FIG celebrates life of an old friend – Ms. Petunia

An Ode to Ms. Petunia

In Charleston, S.C., fewer things are elevated to a higher status than the food and beverage industry. Grounded in the fact that it has the most five-star restaurants per capita in the nation, the city has become a peninsula that flies on the wings of culinary legends.

So when 60 of the most VIP members of the Charleston food scene took their seats at award-winning restaurant FIG on Nov. 17 to celebrate the life of Old Ms. Petunia, you know she was something important to the community.

 “This is our way of honoring Petunia and thanking her for her countless contribution to our success,” said FIG chef Jason Stanhope at one point. “We are sad to see her go, but she has left behind a legacy.”

That legacy has been documented on a countless number of FIG’s ever changing menus, as Petunia was Fig’s matriarchal Ossabaw pig.

 “Petunia has provided our restaurant with all of our pork,” said Emily Kelly, a manager’s assistant. “Each dish at the Petunia dinner was made with different parts of Petunia’s meat. It is our way of thanking her.”

Farm Local, Buy Local, Cook Local

Big culinary names like Sean Brock, Jeremiah Bacon and Mike Lata find their culinary hub within the Charleston City limits, creating gourmet meals that rank on countless international lists.

The restaurant business is fierce, so in order to rise to the top dedication to quality and product are key. The top Charleston restaurants stock their kitchens with innovative cooking methods and the freshest ingredients.

In particular, FIG (Food is Good), works extremely hart ton not only produce award-winning dishes night after night, but also, to include only local, sustainable, and in season ingredients on their menu.

The result is not just a restaurant, but rather, a community of chefs, farmers and food lovers coming together in a simple desire of food that has “integrity, flavor and soul” as FIG puts it.

This community starts with the farmers. Specifically, the Green Grocer Farm on Wadmalaw Island, SC, has been FIG’s source of produce and pork for nearly a decade.

 “We believe the health of our bodies is dependent on the health of the soil,” said farmer Erin Forte. “Beautiful green pastures lead to beautiful healthy animals and crops which lead to beautiful healthy people.”

Like the Green Grocer, FIG is a firm supporter of the farm to table movement. More importantly they practice humane farming and slaughtering methods when it comes to their animal products.

For their pork dishes, this has always started with Ms. Petunia.

The Life of a Hog

Petunia birthed 51 piglets during her lifetime. 33 of these have survived to maturity, been slaughtered and butchered, and finally turned into FIG dishes.

 “For slaughter we use a small, family fun operation: Burbage Meats in Ravenel,” said Forte. “For killing, they use a pneumatic impact hammer. The animal walks down a corridor and when they turn a corner the hammer drives a metal rod into their brain. It is quick; the animal doesn’t know what hit it.”

While the process may seem graphic, it is one that has been deemed extremely humane. During their lifetime, the farm strives to provide its hogs with the best care and nourishment.

The Green Grocer feeds its litters a custom blend of mixed and ground corn, soy, wheat, fat, vitamins and minerals. It is a high protein, high mineral blend.

Petunia’s breed Ossabaw Island hogs tend to be diabetic. Therefore, the farm caters to these dietary needs by keeping their diets high in proteins and low in carbs and sugars.

 “Our hogs are on pasture and eat plants and root around as well,” Forte added.

Besides diet, the Green Grocer believes in free-range methods of farming. Because of this, they choose to retire their matriarchal hogs like Petunia early so that they do not smother their piglets.

 “The alternative would be to use a farrowing crate, which would immobilize the sow while allowing piglets access to her teats” Forte explained. “I would rather let young girls breed and use the big girls for meat.”

While Green Grocer has many breeding sows, FIG has solely relied on the meat from Petunia’s litters. They would buy her piglets when they were young and they became right for slaughter, the farm would notify them.

 “We receive the entire animal after it is slaughtered which is more sustainable,” Stanhope said while explaining their process. “We then have an in-house butcher who makes the different cuts of the meat and decides which parts of the animal we can use. From there, we create dishes around the various parts.”

From Farm to Table

The pork scene in Charleston has recently garnered a strong following. There are pork belly happy hours, bacon donuts, and late night pate and charcuterie boards popping all over town.

At FIG, their goal with pork has always been rooted in using every part of the pig. Dishes like headcheese, a terrine made from the head of the pig, and pork trotters or pig’s feet, have spotted the seasonally changing menu forever.

The Petunia Dinner was a perfect way for Chef Stanhope to unleash his inventive culinary imaginations.

As farmer Celeste Albers put it in her speech during the dinner, “Jason has known Petunia since she was a piglet and we knew he was the one to trust for an event like this.”

Stanhope created a menu consisting of four courses plus hors d’oevres and dessert, all in an ode to Petunia.

There was buttery Country Pate en Crout, Ossabaw Pazole, slow roasted pork belly and a final Pot au Feu de Porc.

An Ode to a Hog

Pictures of Petunia were mounted on the walls as guests dined on her succulent meat. Toasts and speeches were made in her honor.

The event was the ultimate reflection of the success of the farm to table movement in Charleston.

In an age where the origins of our food products and pork specifically have become extremely controversial, it is important to find sources that are sustainable.

FIG and the Green Grocer’s relationship is just that. Old Ms. Petunia provided thousands of locally sourced meals over the course of her lifetime.

Her final contribution at the Petunia Dinner was a marker of the local movement spreading into the restaurant industry.

While her life has come to an end, her legacy will live on in the memories and future actions of the food community of Charleston.

– by Isobelle Hemmers

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