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Filtering by Tag: Q&A

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

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

Ask the Dean: Life is Too Short for Perfection!

The Deans


Dear Dean, 

I am giving my husband a 40th birthday party. I inherited antique china from my mother-in-law but don't have enough soup plates for our many guests.  We are serving three courses and only have enough china for main course and dessert. Do you know the make of the china (photo and details included in letter) and where I could order some more soup plates?

-Mrs. P.

Dear Mrs. P.,

I suggest serving the men the antique rim soups (because they look super large) and going to a totally different look for the ladies soup bowls. Why don't you look at Pier 1 for a crazy alternative regarding color and choose a different shape (e.g. a true bowl instead of a large shallow bowl)? Two different soup plates on a long beautifully set table will add an element of surprise. Elements of surprise are smart for many reasons; you are seen as a chic and original, plus they can spark a conversation. 

Dear Dean, 

I am a working mom of two daughters. My husband and I travel all the time for work and have no time for a social life. We have gotten to be friends with our neighbors and want to have them over. What is a super easy but fun way to have a dinner party? No one wants to get babysitters. All the kids are in elementary school.

-Ms. M.

Dear Ms. M., 

Why don't you serve a one-pot meal that you can put in your oven in the morning and then not think about for the rest of the day? Your daughters can set the table (under your direction) and make place cards. Maybe they could create a centerpiece using fruit or bunches of herbs from the grocery store. The children can sit at their own table and then watch a movie, or sit at the dining room table and then be excused when they get restless. One pot choices that take a few hours to cook and always a hit include a classic pot roast, chili, or pork butt. Alternatively, you can put together a zesty fish stew in front of your guests while they sip their wine or cocktail in your kitchen.  The children could have grilled cheese sandwiches if they turn their noses up at anything fishy. 

Dear Dean, 

I love to entertain — cooking, socializing, etc. However, the thing that stresses me out is the feeling that I need my home in tip-top shape, cleaned from top to bottom. I have an 8-year-old son, and he does a wonderful job keeping his room up and picking up after himself. Most of my entertaining is hosting other couples that have children. How can I get out of this "perfectionism" mindset regarding my house? My husband says we must have the cleanest home on the block.


Dean CNM,

Waiting for your house to be perfect is akin to waiting for the perfect time to have a baby. There is no true state of perfection. You just have to commit to a party at your house and follow through with it. Guests are not judging. They will be glad for a night out and they don't want to criticize, they want to have fun. We will make a bet that you are not nearly as harsh about other's houses as you are about your own. Go a bit easier on yourself. And have a great party. After the first one or two, you will get in the groove.

Be sure to let us know how it goes.


No One Can Enjoy Delicious Food through Gritted Teeth

Suzanne Pollak

Unless your oven conks out, your Thanksgiving meal will get cooked. Everyone puts so much thought and effort into the food that we just know that the flavor of your meal will be wonderful, wherever you eat it. 

What causes our annual breakout of holiday hives is that Thanksgiving food is endlessly thought about but the entirety of the day can be overlooked. Children need to be entertained, elderly people need to be comfortable, lonely neighbors and acquaintances need to be invited, not to mention you yourself must be taken care of! If you are in charge of the day and you break down, well then, everyone is in trouble. No one will mind if there is no creamed cauliflower, but they will mind if no one is getting along and the children are screaming and the sister-in-laws are bickering and the table is rushed to and and then abandoned in a total of fifteen minutes. No one can enjoy delicious food through gritted teeth. 

  • Start grocery shopping days before and be sure to get to the store first thing in the morning. Do not try to accomplish all your shopping in one fell swoop.

  • Make sure everyone has a task to do. This is no time to be a hero. People like to help. Let them.

  • Set the table the day before if you can. If not, be sure to delegate it to people not actively involved in cooking.

  • Assign the turkey carving to a person of competence as early as possible.

  • When someone asks what they can bring assign bottles of wine, or to bakers, a homemade pie.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two days you have people over who may be difficult whether you want them to or not. Although sometimes easier to bite your tongue when someone says something truly offensive, it’s not always best to remain silent. Remember your example to the younger generations, and that some things we should not simply let go. It is possible to respectfully present an opposing view, and then pivot to another subject so the tense moment dissipates. Or better yet, save your discourse for a private moment. Thanksgiving dinner is no place for politics after all, but a time to be thankful for friends, family, and good food!

Q&A with A.K.

Suzanne Pollak

In an all-natural state, wearing a jumpsuit paired with an incredibly chic towel turban, plus best accessories Baby Leo and Moses the family dog.

In an all-natural state, wearing a jumpsuit paired with an incredibly chic towel turban, plus best accessories Baby Leo and Moses the family dog.

A.K., short for Anna Kate, is Suzanne's right hand gal! She keeps the wheels turning on the Academy blog when not busy with her chef babe J, new-ish baby Leo, and cooking for friends at Side Hustle Supper Club. She doesn't consider herself half as fashionable as Suzanne but nonetheless she's learned a few things in her stint at the Academy. Below she answers the Dean's burning questions about life, love, and style...

Q: What is your personal style for parties? at home, on your body?

A: I grew up with three brothers and now live with my partner and baby boy, so I feel like I'm always surrounded by dudes! I suppose that's why my personal style tends to be a little tomboy-ish, at least in the sense that it's practical and action-ready for everyday. But perhaps it also explains why I like to contrast that for a special dinner or other festive occasion, opting for flow-y, silky dresses and a few special pieces of jewelry and a spritz of nice (not too sweet) perfume. Regardless, I like to feel comfortable and free to move, in case a dance party breaks out at a moment's notice.

At home, I collect, in a decidedly non-minimalist way. I am tidy and organized but definitely love books, baubles, and the right tool for any job under the sun. I have a need for order, but I am learning to let go when company comes over. I used to follow a rule that no one must clean or do dishes after a big meal. Now I permit close friends to entertain Baby Leo while I put on a record and load the dishwasher. ; )

Has your (personal and house) style changed since you were single, married, now as a mom?

Honestly, probably not as much as you'd expect, although I do care less than ever what anyone else thinks of my outfit. I'm actually working on finding a middle ground there, as my mom keeps reminding me that a little effort to spruce yourself up goes a long way! Pregnancy threw me for a bit of a loop, naturally, limiting my range of wardrobe and isolating a few favorite items. I tried to retire some of that stuff postpartum but it's hard to let go of faves like my super sexy silk drop crotch cargo pants.

How do you accessorize for parties? Versus what you wear at home? Or when you go out to your guy's restaurant? 

I like bright, fun jewelry, high and low for sure! I always wear the emerald necklace my sweetheart gave me a few birthdays ago, and the gorgeous tanzanite ring he proposed with this past Spring. Then I like to add big colorful bangles or rings, even costume jewelry. I love one I found that is probably a knock-off of Delfina Delettrez (sorry to say) and looks like a crystal hand with shiny red nails wrapped around your finger! It's so ridiculous. I love fun earrings, disco hoops or Hart tassels, too but lately I've had to take a break, knowing Leo would probably yank them out of my head.

Any go to necklaces, earrings, shoes, your mother's or grandmother's pieces? 

In my family, the best hand-me-downs come from the kitchen. I have my great-grandmother's handmade wooden bowl, perfect for the giant salad that must accompany all of our family's rather heavy Southern dishes. I love my Granny's niche glassware, including an egg dish that looks like a chicken. My mom just passed down a bundt pan I can't wait to bake a good old-fashioned pound cake in. And of course, there's the skillet collection, each of which have been well-seasoned by our matriarchal cornbread recipe.

Beloved chicken dish...

Beloved chicken dish...

& potted herbs in the backyard.

& potted herbs in the backyard.

Favorite source of inspiration? A person? A place? In Charleston? 

I've just moved from a beloved third floor apartment in an over 200-year-old house on the Peninsula, to the house & land we bought out on James Island in advance of baby arrival. It's a whole different lifestyle, but I'm inspired by this new 'burb-y situ. and want to homestead on a small scale. We already have a little vegetable patch, some flowers, some herbs -- with plans to grow more, get some chickens, install a ceramic oven outdoors. I dream of being a kind of domestic goddess like Julia, Martha, Ina, Suzanne : ), Meryl Streep in It's Complicated! It may sound provincial but I just want to cook and garden and be a mama for now...

