TEMPEST

by WENDY SWAT SNYDER / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

THE FOLKS WHO LIT UP THE CORNER of North Market Street with 5Church Charleston have sailed back into the Holy City with a new seafood-centric concept designed to celebrate all things sustainable. Dubbed Tempest–an allusion to fishing lore claiming big storms produce great catches–the sister restaurant opened in August, spearheaded by partners Jamie Lynch, Patrick Whalen and Alejandro Torio of Charlotte-based 5th Street Group. Carved out of a niche in the sprawling 5Church property, Tempest’s mission is to tell the story of South Carolina sustainable seafood in a city known for its deep local roots.

Wild mushroom agnolotti with Manchester Farms quail and mustard seeds.

“For me, it’s super important to be here on Market Street,” says executive chef Lynch, a two-time competitor on Bravo TV’s Top Chef. “I wanted the opportunity to showcase my passion for local, sustainable seafood in our neighborhood, in the center of Charleston. 5Church sources a lot of local product but isn’t really telling the narrative of local seafood.”

An alum of the New England Culinary Institute, Lynch honed his traditional French technique working in some of New York City’s top kitchens, including Le Cirque 2000, Aureole, Café Boulud and Tocquevillle Restaurant.

In the front of the house, the centerpiece is a 700-square-foot mosaic on the ceiling by local artist Honey McCrary. The work depicts a fanciful sea teeming with pointy-toothed and tentacled denizens of the deep.

“We had an all or nothing approach to cooking—super competitive,” notes Lynch of his days in the Big Apple. “We’d meet other cooks at bars after work and compare notes.”

A move south to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2002 changed the way he thought about cooking, refocusing his attention on product.

“In New York, we had access to ingredients from all over the world,” explains Lynch. “In Charlotte, they were coming from farmers just up the road, growing what I’d use at the restaurant that night. That really impressed me—how the farms were integrated into the community.”

Lynch began spending his free time working at a nearby farm and eventually immersed himself in one of his own to experience “being part of the process, from start to finish.”

With Tempest, he has created a platform for that process in collaboration with regional culinary director and chef Adam Hodgson.

“This is not a menu we put together lightly,” notes Lynch. “We wanted to do something a little different. I grew up on the North Shore of Boston where you have clambakes and lobster roasts on the beach. I thought, what if we did this charcoal-fired shellfish thing, like an oyster roast—inside.”

The honey pot de crème features pine nut toffee, bee pollen and black lava salt.

The team succeeded in tracking down a grill that would do just that. Called a Mibrasa, it’s a highly crafted, closed grill system from a professional-grade cookware company in Spain.

“It’s basically a cast-iron box you load with charcoal,” explains Lynch. “It puts the most amazing, subtle smoke on things—not that hard woodsmoke—it goes so great with shellfish.”

That box has become the centerpiece of the Tempest kitchen, which gets fired up for everything from seafood to miso Caesar salad and desserts like braised peach with bacon pound cake.

Monkfish liver mousse with seasonal compote and brioche toast.

In the front of the house, floating above original brick walls salvaged during the historic property’s renovation, there is a 700-square-foot mosaic—on the ceiling. Created by local artist Honey McCrary, the stunning work depicts a fanciful sea teeming with pointy-toothed and tentacled denizens of the deep.

“I saw her work at the Charleston City Night Market,” says Whalen, Tempest’s chief executive officer, “and was blown away with what she achieved with shattered pieces of glass. I asked her if she could do a giant mosaic and showed her the space. She was more than game—it was an extraordinary process to watch. There are over 100,000 pieces of stained glass.”

The dining area below has an intimate, contemporary vibe, with generous banquette seating and a sleek bar. One flight up, a spacious, light-filled room provides diners with views of the historic market and the United States Custom House.

Broccolini with ajo blanco and a caper vinaigrette.

Original heart pine floors combine with a palette of whites and honey-hued hardwoods, setting a neutral backdrop for pops of color such as lush planters and hand-pressed prints of local fish.

The evening we visited, my guest and I heeded Chef’s advice, sampling as many dishes prepped in the charcoal oven as possible. For starters, we dove into shellfish platters—one roasted and one raw: High Tider oysters and shrimp from Shem Creek kissed with charcoal smoke and a dollop of green garlic butter were addicting. Briny Lowcountry Cups from the raw bar were pushed over the top by a delicate white balsamic mignonette.

Next came raw sushi-grade tuna bombs garnished with lemon zest, blackened sea salt and micro cilantro. Each mouthful was an explosion of flavor, as was the local crudo—the day’s catch was porgy, delicately shaved and dressed in a bright blood orange vinaigrette and zesty horseradish sauce.

The aforementioned green garlic butter lent an herbaceous kick to a rich risotto that was cooked al dente and to a perfect consistency. Crispy flash-fried Clammer Dave clams topped this super successful dish.

The Tempest Tower is all about seafood.

The confit swordfish was easily the best I’ve ever eaten. Slow-cooked in duck fat, the thick steak was tender and moist; a savory béarnaise sauce gave it an umami funkiness thanks to a touch of fish sauce and black garlic.

“So much of what I do now is about building things,” says Lynch. “It’s not about my cooking or how successful the restaurant is, it’s about creating something that matters. I try to spend most of my time sharing my experience and skills—mentoring others to be thoughtful—to produce chefs that will be the next generation, using sustainable products. *

Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer.