The resurgence of Sea Island red peas
From the old country to the Lowcountry, Vineyard chef Pascal Vignau gives new life to a forgotten native crop.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lloyd Wainscott
It’s not often that you hear the chef at an assisted-living facility wax poetically about the merits of indigenous ingredients, or hear stories of his French upbringing and four-star culinary career. But then, Vineyard is not your typical assisted-living facility.
“They wanted to adopt a more hotel-style approach,” said Chef Pascal Vignau. That approach means offering things like room service and a gourmet kitchen. “It’s a great opportunity. I think it is something pretty fresh in my line of work.”
That line of work has taken Vignau all over the world. From his upbringing in the southwest of France, he began a culinary career that saw him working the kitchens of Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo and Biarritz before making his move to the United States. His tenure with Four Seasons saw him opening high-end gourmet kitchens across North and South America before he settled into his own restaurant for nine years in San Diego. A move east came when he served as the chef at a local restaurant and fell in love with the area.
And that brings him to Vineyard, the Bluffton location that will serve as a pilot program of sorts for a new concept in retirement. Vignau’s role in this new endeavor focuses on the menu, and there’s one ingredient in particular that really has his culinary juices flowing.
You may not be all that familiar with Sea Island red peas, but their history is astounding. Introduced from Africa, they were a staple of antebellum recipes, which usually paired them with indigenous rice. Cultivation of Sea Island red peas ground to a halt during the Great Depression, however, and the legume was nearly lost to history, save for a few intrepid planters who kept the line going. Now mounting a quiet comeback, its resurgence will be seen locally on the menu at Vineyard.
“It’s very potent in flavor and it’s used in all kinds of stuff,” said Vignau.
The main dish he’s created so far using the heirloom legume is the cassoulet whose recipe you’ll see here.
“Where I’m from, cassoulet becomes almost like a stew. (Cassoulet) comes from the Pyrenees. For the Lowcountry recipe, we are using Sea Island pea heirloom beans and using seafood instead of the traditional mountain meat. I’ve done it before with lobster, but you can always go back and try something new, right?”
While the recipe seen here (which will be featured on the Vineyard menu) uses shrimp, mussels and crab claw, Vignau has toyed with other native seafood. “Maybe oyster, clams can be used in there. Crayfish, interestingly enough, are indigenous to South Carolina.”
Indigenous is key to Vignau’s menu, giving him a chance to apply his world of knowledge to the flavors of the Lowcountry. “I’ll be going to the farmers markets, but what I’m really excited about is the fish offering, which is 10 times better than it was in California.”
Life, Your Way
Your retirement years are meant to be enjoyed. Vineyard provides the service and maintenance you need to revel in the moments that matter, along with the amenities that make it easier to live a happier, healthier and more independent life. Here are a few services and amenities offered.
- Lifestyle assessments, designed to maximize social and cognitive function within one’s personal lifestyle preferences.
- Housekeeping and laundry services
- As-needed assistance with personal care
- Assisted living expertise
- Intergenerational programming
- Thoughtfully designed seasonal cuisine
- Restaurant and in-room dining options
- No set visiting hours (24/7 access for residents and visitors)
- Relocation services
- Smart technology designed to optimize and monitor safety within each private residence
- Emergency call system in each residence
- Respite care services
- Community and global programs designed to provide residents opportunities to participate in causes they care about
Vineyard – Lowcountry seafood cassoulet
Ingredients (Serves 6)
24 ounces Sea Island red peas
1 cup onion, chopped
2 cups sliced andouille sausage
1 cup celery, finely diced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 cup carrots, medium peeled and cut
1/2 cup country ham, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups tomatoes, fresh crushed
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and steamed
1 package mussels (8 oz. frozen), pre-cooked in shell, defrosted
1 can crab claw meat or snow crab claw (8 oz.)
1 cup croutons, seasoned and crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
Directions  Place the peas on a flat dish, remove all broken or discolored pieces. Place the peas in a large container, pour 4 times the amount of water to the volume of peas, store in the refrigerator overnight. Strain the water. Place the peas in a large cooking pot, add fresh water and simmer for at least 1 hour. Add water if necessary and cook until tender. When done remove from heat.  In a separate bowl, place crab meat, crushed croutons and drizzle with olive oil. Mix lightly together. Set aside (this is the topping for your finished dish).  In an oven-proof cooking pot, over medium heat, add the diced country ham, with 2 tablespoons of oil or butter, cook for 10 minutes, add onion, carrot, andouille sausage, celery and garlic. Cook at slow heat for 20 minutes. Add tomato paste and crushed tomato. Cook for additional 20 minutes, strain peas from water, add to the condiment mixture. Cover and bake in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven, taste the peas and make sure they are a soft and creamy consistency. Adjust seasoning, add juice from mussels if necessary. Pour into a baking dish, top with shrimp and place the mussel on the top. Sprinkle your crab meat mixture with crushed croutons and olive oil over the top.  Bake for 20 minutes to finish.
Chef’s Note: Do not add salt to the peas when boiling, they will take longer to cook.