Cookbooks of the Pros

These are the first responses received in a query to food professionals (chefs, cooks and restaurateurs) across the state about cookbooks that have inspired, informed and entertained them from their earliest years.

Dan Blumenthal: (BRAVO!) La Technique by Jacques Pepin—step by step intro to classic French cooking with many helpful photos; On Food and Cooking by Harold Magee-The Bible of food chemistry; just loaded with knowledge about food in general; The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan—Wonderful intro into the world of Italian pasta making

Taylor Bowen Ricketts: (Fan and Johnny’s) The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall because I love him and the way he cooks, my great-grandmother’s well-documented, preserved and used notebooks that somehow I was lucky enough to inherit, and the St. Stephens’ Episcopal chicks of Indianola, Ms. cookbook, Bayou Cuisine. Delta women are by far and away the best cooks and hostesses, more particular, demanding, and expecting of any women on earth, and rightly so; almost every one of us bitches can cook.

Alex Eaton: (The Manship) Donal Link – Real Cajun -This is a bad ass book that is spot-on with his recipes.  He really is teaching how to cook real Cajun food.  From boudin to fried oysters it’s my go to when cooking rustic Cajun food. Mike Solomonov – Zahav Cookbook– In the world of Middle Eastern cooking Arab chefs are so secretive; I once tried to learn how to plate hummus and the chef would not let me come back in the kitchen and watch.  This book is useful and extremely helpful with his techniques in the secretive cooking of Middle Eastern food. Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chris and Idie Hastings; I love this book not only because it goes season by season… but I actually worked here and was impressed that the cooks and prep cooks used the book for their work; often times chefs seem to just guess at these recipes and they never come out right.

Martha Foose: (Screen Doors and Sweet Tea) The Inverness Cookbook, The Time-Life Picture Cookbook, and The Better Homes & Gardens Look and Cook Book.

Dixie Grimes: (The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery) These are in no particular order, as I adore all three equally. White Trash Cooking– Ernest Matthew Mickler. This book speaks to my very soul as a southerner from rural Mississippi. One has to understand that this is not a book mocking a poor class of people but a shout out to the most real and righteous cooking of the south. Recipes for Potato chip sandwich, Cooter Stew, 1-2-3-4 cake as well as or most importantly Fried Squirrel, Butt`s Gator Tail and Aunt Donnah`s roast possum.  It is all about necessity, using what you have, not what you want and making it taste good. Betty Crocker`s Picture Cook Book circa 1950. This book was geared towards the 1950`s house wife, a era of three martini lunches, church socials, afternoon bridge games and cocktail parties and the perfect Ozzie and Harriet housewife/mother who flawlessly executed them without so much as a wrinkle in her skirt; simple, yet elegant. The recipes consist of all things souffléd, scalloped, congealed and supremed. Canapes and sparkling punch with sherbet is what’s up.  As a chef I adore the nostalgia this book holds and the old school feel of classic recipes no longer in use like Pompano En Papillote and Seafood a la Newberg. The Joy Of Cooking: The title says it all, cooking can be fun and easy it does not have to be a chore or dreaded task. This is the book that I give to all young couples starting out and to anyone who says, “Hey, I would love to learn to make some basic dishes but just do not know where to start.” I consider this book a staple in my own kitchen. It pretty much has a recipe for ANYTHING one might want to cook as well as covering all basic techniques baking and cooking, i.e. roasting, boiling, braising, sautéing etc. It explains why things work the way that the do, like why butter needs to be cold for biscuits and pie crust or softened for cakes and frostings. Also included is a fantastic conversion chart for measurements which believe it or not I still use regularly, because like most chefs math is not my strong point.

Jesse Houston: (Saltine) Three cookbooks that had a large influence on my career are Momofuku, The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook, and Under Pressure. I read them all cover to cover and absorbed as much of their knowledge as possible. I’ve cooked more recipes out of Momofuku than almost all of my many cookbooks combined. I was a kid right out of culinary school when it came out, and picked it up because I heard it was a fresh way of looking at food. In the opening pages they were dropping f bombs, and I knew this would be unlike anything I had read before. Being a Dallas native, Southern food wasn’t really easy to come by and I didn’t know much about it, but was about to relocate to the South to open a revolutionary Southern restaurant, Parlor Market. I read every word in the Lee brothers’ book, and I was able to get comfortable with ingredients I had never used before in my life. It should be considered a Southern cook’s bible. Under Pressure is a book all about advanced cooking techniques used in a modern kitchen, most noticeably sous vide. Although I don’t use sous vide much anymore, it taught me so much about modern cuisine. Currently I’m influenced by books from Noma and Rene Redzepi for their beautiful simplicity and natural approach. They use a lot of modern techniques as well, but hide them in ways that will surprise you, but also seem incredibly natural, as if it were found in nature that way.

