed on time.

What Charleston restaurants do the two of you like to go to, or do you go out? Any favorites elsewhere?

The only honest answer here is Bagel Nation on James Island for a breakfast sandwich. That might sound kitschy but we truly love it and almost always make a bagel run for guests staying with us. They cook the eggs just right every time.

We like to try something new when we have the chance to go out for a real date, and Charleston is never short on recently opened restaurants. Last great meal happened at Chubby Fish. And Renzo is still on my list of places to try...

Is Leo tasting odd, advanced, or unusual foods for a toddler?

His first real food was gravy two Thanksgivings ago. He had truffles on his omelette yesterday and liked it. He will try most things really, although rice is his most favorite so far. Hands down.

Does Leo hang out in FIG’s kitchen?

Yes, he loves to visit Papi at work! And his Uncle JoJo, and the rest of the wonderful FIG crew. Plus, he is spoon-fed all the rice he can eat while there. It’s like his personal heaven.

What is your motherly or Jason’s fatherly advice on getting kids to try a new food?

My advice is to avoid making a big fuss over eating any one thing. If a kid tries something and refuses, don’t bat an eye. But also don’t be afraid to serve it to them again, because I’m learning that tastes do change. I like to put a new food on Leo’s plate whenever possible, right next to a reliable standby. I’m sure the days of him demanding nothing but buttered noodles will come for us, too. I just hope I can stick to my guns and keep serving up greens.

I think J would say here: take your time, do use your hands, and don’t forget to chew.

How much of your conversation revolves around food?

Food is the greatest common denominator. Everything revolves around food!

Wine + Food Q&A: Graft Wine Shop

Suzanne Pollak

Femi Oyediran, with partner Miles White, of Graft Wine Shop. [Photo: Imbibe Magazine]

Femi Oyediran, with partner Miles White, of Graft Wine Shop. [Photo: Imbibe Magazine]

Academy Q: How does one start a collection?

Femi Oyediran’s A: There are two or more approaches to the idea of starting a collection. The conversations starts by looking at the intent. Is the intent to have a wide selection of wines you are going to drink occasionally, or is the intent to save a collection of wines available at your disposal? [Are you] looking for wines to build an inventory over time and say, “I’ve collected all these vintages of this wine and this wine.” The pedigree to which you are looking to build your collection is another question.

I think the easiest way from a novice perspective is to have a conversation with a person you will be buying wines from. If you don’t have a lot of experience buying fine wine, the best place to start is with a retailer you can trust, who can give you valuable information. A lot of collections [happen] on a social scale so people have friends doing the same thing [and] they have conversations on what they are buying. Some of them will find outlets [for buying] wines. Sometimes they will collectively purchase together. “Oh there is a case available. You, you, you, and I can split that that case.” That’s the best way to do it.

There are people who do that for a living; they literally curate wines for collectors. Find those people to do it for you. First step: find a retailer you can trust, [who] can give you great advice. Then second step is the social part -- finding people who can share information, a shared hobby of sorts. It becomes communal. After that it’s getting more information: studying, reading, magazine articles. Books need to have context on what you are doing. Decanter magazine would be great. Find a critic whose opinion falls in line with yours. Antonio Galloni is a great critic and is respected by sommeliers. Another thing you can do to add to that social perspective is download apps. Galloni owns an app called Delectable, embraced by sommeliers. Most consumers use Vivino. See what other people are recommending, what other people are drinking. [This] helps you gain some idea of what you are doing. Start a collection [with a] great point of contact and people who can help you.

If you are trying to build a serious collection and don’t have experience, [it’s] easier to find people you have a sense of camaraderie with. Buying retail if you have a team of people doing it with you it becomes more interesting, and you have more buying power. Grow over time.

What about storing?

If you want to get really gutter with it -- not gutter, low brow -- just find a cool, dark space where your wines can sit on their side. I know people who have developed systems where their wines, nice wines, are in cabinets, under their beds, under their couches. The temperature is cooler and its darker, depending on what temperature you keep your house at. It’s kind of like the best place to put it.

What is the ideal temperature for keeping wines?  