Favorite hostess gifts for parties, as a house guest? What do you like to receive, besides baby boy clothes? 

I've suddenly become very forgetful about gifts, both giving and properly receiving them with a thank you card to follow. (Blaming this on Baby Brain!) Historically, I like to bring a fridge-able roll of chocolate chip cookie dough and ice cream to a dinner party. There is nothing more delightful than cookies fresh out of the oven and just-melting frozen cream. Even if it's too much for the moment, still delicious later on. I find nice wine, pretty flowers, one or two good records are always welcome. Once a guest brought fresh flower crowns for all of the guests and that made for a magical night, indeed.

Best way to wind down a dinner party? Lounging around listening to a good record...

Best way to wind down a dinner party? Lounging around listening to a good record...

Q&A with Dierdre Zahl, Owner of Candy Shop Vintage

Suzanne Pollak


Q: What is your personal style? At home, for parties, in the store?

A: My personal style is feminine with an edge. I like girly details, like peplum or bishop sleeves. I love wearing heels, skirts and stockings, but I always like at least one bold print or accessory -- usually in the form of statement jewelry!

Has your (personal and house) style changed since you were single versus now as a mom?

I would say that in my early twenties, living in NYC with musicians on the Lower East Side, my style was definitely edgier, more rock and roll. Lot's of cut T-shirts and ripped denim. In my late twenties, after I got married and moved to Charleston, I softened my look a lot with more feminine cuts like peplum sleeves and flared skirts but always with a bit of an edge, usually in the form of statement jewelry! Since becoming a Mom, my style has remained pretty consistent. I like to dress up and since I own a shop, I definitely have to put some thought into my outfits as I can't just roll out of bed and sell jewelry. My daughter has really picked up her own strong sense of stye too; she likes to pic out all her own clothes and is very opinionated!

How do you accessorize for parties? A dinner party at your house? Going to a restaurant? 

Cocktail party: a fun party dress, big earrings and heels. A dinner party at home: leggings, heels and a silk blouse with some Charleston Rice Beads and red lipstick. Dinner out: a skirt with maybe a bodysuit and cute blazer or fitted jacket and stacks of bangles plus a fun purse.

Any go-to necklaces, earrings, shoes, your mother's or grandmother's pieces? 

I usually wear a piece of Candy Shop Vintage, often a Charleston Rice Bead bracelet wrapped multiple times around my wrist. I have some very cool vintage earrings in a few styles by MAM', a designer from Texas who used to make fun, colorful statement earrings out of resin-coated paper. They are very lightweight, but big and whimsical. I also have these great woven palm tree earrings by Mercedes Salzar, a Columbian jewelry designer who is just incredible.

Favorite source of inspiration? A person? A place? In Charleston? 

Daphne Guinness is definitely my ultimate style icon. She is so elegant, so edgy, so high fashion but still soft and feminine and very unique. I love following Beyoncé's Instagram account. Her outfits are so on point and of course I look to a lot of vintage clothing, jewelry and home accessories for design inspiration.


Do spouses come to the store for Valentine gifts/ideas? What do you recommend? 

We get a lot of spouses very close to the holidays. Usually they are last-minute buyers. I usually recommend the Charleston Rice Beads because they are always a crowd pleaser. We have them in a wonderful Kelly Green and light pink this spring -- perfect for Valentine's Day! We actually did the light pink a number of years ago and brought it back.

Favorite hostess gifts? For parties, or as a house guest? What do you like to receive? 

I always love candles as a hostess gift, or a bottle of wine. We have some great embroidered cocktail napkins in the shop and of course, your Handbook is always a wonderful gift for a hostess. We can hardly keep them in stock!