Lou LaRose: (Lou’s Full-Serv) I can tell you that Larousse Gastronomique was the first book I ever got. My dad gave it to me back in the early 90’s. From there I was intrigued by lots of the recipes. Old school French was definitely a favorite of mine. I was also very fond of the early “great chefs” shows. I collected all of the books from San Francisco, New Orleans. Chicago etc. James Beard’s Beard on Bread was a hand me down from my grandmother, and I cooked many things from that as well.

Randy Yates: (formerly Ajax, now at large) The Joy of Cooking and the Jackson Junior League cookbook, Southern Sideboards, were always in our kitchen, as was the Baton Rouge, River Road Recipes, and I learned how to read from a book version of the song “On Top of Spaghetti”.

 

The Southerner’s Cookbook: A Review

Transitions in regional media are often difficult to discern, but when it comes to the South, which has an arguably more identifiable character than any other region of the country, watersheds can be mapped with a bit more precision.

Such is the case with Garden & Guns newest release, The Southerner’s Cookbook, which is the third installment in three years (each October) under the G&G label. The first two imprimaturs, The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life (Oct., 2013) and Good Dog (Oct., 2014), set the tone of the magazine’s brand, which is clearly targeted, in the words of G&G president and CEO Rebecca Darwin, “to people like me or to people who were very sophisticated, very worldly, but in love with where they’re from, which is this beautiful place called the South.” The label has a pronounced literary bent as is evidenced by its contributors, and given its added emphasis on sophistication and worldliness, one might well gather that Darwin and her team have set their collective caps to filling a decidedly upscale niche somewhere between brashness of The Oxford American and the comfort of that grand dame of regional periodicals, Southern Living. What with the progression of G&G’s publications so far, it’s a safe bet to expect the release of a book on Southern gardening next year.

The Southerner’s Cookbook is indeed market-generated, and I really shouldn’t be surprised that only one restaurant from the entire state of Mississippi carries a recipe. John Currence has a passage about his latest project, whole roast hog, which is somewhat of a departure for a native of the Big Easy operating in the Little Easy, but this is an era of diversity. Martha Foose inexplicably given the context is mentioned in a recipe for bacon crackers. The one recipe that shocks and dismays me is the one for “Comeback Sauce (sic)”, which is not only compared with McDonald’s “Secret Sauce”, but also provided by a chef from Alabama with a restaurant in Atlanta. The nod to Jackson in the first few words simply does not make up for such a slight. The cookbook is also far off the mark by consigning Jesse Houston’s restaurant Saltine, which specializes in oysters and seafood, to a sauce (Black Pepper Ranch Dressing) rather than an entrée. Both Mississippi and Jesse deserve far, far better than this.

If you need more evidence that Mississippi is nothing more than “that land mass between Louisiana and Alabama”, you need turn no further than The Southerner’s Cookbook. Yupster cookbooks have come of age, and Julia Reed is the bellwether for Mississippi. God help us all.

Jesse Houston: Chef on the Half Shell

We had a little oyster bar at Parlor Market. That’s how I met Craig Noone; we worked at an oyster bar in Stephan Pyles’ flagship, so with the tiny oyster bar in Parlor Market I got to see how Jackson feels about seafood and oysters. That planted a seed, and when I was leaving City Grocery in Oxford, I decided that Jackson would be a good spot for an oyster bar.

Since the oyster bar is the heart of Saltine, we keep the rest of the menu very seafood-centric, and being in the South, we keep the menu Southern-rooted. Then again being who I am, I like to keep things fresh and creative, to push the envelope. It’s a challenge with this concept because being in Jackson I think we get a little more of the old school mentality here towards Southern seafood, whereas at the Parlor Market, even though it was very much Southern-rooted, it was from the get-go known as a place where you could go and get an off-the-cuff creative meal. Here there’s a bit of resistance to that, so catfish, po’boys, the oysters, the wood-fired oysters, the redfish on the half shell are our top-selling dishes. The more creative dishes are harder to sell. We have an Asian influence in the calamari dishes, which is an ode to Paul Qui, who I got the opportunity to work with while I was at culinary school at the Le Cordon Bleu in Austin. He does a Brussels sprouts dish he’s very famous for that has the same kind of sauce with herbs, mint, cilantro and cabbage. The oysters Lafitte I would say is the most New Orleans-style dish we have, and we put that together while on a trip to Lafitte, Louisiana to fish for redfish, using what we had around us. We went into a little crawfish shack, ordered a couple of pounds, peeled them ourselves and put some on the oysters we had on the grill at the fishing camp. Then we have the white Alabama barbecue sauce, once again playing up Southern dishes. The citrus butter with coriander is a nod to a lot of the garlic butter oysters you’ll find at places such as Drago’s, but a lot brighter and more floral.