Ideal temperature for maintaining all wines, I would say, is around 55. Best case scenario. If you don’t have the means to store wines then these are the best places in your house to put them. If you want to invest in a wine fridge, you can do that, or if you want to go crazy you can build out a wine cellar in the house. That’s another whole look...

Some people have a wine collection of 20 bottles. They might have five super nice bottles and the rest they drink over the course of the year or two years. It depends on what you want. If you want a big collection then so be it. If you want no more than 50 wines at a time then so be it. I am sure there are apps to help people organize or you can just kind of build an Excel sheet [to] manage your wines [and] tasting notes, etc. If it’s 50 wines, it’s not really a lot. We have probably around 300 here, including wines by the glass. It’s still growing too.

How do you know what to drink now, and what to keep?

We do research but I also have the experience to know when something is [ready to drink] and when something isn’t. You don’t start a music collection just by listening to music; you go to a record store where somebody knows what they are doing, you ask them questions, and you learn. It’s the same thing in wine.

Does it make you sad when you drink a treasured bottle of wine?

No, not at all. I do it all the time. Crack it open! If you want to, let’s have a party. You know, if someone wants to open up a bottle of wine, that is their choice. It’s not my bottle. Who am I to say “Hey, no, don’t do that!” There are certain times when you are around people, buzzed and having a good time, [who say] “I’m going to open this!” [I tell them,] “No no no, seriously stop, you are going to regret this in the morning.” That happens.

Some people like to document their experiences. Some people like to save the labels of the wines they drink, which I respect. They have binders of all the wine they’ve had, maybe photos of the times they drank it. That’s pretty intimate. I just remember -- a wine memory bank, but it’s not perfect.

What is one of the best memories?

They are all different. Experience overall: I had a really great time at Miles’ mother’s house five years ago, where we got a bunch of wine and bunch of friends over and we had a ridiculously good time. It had nothing to do with the wines; it had to do with the company. The wine was good but the company was better. The combination [made] it a legendary night.

There are times when I had legendary wines. I went out to Napa last year and I was in the [company] of sommeliers [at a] round table which is a really coveted experience to be invited to. We opened insane wines, vintages going from the 20s. That was the most surreal wine experience I’ve been part of. I’ve never had wines of that pedigree and that age before. That was really exciting.

Was that a vertical tasting?

No, that was like this wine, this wine, this wine...

Worst experience?

Buying fraudulent wines. Watch that documentary Sour Grapes on Netflix, about the guy who defrauded the Koch brothers and all these millionaires. He went to prison.

Or buying bad wine, when you buy wine from the gray market, meaning you buy from people who have connections. [Maybe] this guy in NY has all these wines in his warehouse. [You] go and pick them up, you don’t know where he got them from, or the person he got them from. The chain of how the wines arrived is always really important, because you don’t know if something was stored in someone’s 70-degree house for years [with] the bottle sitting up; then they sold it when they moved out of their house and it shipped up to Toronto in a car; then the guy in NY bought it from that person. You buy that bottle for five grand, then you open it and you know it’s vinegar. It’s risky. You have to learn how to be smart about spending your money.

A lot of people who buy who are very serious collectors. A lot of them have figured out a way to verify and learn what they are looking for. Sometimes it’s just a crap shoot. I really have no idea. I just have to figure it out. I’ll take a case of this wine and open it up and see what happens.

Corked -- things happen. I’ve seen it in restaurants. Sometimes it’s not anyone’s fault [and] could have been the bottle itself. There are so many variables. That’s why it’s such a gamble. That’s the thrill for a lot of people. They are willing to roll the dice and see what happens. It’s like parachuting.

How long should a red wine be open before drinking?

There are no hard and fast rules. I like to decant most of my reds as a rule because it looks good; and because a lot of wines, especially if they are youthful, need air. It really depends on the wine.

How do you learn -- eyes, nose, or palate?

I think when I began, a lot of it was my eyes. I did a lot of reading, a lot of listening. When I gained more experience, I started to learn more from my nose and my palate. Those are the most important things now because the information, the knowledge is a part of me now. It’s like knowing how to read music and then playing it, the difference between the two. You could read Charlie Parker but can you play him? You can understand burgundy but can you differentiate between what is good, what’s classic, and what’s not good?

