In Search of Southern Cuisine


June 21, 2021

Timbers Kiawah Ocean Club & Residences’ food and beverage manager Teddy Folkman has an extraordinary culinary résumé — which he hid from potential employers when he moved from Washington, D.C. to Charleston, S.C.. 

Wait, what?

It’s true. Folkman had made a name for himself as an executive chef, partner, and consultant involved with several successful D.C.-area gastropubs and upscale tavern-style restaurants. He’d served as culinary ambassador for Duvel Moortgat USA and Brewery Ommegang. He co-founded the immensely popular “D.C.Beer Week”, lent his talents to outstanding nonprofits like Brainfood, and was in demand as a speaker across the country. He even trounced Bobby Flay and had a stint on The Food Network. 

Chef Teddy had chops — and we don’t just mean on the grill.

So why did this Superman go around Charleston introducing himself as Clark Kent? For the love of Southern cooking, and a desire to learn it authentically through hard-work and direct experience.

THE CALL OF THE SOUTH

Chef Teddy’s appreciation for Southern cuisine had its genesis when he apprenticed in D.C. under James Beard Award-winner Ann Cashion, who was originally from Mississippi. His interest turned full-tilt after a visit to Nashville with friends, including one who had a knack for Southern food and beverage. The chef shares, “Adam had us try the hot chicken there and it was life changing, the best thing I’d ever tasted.” The two conceived a new business venture for D.C., called Maison Dixon Hot Chicken.

An exploratory road trip was in order, as part of their research. Chef Teddy reminisces, “We ate and drank our way through Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, Nashville, and Louisville meeting with impassioned chefs keeping the Southern traditions alive. From fine restaurants to meat-and-threes to dive bars we wanted to taste everything worth trying. We got to experience true Gullah Geechee food, the roots of Southern cooking. Based on those travels we came up with a menu, preparing everything the Southern way: with bacon fat, greens, vinegar, salt and pepper, and little bit of brown sugar. It brings out a completely different flavor profile you can’t resist.”

A NEW CHAPTER IN CHARLESTON

Maison Dixon launched as a pop-up in 2015 and had a great run, but plans for a brick and mortar fell through. At the same time, Chef Teddy’s wife (who was also his partner in three restaurants) was ready for a career shift from a stressful government job. It was time for a change. He elaborates, “Charleston was always our happy place. Whenever we had a couple days off we would come down here. Out of convenience, we started renting an apartment, and within two months moved permanently! We went from pigeons, rats, and squirrels to alligators, dolphins, and turtles. That’s a good trade. And I was excited to take a step back and stake out a new path.”

REINVENTION

Chef Teddy continues, “I wanted to go someplace where no one knew my history and my restaurants. Where I could keep my head down, learn, and be around people who loved food. To get my passion back. I got a job as a prep chef at The Obstinate Daughter (an award-winning fine dining restaurant on Sullivan’s Island). They do everything from scratch, and every cook in there had been an executive chef at one point. I could focus on the food and it was glorious.” 

While he was nursing a shoulder injury, Folkman’s wife spotted Timbers Kiawah advertising for a front of house manager for The Beach Club. According to Chef Teddy, “This was pre-opening. I’d never been here before and was instantly enthralled, not just with the place but the people. We all clicked so well. My interview was a two-hour love fest talking about the philosophy of hospitality. I was in heaven. I knew I’d found my culinary home. I started that fall and by April was given the creative freedom to run the food and beverage program here, and share my ever-expanding Southern repertoire with our Owners.”

THE ALLURE OF SOUTHERN CUISINE

For Chef Teddy, the draw of Southern cooking is multi-faceted. It’s about history, culture, pride, and love. He explains, “It’s such a mishmash of everything, rooted in the history of Africa, the Caribbean, Spain, Italy. The struggles people had in creating this cuisine out of slavery and financial necessity, needing to be resourceful and using the ingredients you had around you. Keeping the social traditions alive. The people I’ve met who have been cooking this food all their lives, their willingness to share their stories and recipes, the amount of love they put into everything. It reinstated my passion for cooking.” 

From shrimp and grits, collards, succotash, and stewed tomatoes to oysters, chicken bog, and barbecue, it’s all a win in Chef Teddy’s book. He gushes, “I love smoked meat. My partner in crime here, Chef Bobby Trigg, and I have both spent considerable time with pit masters learning that craft. We have our own rub, temperature, and timings down. I am a big fan of slow and low cooking in general. The effort to get to the final product is a lot more difficult. I’m impatient, but you have to let that go so the flavors can seep together, creating layers intertwined in the same bite. It’s always worth the wait.”

BRING THE LOWCOUNTRY IN

So how has all of this impacted The Timbers Kiawah Beach Club? Chef Teddy shares the vision he’s made a reality here, “A beach club menu by definition needs to be light, casual, and quick. We stay true to that, but take it up a notch with food that’s elevated and inspired by Southern traditions and flavors. We incorporate local ingredients like strawberries, watermelons, peaches, shrimp, oysters, and red fish. We are regulars at the Main Road Farmers Market and Storey Farm, both on neighboring Johns Island, to procure fresh produce and pasture-raised pork. Many of our specials are full-on Lowcountry dishes, but even the basics on the menu have a Southern flair. For example, our fried chicken sandwich has pimento cheese and a little bit of peach salsa going on, and our nachos are topped with smoked pork.”

TRYING NEW THINGS

Folkman’s enthusiasm is contagious, and he’s converted several Timbers Kiawah Owners who were hesitant at first to try real Southern food. Once they get a taste, it’s not a hard sell.

He elaborates, “We do classic Lowcountry events like Lowcountry boils, barbecues, and oyster roasts. We actually do all three, in stations, at our annual New Year’s Day celebration. Every year since we’ve opened it’s been 75 degrees that day, such terrific beach weather! Anyway, we get Owners here from above the Mason Dixon line who have never had a raw oyster. They look at it and say, “no way”. I get it, I grew up in New York City. It’s not really a thing up there, but it’s huge here. So we start them off trying it with a delicious sauce and some other covers. But then you get a really good oyster — Charleston has started producing a type of oyster called Sea Clouds with fantastic flavor, a nice salt content to it, a little bit sweet, firm texture — the taste is so clean and that’s helped us convert a lot of the Owners. And their kids too, who are fascinated by the shucking process. At this point, we’ve featured probably thirty dishes at our Beach Club cooking demos, and almost all of them have a Southern twist. Timbers Owners on the whole have a sense of adventure and like being exposed to new things, so they are on this happy journey with me.”

TASTES LIKE HOME

Chef Teddy took a chance to start over and find his true calling. He wouldn’t have it any other way. As he points out, “The Timbers Kiawah Beach Club is actually an encapsulation of Lowcountry living itself: friendly, casual, with an emphasis on relationships and keeping it simple. It’s so relaxing and comfortable. It’s a special vibe. I’ve been very lucky. In my career I’ve experienced a lot of cool things and been able to travel around doing beer dinners, speaking engagements, television, but this is it. I found it. The perfect place for me. Making heartfelt food for people you consider your family — that’s true Southern style.”

Frogmore Chowder, inspired by the classic Lowcountry Frogmore Stew, is one of the first dishes Chef Teddy learned here, and remains one of his all-time favorites. Check out the recipe to try it for yourself.