Blow Open Your Tabletops

Suzanne Pollak

Now to address a few burning Bridal FAQs re: table settings, centerpieces, and personal style. A wedding registry is no time for strict guidelines, but rather a chance to begin building your collection for decades of dinner parties to come. No matter what stress should ever consume your day, you can ease out of it by cooking dinner, sipping a glass of wine, and setting the table (and mood) for the night ahead.

No need to register for two china patterns, one fancy and one for everyday. Way too old school! Far better to delve deep into your inner being and suss out all the aspects of your person. Think color, moods, passions, place...

For example, maybe you appreciate hand-carved wood -- consider a collection of handmade bowls. There's no end to what you can do with these. Use smaller ones for olives and nuts at cocktail hour, or for individual starter salads at dinner. Fill larger bowls with BIG salads, or perhaps something else interesting (citrus, hankies, pens and paper for a parlor game) to set as a centerpiece. Or, choose wooden chargers. And you know what looks good with wood? Gold, of course!

Just look at this extravagant, marvelous, opulent Royal Crown Derby. Who can afford to collect a whole set? And besides that, who wants to? It is so too much, simply over the top. All that gold cancels out to equal a big let down, where a one-size plate sizzles and shines on the table. Perfection! A gold salad plate looks amazing filled with greens for a salad course, chocolate tart for dessert... Actually, everything looks good with gold.

Okay, how to satisfy your love of birds? Consider Ginori. There is nothing as wonderful as a set of 8 or 12 or 24 dinner plates featuring birds. These beauties yearn for a Thanksgiving dinner to be placed on them, but dazzle even under an everyday roast chicken. These plates say something about you; your passion for nature, individual style, love of design. What could be more boring than a whole set of one china pattern covering the table? The older the Dean gets, the more she thinks, YUCK. This person has let someone else tell her what to do, and ignored that inner voice of what she likes.

What appeals most to us? Anything but flipping through ad-filled magazines, shopping at bridal superstores, or listening to friends and family who have never identified true style. Plates and objects on a table are a way to express yourself. So are centerpieces: flowers mixed with fruit, bunches of veggies and greens that will become tomorrows main course, a handmade pie that will become tonight's dessert.

Have fun with the rest! Modern flatware choices might include horn (so chic) or bronze (gleams on the table and unique to boot) but there is still something to be said for a classic silver pattern. The most popular through the ages? Francis the First has that swirly Baroque feel which pairs so well with plain, stark, straight. Don't be afraid to mix high and low. As for napkins, it's all about juxtaposing different colors, textures, and aspects of your personality. Sometimes you feel flirty and fun, other times more composed and traditional. Sometimes girly, sometimes a huntress.

Let it all out on the table, loves. These kind of style decisions will get you well on your way to bolstering your confidence. No one needs to tell you they approve. If you like it, then go for it. That’s exactly what the Dean does, and it has always worked for her. 

Shut the Fork Up! It Goes Where?

Suzanne Pollak

Photographed by Landon Neil Phillips for Local Palate, Spring 2016.

Photographed by Landon Neil Phillips for Local Palate, Spring 2016.

How important is it to set the fork on the left side of the plate? A very reasonable question recently asked to the Dean, and naturally the Dean has answers, two actually, both completely correct. 

If you are a young professional moving up in the world, planning on making your mark, the answer to the question is that placement of the fork is of upmost importance. Let's say you did not learn how to set a table and it escaped your notice where a fork goes. Sadly you may be marked as a person who has no clue about table manners, and perhaps even as one who is confused in other life skills, business matters, political savvy, social situations -- however incorrect these assumptions may be. Therefore, you must master the seemingly insignificant fork placement to be the person you want to portray. 

Now, if you are an older person, say as old as the Dean, it makes little difference where you place your fork. Because you know the rules, and have abided by them forever, you now have the choice to go off pist and do exactly what you want. Say you are running late for your own dinner party and arrive minutes before guests knock on the door. It is perfectly okay for you to put the pot on to boil, place a pile of silverware on the table and pour cocktails without missing a beat. You are not even required to set the table, instead ask your guests to sit down and help themselves to their own fork. Not only will your dinner be delightfully relaxed, you will be known as chic, sui generis, and possessing your own style. 