I’m not talking about blind tasting, just tasting wine and, “Wow!” I’ve had these wines before and it’s delicious having that contextual knowledge. It’s something you learn from tasting and listening to people and understanding, versus when you read it in a book and [it] still doesn’t mean you understand the wine.

How long have you been doing this?

I decided wine was the career in 2012. I had been studying wine prior to that for a year or two but I decided in 2012 that I was going to make it my primary interest.

Oldest wine you’ve ever tasted?

1921 Chateau d’Yqueum. I’ve had port from 1908, madeira from 1908, but those are readily available. I am sure there is 1908 Madeira by the glass at Charleston Grill.

What’s your take on speciality glasses?

If you are drinking nice wine, you should drink out of a nice vessel. You can have a universal glass. The glasses we use are a universal. You can use it for everything. Red, white, Champagne. We use Gabriel Glas which is really great. If you want to spend a lot of money, those are the best for your dollar, their standard glass. But if you want to spend a lot of money on superior glasses, you can get Sophienwald, Zalto, Mark Thomas. If you want to spend money, [those are] the top three. Gabriel has a Golden edition that is pretty nice too. These glasses are going to cost $70 per glass.

Would you get a red glass, a white, and a Champagne?

I have Zalto at home. I have a Sophienwald Champagne set. I have Mark Thomas decanters here. Beautiful! We use the Gabriel. I have all of them. I would probably get a white and a red. Honestly, I’d go for a universal for all of them. If I didn’t know, they all make a universal glass.

Do people come to Graft mostly to shop, to socialize, or to just to drink wine?

It’s become one and the same. [When] buying wine, going to a retail store is like one of the most mundane experiences for a lot of people, so we created a social room. It doesn’t make fine wines Disney World, but when you walk in here and you see people, it changes the energy. You are not bored anymore. People are hanging. It feels conducive to whatever you want to do. You can walk in here and get a bottle and leave, or you might run into me here and [say], “Hey, I was just going to come in for a bottle, but let me have a glass of wine and let’s catch up.” Who knows? You might grab more because you are sitting down for a while.

There is something to be said about doing retail, wine especially, in a social room. Completely different! I would never want to do retail any other way. This is conducive to Miles’ and my spirit. If we were just behind a counter all the time, we would not get a lot of fulfillment in life. We would probably hate ourselves. It’s a very different experience. Unless you are the type of store that opens up wines and you hand a glass to your customer when they walk in -- which is cool. But if your relationship is, “Hey, trust me on this bottle to take home,” then the next time you see that person is when they give you feedback.

For us, we get to see immediate feedback from people. A lot of people who come in for retail [build] relationships and I met them because they sat at the bar and they talked to me about wines. They are like, “You know what? I am going to come in tomorrow and buy some bottles.” It’s one hell of a way to gain a customer. They have to like you. If you are a very anti-social but brilliant wine person, a traditional wine store is for you. Since we are very social people, this gave us ability to do more.

Is there any kind of food that is terrible with wine?

There is a wine for everything.

What’s the wine for romance?

Depends on the person. I would never make any assumptions about what a woman wants to drink in general. So I mean as a sommelier, I ask questions and then I find what I think would be appropriate for that person.

What questions do you ask customers?

What do you like to drink? What was the last great bottle of wine you had? For me, if I hear a couple of things I am like, “Okay.” That’s my job. I make a bet. I bet this person would love this wine. That’s the game, right? A good sommelier knows how to ask people questions and find out what they want. It’s like music, the same thing. If you like Fela Kuti, you will probably love Ebo Taylor. It’s an easy bet.

Thanks Femi O. & Graft Wine Shop!

Wine + Food Q&A : Counter Cheese Caves

Suzanne Pollak


What are your best tips for arranging a cheese plate, in terms of beauty, taste, and color? What the most important aspects in your opinion? [Use a] variety of textures and milk types. Otherwise bright colors are vital: citrus, radishes (watermelon radishes are great), tomatoes, etc. The other essential aspect is pattern/symmetry. Using inspiration from nature, art, or some of your favorite aesthetically pleasing [objects] always helps!

