She Built a Baltimore Restaurant Empire, but She Still Works the Stove

She Built a Baltimore Restaurant Empire, but She Still Works the Stove


Ms. Wolf and Mr. Foreman are aware of their position as high-end restaurateurs in a city beset by poverty and racial inequities. Ms. Wolf talks proudly of nurturing the careers of Everardo Florentino, Charleston’s chef de cuisine, and Mario Cano Catalán, the executive chef at Bar Vasquez, both Mexican immigrants first hired as teenagers.

The partners describe the unrest after Freddie Gray died in custody of the Baltimore police in 2015 as a transformative experience, for themselves and the city. Of the Black Lives Matter signs posted at all of their restaurants, Mr. Foreman said, “Cindy and I both think the same about that: Let’s just tell them how we feel.”

At Charleston, Ms. Wolf set out to bring Lowcountry cuisine to a wider audience, and to draw connections between the cooking of the coastal Southeast and the Mid-Atlantic. An April menu struck the balance the restaurant always has between Southern dishes developed outside professional kitchens (many, like shrimp and grits, with African roots) and French haute cuisine, like pan-roasted sea scallops with fresh peas and fava beans.

A new soup fuses the styles: Sea Island white rice and red peas, cooked in guinea fowl stock and enriched with fresh black truffles. Ms. Wolf said she was considering making the soup a permanent menu item. She is proud, even protective, of dishes that make the cut. She was upset to discover that cornmeal fried oysters — a Charleston staple, the same recipe she made for Julia Child — were on the menu at Johnny’s.

“I don’t want them serving my oysters there,” she said. “That’s my signature dish.”

Ms. Wolf traces her interest in Southern cooking to the childhood years she spent in North Carolina. When she was 9, her family moved to northern Indiana. Soon after, her father, Robert, a restaurant-chain executive, began taking her to prestigious French restaurants in Chicago, like Le Perroquet and Le Francais.

“Most cooks don’t have the opportunities I had growing up,” Ms. Wolf said. “I know to be grateful for that.”

Her parents moved to Charleston, S.C., when Ms. Wolf graduated from high school. She followed them after dropping out of University of Evansville, having decided that she wanted to become a chef.

2021-05-27 08:20:13

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