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Culinary tour in Charleston points up city’s French heritage

Charleston chef Bob Wagner
Charleston chef Bob Wagner

Just seeing “Huguenot” doesn't make it easier to say. (Try “HUGH-ga-not.”)

It’s a French word, and it turns up on tourist maps of Charleston: The downtown's French Quarter ‑ the warren of streets east of King Street, from Market Street south to about Tradd Street ‑ is sometimes called the Huguenot Quarter.

And west of there, on West Street near Logan Street, is the Huguenot Society of South Carolina.

Here's the skinny.

Religious wars in the 1500s tore up French society. French Calvinists, called Huguenots, included members of the nobility, many in the middle class, and a share of the peasantry.

They became a political as well as a religious force as different nobles lined up to contest who would become king as the tottering Valois dynasty was about to crash.

The mother of King Francis II, Catherine de Medici, was ardently anti-Protestant, and her faction organized the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre on Aug. 23-24, 1572, which resulted in the murder of 5,000 to 30,000 Huguenots in Paris and elsewhere in the kingdom.

Huguenots began leaving France in huge numbers for refuge in Protestant lands, notably Great Britain, settling in London and in the West Country.

It wasn't always the best fit: English Protestants weren't Calvinists; also, the language and culture were quite different.

When the American colonies were being settled, many Huguenots left England for the New World, especially Charleston.

A list of family names posted by the Huguenot Society of America lists many surnames still common in the Carolinas: from Ballinger and Bodine to Ravenal and Vincent. Many who settled in Charleston lived in what came to be the French Quarter.

The first 45, who came in 1680 ,played a role in shaping Charleston's culture and food – a contribution celebrated March 11 with a Huguenot Tour and Cooking Class staged by Charleston Culinary Tours.

The rain-or-shine walking tour includes tastings at Brasserie Gigi, In the Kitchen ( the restaurant of tour leader and chef Bob Waggoner, shown above), Cafe Framboise and ends with a sugary flourish at Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier.

It’s French. It’s Southern. And it’s a different blend of those cuisines than you'll find in the Creole fare of New Orleans.

Moreover, attendance is limited to 12 individuals who must be 21 or older. Tickets are $150 and are available at Charleston Culinary Tours.