 Do you have a particular balance you prefer regarding hard cheese and soft? I always like to include [one or two] soft cheeses and vary the texture from there. From semi-soft cheeses like washed rinds (i.e. Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson) that are "soft" but will hold their shape, to super hard cheeses like gouda (i.e. Forx Farm 12 Month Gouda) that you can leave whole or portion into bite-sized pieces for easy snacking.

 What extras do you like to include on the cheese boards? We try to stay as seasonal as possible but will also skirt the line a bit for beauty's sake, using hydroponic tomatoes for color. Olives, various nuts, dried cherries and citrus are other favorites. When I am making a cheese board at home, it is often as simple as three different cheeses, sliced baguette and olives. Bright, full, patterned boards look great, but simplicity on a beautiful board can look just as good.

 What are your rules/ideas about cutting vegetables like radishes and cucumbers in slices or wedges? Do you cut for looks or taste? You have to cut for both. No matter how good something looks, if it's difficult to eat, you've lost the plot.  Again, symmetry is key so you want all of the pieces to have an identical shape and be placed in a symmetrical manner. With radishes, cucumbers, citrus, etc., we will often slice quite thin for layering. Mandolins can be very handy.

 What are your favorite crackers or breads on a cheese board? Roots & Branches Sesame Crackers (from Asheville) and Tiller Baking Co. baguette or sesamo loaf!

 What are your favorite olives and meats on a cheese board? Castelvetrano olives and liverwurst or pate.

 Do you have particular go-to boards or trays (wood, porcelain, metal, certain makes)? We use high-quality but still disposable (or reusable) square wooden boards for our business, but I like any heavy cutting board. We have one we got as a wedding gift that is a super heavy handmade butcher block with a psychedelic wood pattern across it. Marble slabs also look great!

 When do most of your customers use cheese boards -- an appetizer before a dinner party, on a buffet for a cocktail party, for a picnic? I would say most of them are for cocktail parties where the appetizers are the main event, but many use them for an easy way to greet guests or begin a dinner party. We've also made several for wedding-related snacking, whether at [a] bachelorette party or to have out while the reception dance party rages on.

 When a cheese board starts getting picked over, do you as a host rearrange the cheeses on the board? Add more? Bring out another board? I tend to put out everything I intend to offer on the board at once, so once it's done, it's done...but there are no rules! This is part and parcel with always making sure you have more than you think you need. There's a cheese-hound at every party. I like to have it ready ahead of time which is handy for being able to socialize, but also for allowing the cheeses get up to room temperature.

 What is the proper way for a guest to cut into a wedge of cheese? If everyone knew about rind to paste distribution, the world would be a better place; but an overbearing host is no fun. Most rinds are edible and delicious (besides those that are waxed or clothbound), so the idea is to get rind and paste in each "slice.”  I'll typically portion a bit of the chunk while leaving the rest whole to provide guidance to the uneducated.

 How do you get a non-foodie to taste an unusual or stinky cheese? Truthfully, I prefer not to force anyone to try something if they are simply not a cheese lover. Some folks just don't like trying new things, and that is okay.

 What was your most unusual request? Cheese without salt! Salt is an essential ingredient to cheese making. No salt = no taste.

 What is the best way to store cheeses? If the cheese was wrapped in paper when you bought it, you can rewrap it in that same paper and secure it with a piece of scotch tape. Store in the drawer or devoted bin in your fridge. Otherwise, wrap the cheese in parchment paper and then in saran wrap. This will keep the cheese from drying out but not let it take on the "plastic-y" gross flavor that can happen if the plastic is directly touching the cheese.

 How did you become interested in cheese? Just out of sheer love for it! A fortuitous internship at Vermont Creamery got me into the cheese world and I never looked back!

Where did you get your exceptional visual sense from? I would say both Eric and I have an artistic background but his visual sense mainly guides us. Luckily, our aesthetics coincide nicely.

 Was yours and Eric's wedding cake a cheese tower? Yes! We drove up to New York from Charleston for our wedding with a trunk full of cheese. We had a bunch of cheesemonger friends in attendance, so immediately after the ceremony we called all of them up to portion the cake so that everyone could snack on it throughout the rest of the party. It was one of our favorite aspects of the day.

 Could we do an all cheese dinner party together? I have ideas… Certainly! With such a range of textures, flavors and colors, we feel like there is no reason cheese can't be part of every dish on the table!

