As bright and shiny as it is, the new Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center might not be the first place you’d think to go for a trendy food presentation. Or even for lunch.
During Monday’s first ever unconventional cooking demo at the coliseum, Chef Paul Smith whipped up and served savory herb-crusted venison with asparagus salad soaked in black cherry vinaigrette — and said he hopes demos like his will bring more people to the center.
“We’ve done it at the Capital Market and that has gone from fifteen people to fifty-five or sixty, so I think it definitely brings people,” said Smith, corporate chef for Buzz Food Service.
Smith offered insider tips, telling the crowd that when placing meat in an oil-coated pan, it’s best to drop and slide it away so the hot oil won’t splatter on your clothes or burn your skin. And, he said, there’s such a thing as too much when it comes to mixing vinaigrette into an asparagus salad.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘What do you do? What’s your philosophy on food?’ My philosophy is buy the highest quality proteins that you possibly can, as local as possible, and buy the most seasonal, local vegetables as in season as possible and do as little to it as possible,” he said.
Then he gave spectators what they really came for: free samples and recipes.
The demo — one of several planned for this summer — is the first in a series of innovative new projects designed to draw crowds to the sleek new venue they may think is only open for concerts. Not everyone would expect to attend a culinary demo at the new coliseum — and they certainly wouldn’t expect to get lunch fare on the river front. But organizers are trying to think outside of the glass box.
“Along with the beautiful facility, we had to make sure that we were taking our operations to the next level and that’s what we’re trying to do with these demonstrations,” said Todd Tinney, who runs the food and beverage division for the coliseum.
“Our culinary team, our banquet team, does a lot of interesting set ups, so we try to remind people that we’re unconventional. We try to set up some new standards, try to set up some new decor ... [so] that when you come in here, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really neat; I haven’t seen that before,’” he said.
Tinney said he wants to remind people that the convention center goes beyond just events.
The convention center is open to the public, with $3 parking available on the premises. Not only is the facility open, but so is the access to the Elk River.
Starting this weekend, the new Elk River Grill at the center’s Elk River dock will be serving grilled burgers, hot dogs, barbecue, salad, snacks, beer and wine every Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer. The dock is accessible to boaters and to people who want to sit by the river and eat.
“It’s something the facility has never had, so we’re trying to show different things about the facility,” Smith said. “We’re a river city, but a lot of times we don’t utilize the river. This is kind of that link we’ve been missing in the chain, is some entertainment on the river.”
Tinney said that in the future, packages for the dock will be offered at conferences.
“We’re trying to use that dock for multipurpose [and] not just this grill,” he said. “Again, it’s a feature this place has that’s unique. If you’re here for a conference from out of town, you don’t have to go very far to have a little fun on the river; it’s just right here.”
For more information on the convention center, visit https://www.chaswvccc.com.