Manners and etiquette must be learned and adhered to to make our society work, including where that damn fork is placed, but once you learn the rules you are allowed to break them when you have already made your mark on the world. Got it? 

Party Face: Q&A with Tim Quinn

A. K. Lister

Ava Gardner & the very chic-est of compacts.  [Photograph by Ida Von Dee.]

Ava Gardner & the very chic-est of compacts.  [Photograph by Ida Von Dee.]

Have we mentioned it's party season? And somehow it always seems that while that may be true of the whole Western world, it's at a real fever pitch here in Charleston. We always manage to find an excuse to gussy up, go out, share a cocktail, and make merry with our neighbors. 

In all the commotion, we can hardly see straight, let alone focus on the mirror long enough to put on our faces. So we turned to our friend Tim Quinn, Celebrity Face Designer at Giorgio Armani, with all of our burning "party-ready" queries. He was so gracious to oblige.

Q. How should I prepare my face for a party?

For a party, I usually recommend a hydrating mask first and foremost.  I love the Luminessence Mask, which totally infuses your skin with hydration and brightness.  If you haven't had enough rest, you need lots of moisturizer, then a lightweight light-reflecting foundation.

Q. How does it differ from daily makeup?

Typically for daily makeup, start with a tinted moisturizer to make sure that your skin is even...

Q. If you don’t wear much makeup, what do you simply have to do before going out? 

Perhaps just terrific eyeliner, a flush of color on the cheeks and pop up the lip.  You don't need to go overboard if you're not used to a lot of make up.

Q. Eyes and lips? Or just one?

Try a smokey eye.  Play up the lip a little bit if you're just doing a classic holiday look.

Q. Is there a way to avoid lipstick on the wine glass?

Use a straw with your champagne!

Q. Is it okay to apply lipstick at the table?

It's OK to apply lipstick at the table if you have a chic compact.  I think there's actually quite at an art of seduction to a woman using her lipstick and applying at the table with a a beautiful compact and perhaps even a lip brush.

Q. What do you think about glitter on the face? Should it stay on the tree?

Glitter should stay away from your face.  Shimmer is fine, glitter is not.

Q. What are your views on getting work done in your 20s? In your 50s? (Asking for a friend. : )

I've seen this new trend in Hollywood: people getting worked on at younger ages.  While I'm starting to think that the face God gave us was just a suggestion, we should keep it to a minimum.  Little tweaks at a maturing age, I'm all for...but starting too young leads to disaster.

Many Thanks to Tim Quinn!
















Raucous Guests

Lee Manigault


One reason people don't entertain is that they are worried about how their guests will behave.  People are right to worry.  Every once in a blue moon a guest will act out of line.  It is extremely rare, but explosive when it happens.  The Deans have seen people throw napkins, insult one another, get too drunk, and even get up and storm out the door.  As searing as the moment is at the time, it can electrify the party and unite the guests against a common cause.

As always, it is not what happens but how it is handled that matters.  As captain of the event, you must maintain your composure and lead your ship-ful of guests to calmer waters.  When your  attendees see you rising above the occasion, they realize that they can, too. They will form their own opinion about what happened.  Sometimes bad behavior is a one off and can be excused.  Other times the person is a reprobate and needs to be expunged from your life.

Wedding Conundrums Part 4

Suzanne Pollak

Dean Pollak was almost spiraling into bankruptcy with all the expensive gifts she was languishing on brides. It took a chat with Dean Manigault to set her straight.

Dean Manigault told her it was not only unnecessary to send silver and crystal to every bride, and lots of it, but could sometimes be viewed as a bit unseemly.

Kate Middleton with her sister, Pippa, maid of honor

Kate Middleton with her sister, Pippa, maid of honor

A wedding gift should be appropriate to the degree to which you are a friend of the celebrants or their parents. Dean Manigault's mother went to her grave knowing that a $50 gift was always appropriate and a $200 gift should cause the bride to write her thank you note before she finished unwrapping the gift. 

Of course the bride always wants something off her registry, and this is what you should go by. Going off mission this time is not a good idea. 