Do you eat cheese every day? I certainly do eat cheese every day. I have found that the more I work with something the more I crave it. At the end of the day, whether coming home late from FIG or finishing our deliveries, I set some cheese out, let it come to temp, and open a beer or pour a glass of wine. It's a nice unwinding ritual.

Thanks Counter Cheese Caves!

XO, the Dean

C2C for March issue of VIE

Suzanne Pollak


“The Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival (C2C) is a collaboration between the Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, England — home to the the thirty-year-old Charleston Festival — which is well known all over Europe — and the Charleston Library Society (CLS) in Charleston, South Carolina. The latter hosts two dozen well-known speakers and authors over fourteen days every November in two historic landmark locations downtown: the elegant Charleston Library Society (the oldest cultural institution in the South the second oldest lending library in the country) and our nation’s oldest theater, the Dock Street Theatre….”

Read more about C2C in The Literati Salon: A Festival for Intellects, Great Minds, and Engaging Conversation, by Suzanne Pollak, VIE March 2019, HERE!

Taking on #Towelgate for Town & Country

Suzanne Pollak


“All humor and Twitter one-upmanship aside, how many towels does one need to own? Is the count influenced by how many times you use them before washing? And what of the guest towel vs hand towel debate?

For answers, we turned to a doyenne of the domestic arts—Suzanne Pollak, who runs the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits—and asked for her thoughts on Ali’s bathroom arithmetic…”

Read the article by Liz Krieger regarding #Towelgate and the Dean’s final word on the subject, via T&C HERE

Self Love Series: Psychic Home

Suzanne Pollak

There could be a yard sale in your future…

There could be a yard sale in your future…

Getting rid of stuff liberates you. You are left feeling fresh and more in tune with your psychic home.

There are myriad reasons to release items that have no more use in your life, possessions that others can use, objects that just take up space. The most important is you must own your personal style and relinquish anything that doesn’t represent YOU. We want to see people expressing themselves fully...

An empty shelf, a bare wall, a pared down interior feels good! A refreshing breeze rushes into your soul, bringing with it a brand new energy. You become lighter. For those of us who favor minimalism, empty space is essential. For others, letting go is a good exercise. You can always fill in an empty space but it is a fact that everyone owns too much stuff. Who needs dozens of black pants, ten computer plugs, 50,000 jars of cosmetics, 150 cowboy boots?

Unless you are a collector — that’s a different story entirely, a discussion for another day. (Stay tuned for our next post if you are into collecting wine!) Collections are interesting, meaningful, even educational. They bring us beauty and infinite rewards.

Hoarding, however, does not. Even if you are not a hoarder, hanging on to things takes energy. It drains you of your power to access your innermost self. Keeping stuff just in case you may need it one day has no meaning for today. Take the plunge and purge.

Self Love Series: Start with Someone Else

Suzanne Pollak

Photographer: Hugh Mangum, circa early 1900s

Photographer: Hugh Mangum, circa early 1900s

We all want to know: Who will be there for me?  But sometimes you must get out of your own head. Be there for others (not in a phony way) and they will be there for you.

As we look around at all our friends and loved ones, we might notice that everyone seems a bit low in the water. There is only one remedy to correct this state of mind, and it begins with you. Figure out which problems in your life are actionable and which ones there is nothing you can do to solve. When the in-actionable problems take over your brain, it’s time to start thinking of things other than yourself. Be there for someone else.

Charity doesn’t have to change the world. It’s enough if you can change a few moments for another. Little changes bring about big shifts over time. Here is a running list of Little Actions:

  • Bring dinner. Flu is rampant. Sick people need to eat but cannot get to the store or stand in front of the stove. You could do it for them, delivering a dinner of chicken noodle soup already in zip lock freeze bags so they can have two or three dinners.

  • Be an active listener. Try not saying the word “I” for twenty minutes in your next conversation with an acquaintance. Your friendship will dive deeper as a result.

  • Spread joy. No matter how terrible you feel, pretend you feel joy, if only for a few minutes. Call a friend in need and ask how they are. Do not discuss any of your problems on the call. 

