Blake Fairies’s early teenage years were filled with lots of hamburger meat and plenty of burned fingers. “I was always messing with stuff on the stove,” he recounts, “burning my hand and all that good stuff.” Now his days are spent with pork chops flavored in a marinade of sweet tea, or shrimp and grits seasoned with Korean spices and a touch of cream and brandy, or his own hand-crafted pastas—all prepared for Saluda’s, the fine dining restaurant located in the center of 5 Points, where Fairies is Executive Chef.
Fairies discusses food like a bard with a faint southern lilt. His speech is casual, but his precise reflections on flavor reveal a distinct appreciation of taste and a clear devotion to his craft. “I’m a big fan of fish; it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world,” Fairies says. About his favorite: “People always think I’m saying ‘towel’ when I say this, but I’m actually saying ‘tile’—golden tile. It’s really similar to grouper; it’s very light. It’s a flaky, beautiful fish, kind of buttery. If you like grouper, you’ll like tilefish.”
Freshness is imperative for Fairies. To ensure that this trait always characterizes his dishes, Fairies procures much of his ingredients from local sources. His lettuce comes from a farm right off of Bush River Road and tastes so crisp and flavorful, he swears it is good even without dressing. His fish comes from his buddy, Mark Marhefka, at Abundant Seafood in Charleston. “He catches it and then boom—the next day, I usually have the fish,” Fairies says. “He’s been doing this sustainable seafood thing for a very long time.”
What does this committed gourmet eat at home? Mostly eggs, oatmeal, and Chef Boyardee. “You probably don’t hear that from a lot of chefs,” Fairies says with a laugh. After cooking for nine to twelve hours a day, and sometimes up to sixteen hours, coming home is “me time.”
The work of a chef is no food network special. “A lot of people ask, why are you going to work right now at 8 in the morning, and staying until 11 at night?” Fairies relays. But the answer is simple: “Because that’s what I love to do. I can’t play guitar, I can’t paint that well, but I can make something really pretty on a plate.”
Nothing fishy about that.