The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge

Prince William with his wife

Prince William with his wife

Wedding Conundrums Part 3

Suzanne Pollak

A wedding is not the time to look ungenerous. Examine your budget and be realistic about what you can provide. Three hundred people in black tie requires unlimited champagne and hor d'ouevres, a three course seated dinner and an extravagant band, not a DJ, and probably some sort of surprise entertainment, as well. If you can't afford this, or don't wish to entertain in this fashion, you are by no means alone. Few people can and will have this kind of wedding. So, don't ask your guests to get in black tie unless you are going to provide a black tie entertainment. 

The first of many wedding dresses & husbands for Elizabeth Taylor

The first of many wedding dresses & husbands for Elizabeth Taylor

Eleven thirty weddings are popular in England, why not here? This unusual time will set your wedding apart. You can choose to have a sit down luncheon from 12 to 40 people or a buffet for 200. Four thirty used to be the most popular call time for a wedding. When Dean Manigault got married her mother hit the mat when Dean Manigault wanted to start the ceremony at six o'clock. Maris asserted that 4:30 was the chicest of all times and was not to be moved from this point. Eleven thirty, four thirty, noon, whatever time you choose, just be sure the entertainment you provide is as lavish as your budget allows. The Deans have been to barbecue and beer receptions that were way more fun than the time Dean Manigault flew to Capetown and was presented with a bill at the end of the rehearsal dinner!! The single most shocking event of her long life! 

Dress No.2

Dress No.2

If your budget solution is to have a cash bar for your wedding then you have not come up with a suitable solution. The Deans were never more shocked than when they heard about this trend.  You don't have to invite everyone you went to school with or ever met. Less guests can frequently mean more fun. Especially if none have to reach for their wallets!

Wedding Conundrums Part 2

Lee Manigault

The hour between a wedding ceremony and the beginning of the reception has bloated and become gassy.  The time was once used to get from church to reception hall and bridal photos were taken in 15 minutes.  The in-between time has expanded to an hour just as the wedding industry has grown to 51 billion dollars. This hour is filler, a non-event, leaving guests wandering around with nothing to do, no plan, entertainment...waiting for something to happen. The hour is not going to be trimmed...today, hundreds of  photos are taken.  So naturally, the Deans have suggestions. 

The timeless Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco

The timeless Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco

Wedding guests need to be entertained, wined and dined, and not left to themselves while the bride gets all the attention. We suggest getting some sort of entertainment guests can enjoy while they wait for the party to start. A comedian has a warm up act and so does a rock concert. Every big event needs a sexy lead in to get people in the mood.  Guests leave the ceremony in good spirits and you want to build on this vibe.

Wedding planners don't address this black hole of time because they assume that if the bride and her family are not going to participate in this entertainment, then they will not want to pay for it.  Bad decision! How about hiring a trio or quartet to play? No need for Isaac Perlman. This is the warm up, not the main event. Most communities have competent music students or orchestra players who would be happy for the work.  Similarly, a signature cocktail created with the bride and groom in mind provides both a focal and talking point for guests.  Dean Pollak had a pink cactus margarita whipped up for her daughter's at home wedding because pink is Caroline's favorite color.  Not only were the drinks pink, but all the food as well - Scallops brined in beet juice, mini lobster roll etc.  Quite a show stopper!  

The Deans current favorite idea is to engage a slight of hand magician to mingle among the guests during this hour.  A professional magician will know exactly how to entertain the guests. One less problem for the bride's mother to solve!! 

Wedding Conundrums Part 1

Suzanne Pollak


One of our fans from Portlandia (she chars her own ice:-) wrote and asked us a question about wedding gifts. She wondered if we thought it was a good idea for engaged and newly married couples to disseminate a list of the gifts received to at least the mothers of the bride and groom. This list would aid the mothers in answering the age old question about whether the gift was received or not. We think this ideas is brilliant! 

As brilliant as this idea, she informed us of a terrifying practice that may be trending. Guests are encouraged to leave a self addressed envelope at the wedding to facilitate the bride with her thank you note writing. Let us be clear, the Deans abhor this idea! If brides are too lazy to retain the address of the wedding participants - they had to send them a wedding invitation after all - then they don't deserve to get any gifts at all. 

What the Deans would love to see resurrected is the tradition of displaying all the gifts for all to see at the wedding reception. We fear however that with the ubiquitous destination wedding that this tradition has been laid  to rest.   


Memorable Wedding Moments -- John & Jacqueline Kennedy

JBK JFK Dancing at wedding.jpg

How Dare You Spend My Money for Me!

Suzanne Pollak

This might be one of the shortest blogs the Deans ever write because our message is so pithy. When you go out to eat with friends splitting the check does not mean splitting the check in half. It means everybody pays for what they consumed. If you think it goes unnoticed that you ordered three or four glasses of wine and a three course meal while your companion had tap water and an appetizer and yet you suggest that the check be split down the middle, let us tell you that you should not be surprised to get fewer and fewer invitations. You have just put your friend on the spot to pay for your indulgences. Unacceptable and rude! 

There is one thing still ruder: when the check comes, acting as if you expect to be paid for. In these modern times, even a single woman out with a couple should wrestle the check to the ground before she lets the man pay for her. She should never assume that her meal is comped. 

A Foray Into Your Foyer

Suzanne Pollak

The head bartender at the Paris Ritz, Colin Field, says he can extract more information about you from your cocktail order than Sherlock Holmes could. He can tell if you are there to meet a lover, sign a business contract, if you are sophisticated or just plain silly. 

The Deans can preform a similar trick but our medium is your front hall. This room or area is everyone’s introduction into your personal space. Your energy has permeated the front hall during your fifteen thousand walk throughs. The Deans look at your space with impartial eyes and cool objectivity. We can’t help but notice whether the space is open and inviting (which says you are too), or a bit more formal and harder to penetrate. Are coats and keys and pocketbooks left out for people to see, or tucked away in closets? Is the front hall decorated for every season?  Is your artwork global, local or strictly family oriented?

Just like every space in your house, the front hall should evolve through your life. Little children’s artwork is appropriate if there are little children around, but if they have children of their own, those pictures should have been swept out years ago.

The Deans charge you to look at your front hall with our eyes and be sure that what you are conveying to the world is what you mean to. If you are not sure send us a picture and we will help you figure it out. 

Dean Manigault's front hall

Dean Manigault's front hall

Texts Are Not Thank You Notes

Suzanne Pollak

If you have received any gifts over the holidays you need to sit down at your desk or kitchen table and write some thank you notes. In our technological age they are as rare as a hen’s tooth, but much more valuable. Your parents made you write them, and now the Deans are here to make sure your manners are still intact.

If you splurge for engraved stationary, and we highly suggest you do,  writing these notes will be fun as well. Writing on heavy stock paper is a worth while endeavor and the thick card announces to the world you are not only a person of taste, but one who possess gratitude as well.

The Deans have many ideas on writing the perfect thank you note.  We are going to give you a few thank you samples that you can use and copy & paste into your own content:

  1. Everything was perfection last night, starting with you.  
  2. You always set the standard for entertaining. Coming to your house is my favorite way to spend a night out. 
  3. We had the most wonderful time last night. Everything from the food, the company and ambiance hit just the right note. Thank you for including me. 

Gush more if you want, it will be appreciated, but anything less than the above is sorely substandard. 

Thank You Card by  Ink Meets Paper

Thank You Card by Ink Meets Paper


A Manners Morass

Suzanne Pollak

Naturally the minute the Deans arrive in any city the invitations start flying in. This very excitement brings the Deans to our trickiest dilemma. What to do when you’ve accepted one invite and something better comes along shortly afterwards? Temptation looms. You can already picture yourself at the second event having the time of your life. Why did you even accept the first? You never wanted to go, and never will. Well, bad news. The reason you are so upset is that you know the answer. You must press on with your first acceptance. You have been invited to so many jump ups in the first place because of your charm and tact. By ‘best offer-ing’ at the last minute you fool no one and even if you could, your Facebook’s GPS tells all your friends where you are anyway. 