  • Give someone a happy surprise. Pay for someone’s small purchase but don’t tell them. At One Broad in December, a young man I hardly know asked the cashier to put my cookie and tea on his card. When my turn came to pay I was flabbergasted! When I needed a lift, there it was. And for the last eight weeks, I haven’t forgotten this generous gesture, nor will I forget.

  • Share your expertise. One of my closest friends who died recently always had words of encouragement, wisdom, business advice, empathy — never wanting anything in return except friendship. As I mourn his loss and importance in my life, it is my turn to take my wisdom and empathy to another. We all hold each other up one moment at a time. 

Self Love Series: Basic Beauty 101

Suzanne Pollak


Did you know many household beauty and health remedies are already in your refrigerator and pantry to help you nurture yourself without spending a dime? Here are the Dean’s favorite at-home treatments…

  • Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, for the body and the brain, may be all the rage these days; but I’ve been a believer since 2010 when two of my sons went to Afghanistan at the same time. Overnight, nine of my fingers became immobile with arthritis.  All appendages recovered completely within two weeks after starting the cider vinegar regime, which is this: Pour a splash of vinegar in every glass of water all day long. In no time at all, the vinegar-flavored water will taste so good that plain old water will become a bore. The only change in lifestyle was the vinegar water — a secret weapon to combat my own wartime stress. 

    Make sure the vinegar has the ‘mother’ in the bottle; so much has been written lately on this subject that we will not waste your time explaining. But a physiatrist once told me the vinegar may balance the serotonin levels in the brain. I am a believer because of the amount of stress I survived, in addition to never getting sick since 2010. I even use it as a tonic on my skin.  Cider Vinegar forever!

  • Give yourself a facial in the privacy of your home. The best-ever facial trick is to use full fat yoghurt with active cultures. Add a few drops of Ylang Ylang pure essential oil and leave on until mask drys. The acid in the yoghurt firms and softens the skin and brings out a glow, all for pennies. The best part is you can multi-task and still concentrate.

  • Smoosh virgin coconut oil through your hair, use an old pillowcase, and sleep! In the morning, simply rinse. This is great for scalp and hair, not to mention moisturizing and all natural! Use as often as needed. The ever-useful apple cider vinegar works as a hair rinse as well. It’s PH levels are going to help shut down the hair cuticle and will create more reflection, leaving your hair looking shiny as new. 

  • Try making your own sugar scrub! Use the big sugar granules and mix with canola oil for an exfoliant. Just rub on and get into a hot shower to wash off. 

  • Put epson salt, lavender essential oil and hot water into a big bowl or tub. Mix and soak hands or feet. This helps your muscle and tendons when you find yourself on your feet all day long. To soften rough edges, rub a healthy dose of Vaseline or Aquaphor over your hands and feet. Wear socks or gloves to keep your skin from turning red and cracking, especially in Winter.

Ironing is about Attitude

Suzanne Pollak

One day, a very long time ago, one of the top magazine editors in the country, along with his family, happened to be staying with me. He wanted to know where I kept our iron and ironing board, telling me unashamedly that he enjoyed ironing his shirts (or at least he did then.) He shared his ironing tricks; explaining that there was nothing to it: just pay attention to the collar, cuffs, and strip with the buttons. No one saw the rest of the shirt anyway. This man — a haughty, brilliant, intellectual with his finger on the pulse of everything everywhere — did not turn his nose up at ironing. 

So why did I? I am ashamed to confess that I believed ironing was a waste of time. For years I collected antique linens but paid others to iron. Now, I iron myself, and I enjoy it. My ironing sessions are for afternoons when I am doing heavy brain lifting, and need a distancing mechanism. Sherlock Holmes used his pipe smoking and violin playing. A knotty problem for Holmes was a 'three pipe problem'. My equivalent is two dozen linen napkins.

I plug in the iron; remove the linens from the refrigerator (more on that trick in the video below) and find the back and forth of ironing soothing, contemplative, and surprisingly rewarding. In no time at all, my mind disengages enough to solve the weighty problem, plus I have a pile of lovely linen napkins ready and waiting. Like a Battalion Commander planning an exercise, I feel that one detail is completed for a dinner party in the future.

There is something so satisfying seeing the pieces of cloth go from wrinkly to smooth. Near-instant gratification!

XO The Dean