This summer when we opened the oyster market was very bad. It certainly wasn’t the prime season for Gulf oysters by any means, and due to different regulations in Louisiana that seek to control the quality of oysters, the only ones that could leave the state were those harvested on refrigerated boats. The oysters go straight from the water into refrigeration and from those boats into a refrigerated facility or on a refrigerated truck to Jackson. That’s a huge expense. There aren’t a lot of people who do that, so we had many customers who were upset because we didn’t have Gulf oysters. When we opened, our oysters were sourced from Virginia other places on the east coast. They were very inconsistent in size, people only wanted the big ones, so it was a struggle. But as the temperatures went down, the oysters have become more available, and we no longer have that issue. We have them coming in literally every single day. I probably get anywhere from eight to twelve sacks of Gulf oysters a day, almost a thousand oysters that we go through, and we get probably another twelve to eighteen hundred from other parts of the country: the Pacific Northwest, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, all over.

Almost all oysters these days are farm-raised, but oysters out of out of the Gulf are still wild. Even though most of the wild oysters along the east coast were eradicated back in the 1800s, and they introduced new species, some of which were invasive and killed off the native populations, you can still get wild oysters from the Gulf. I’ve heard of some great oyster farm programs in the Gulf as well. Derek Emerson was sharing some great stuff with me the other day; he and Chris Hastings were talking about these oysters off Dauphin Island that are grown in baskets that tumble in the surf, which give the oysters a great shape and salinity, and have almost no mud or dirt because they aren’t on the bottom. The other day a supplier out of Birmingham offered me some oysters called “Bama Beauties”. They were sold out at the time, and they were expensive; they were (my cost) a dollar an oyster, and I’d have to be selling them at almost $3.50, the same price I’d ask for a really high-end Pacific oyster. More gourmet Gulf oysters are starting to pop up, but the challenge will be getting people who are used to $1 or $1.50 oysters from Mississippi or Alabama to buy them.

I never considered opening anywhere but Fondren. This is where I spend all of my free time; this is where my friends seem to gather, where I run into people I love. I thought with all the other great restaurants, we could create a wonderful restaurant scene here. Of course, there already was, but I wanted to jump into the middle of it. Duling Hall wasn’t my first choice, though when I first moved to Jackson, before the Parlor Market opened, Craig took us to Duling Hall, and I walked over to the space that is now Joan Hawkins Interiors and thought it would make an awesome restaurant. Fast-forward to last year when I was looking for spaces, I was actually looking for a house, so I looked on State Street and Mitchell Avenue, but we just couldn’t make anything work. I talked to realtor Mike Peters and told him I wasn’t totally committed to a house, and he walked me through this space. With all the original brick, windows and floors, it just came together, I couldn’t be happier, and I can’t imagine it anywhere else.

I put this restaurant in the hipster capitol of Jackson, and I anticipated my friends and younger people, but I have more of an older demographic. It’s really mixed. I do get some people from out-of-town due to the great articles in “Southern Living” and “Garden & Guns”, but for the most part it’s really different from my expectations. I’ve thought about how the restaurant will evolve a lot. Things are still up in the air as we try to keep the house packed and discover what will drive people in to build our lunch business and early weekend business. The craft beers have really picked up more than I thought it would before we opened. It was always going to be a bar that focused on craft beers. We have thirty-one draughts. At first wine and cocktails were ahead in the mix, but soon the craft beers began outselling them. So we’re pushing that envelope and advocating the craft beer scene in Mississippi, which has growth spurts as well as growing pains.

The creative food is where I feed myself, it’s what I enjoy doing and why I love being a chef, but I have to ask myself if it’s right for here. Whereas I used to be able to put anything I wanted in front of people at Parlor Market, people would try it because it sounded interesting and love it and embrace it, that’s a struggle here. It’s a learning curve on the floor and in the kitchen, and though because of the long hours I work it feels like I’ve been here for five years already, we’ve only been open for six months. I have to keep reminding myself that.

Photo by Jotham McCauley