Learn more etiquette advice from our book The Charleston Academy

What's for Dinner?

Suzanne Pollak

Image Courtesy of Tania Lee

Image Courtesy of Tania Lee

Everyone, everyday, asks themselves, “what’s for dinner?” The Deans will prove once and for all that cooking for your family is the second most important thing you can do.  We are still working on number one. Our students come together over bubbling pots and simmering stews and our alums and book fans are armed and ready to tackle satisfying even the most persnickety palates.


Nobody has the time or desire to make a flaky croissant first thing in the morning.  The Deans are here to tell you that you can make far more delicious biscuits yourself.  Well, the Deans do and so should you.  Smeared with your own homemade preserves or filled with ham or melted butter- this treat is a love letter to your family first thing in the morning. 


Makes 12 to 18, depending on size of biscuit cutter


3 cups self-rising flour, preferably White Lily    

1 tablespoon baking powder              

1 teaspoon salt                         

1/2 teaspoon baking soda      

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 4 equal pieces       

1 1/2 cups whole buttermilk      


1.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.  Using two knives or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until it forms pea-size pieces.  Add the buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough almost forms a ball.

3.  Place the dough on a silicone baking mat and begin folding up the sides, right and left, until a ball forms.  Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thickness.  Fold one side of the dough into the center and then fold in the other side.  Roll out again and refold in the same manner three to six times.  (Each roll and fold creates flaky layers within your biscuits.)  Roll out one final time until the dough is 3/4-inch thick.

4.  Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or an inverted glass.  Place the biscuits on a nonstick baking sheet.  Gather the scraps, re-roll, and cut out more biscuits until all of the dough has been used.  (At this point, you can cover the unbaked biscuits with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours, or freeze up to 3 weeks.)

5.  Bake until lightly browned on the top and bottom, 10 to 12 minutes.  (Bake frozen biscuits at 425 degrees F for 25 minutes.)

Image Courtesy of Tania Lee

Image Courtesy of Tania Lee


Lunch is when the Dean’s genius is in evidence. Transforming last night’s dinner into a healthy and satisfying lunch is our specialty. Almost any leftover - fish, fowl or meat - can be placed between two pieces of crisped bread and made into a wonderful meal for lunch or a simple dinner.  Chicken Salad is the perfect meal for eating at home, taking to the office or putting in a tart shell for an elegant lunch party. 


Take the leftovers of your roasted chicken and create a variety of meals using simple ingredients found in your refrigerator.  

  • Carve out an avocado and place the chicken mixture and avocado inside the shell to transport to work. 
  • Wrap your tasty leftover chicken inside a crepe and marry with mushrooms and Parmesan cheese.
  • Take thick slices of sourdough crisped in hot olive oil and layer with roasted peppers, shaved red onion, and your leftover chicken mixture.


We’ve heard every excuse why a home cooked family dinner is not possible - every single one. Stop yakking at us about this. All stews benefit from a night in the refrigerator and a reheat the day of serving.  The minute you walk in the door, put a pot of water on to boil to make rice, pasta or boiled potatoes to serve the stew over and dinner can be ready in 20 minutes, far less time than gathering everyone up and going out.  Below is the Deans favorite stew.  To take it even one step further, pair your stew with beer you’ve bought at Charleston's Beer Exchange or your local brewery.  


Serves 4      


4 Lamb shanks                               

Onion, chopped


Red Wine

Salt & Pepper    


1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Sauté lamb shanks in a little olive oil in a sauté pan, over high heat, to lightly brown each side.  Remove shanks, season with salt and pepper, and place in stock pot.

3.  In remaining oil, sauté onions until lightly browned.  Place onions in stock pot.  Cover lamb shanks with red wine and thyme and simmer for 2 hours.

4.  Eat right away, make in the morning, or the day before (even tastier).  

*You can stretch one shank to feed three people by shredding the cooked meat.  Reheat in the wine sauce and use the meat and sauce for pasta another time.  Dean-licious.

You can find all of these recipes and more by visiting us at the charleston academy