Celebrating the Life of Louis Osteen Chef, Author, SFA Founder
Born September 17, 1941, in Anderson in upstate South Carolina, Louis Osteen owned his first restaurant, Harts, in 1976 in Atlanta (Buckhead). In 1979, Louis and his wife, Marlene, took over a restaurant at Pawleys Island Inn near Charleston, South Carolina, transforming it into one of the most influential American restaurants of the 1980s.
Louis’s early menus of veal mousse–stuffed lamb ribs and scallop mousse–stuffed trout were more broadly French than explicitly Southern. By 1985, the same year Edna Lewis took a job at nearby Middleton Plantation, Osteen had focused his field of vision to cook grilled South Carolina squab with sage dressing and crawfish and giblet gravy. And roasted duck with local honey. Osteen developed recipes for brown oyster stew with benne and barbecue duck with Vidalia onion jam.
The Osteens were savvy marketers, aware of the 1980s public fascination with all things grits. Never one to stint, Osteen tripled down on the possibilities. He served roasted duck over stone-ground grits. He fried flounder and tucked it alongside a pool of grits. He cooked grits to a polenta-like porridge and fried squares of mush in the Italian style.
Louis Osteen was a new sort of Southerner, running a new sort of restaurant, constructing a new regional identity at a time when chefs and other creative folks rooted around in the region’s basement, looking for representations of the South that could be revived and polished and presented. One answer was Southern restaurant cuisine.
He was a well-read and intellectually grounded chef. When fifty founders signed on to establish the Southern Foodways Alliance in July of 1999, Louis and Marlene Osteen pledged their support. Osteen understood that food, like the bluegrass music of his youth, was a cultural totem worth of respect and study.
He helped make restaurants into places of pride, places to showcase a South with a brighter future. In the process, Charleston became the transom city for the American food renaissance. The New York Times called him the “spiritual general” of the New Southern chefs. Esquire said his drawl was “rich as praline candy.”
We, the members of the Southern Foodways Alliance called him friend, founder, collaborator, and unflinching champion. We will miss Louis Osteen greatly.