I remember sitting with my mom one day having lunch and her staring at me shaking her head while I sniffed my next bite of food. “I don’t know how you don’t weigh 400 pounds Jennifer.” I laughed and explained that it wasn’t what I ate, it was a matter of how much I ate, and that I took just as much pleasure smelling the food resting on my fork as I did in tasting it. Food is an experience. Not only is it nourishment, but an awakening of all the senses. I’m also very aware of (and delight in) the textures of it as well. Not only texture with touch but texture in mouth feel.
I also enjoy when food tells a story. Working in food retail I often get miffed with people and their lack of knowledge (or appreciation) of where their food actually came from. The countless blank stares back at me when they’re told there are no strawberries because of flooding in Florida. Or when there is (God forbid) “dirt” on the mushrooms they want to throw in their tossed salad. Did everyone forget that food comes from the ground?
I think that’s why I fell in “cook love” with a southern chef named Sean Brock. I happened across him when I was watching “The Mind of a Chef” on PBS a few years ago on a lazy fall afternoon when I had a pot of soup simmering on the stove top. His passion and love for southern cuisine was inspiring. As a chef and growing up in the south myself, I couldn’t imagine southern food ever being truly elevated to fine dining.
Brock has brought southern food to the forefront by helping preserve some of the south’s heirloom ingredients (Jimmy Red corn, benne seeds, and several different types of farro) that he not only cooks with, but grows crops of. He also works closely with purveyors for ingredients that he counts on such as Carolina gold rice and sorghum, as well as heritage livestock breeds. He hales from rural Virginia and his culinary roots run deep in the south. His restaurant Husk (located in Charleston, Greenville, Nashville, and soon SAVANNAH) allows only ingredients in the kitchen from south of the mason dixon line. In his commercial kitchens you will find canned vegetables, homemade vinegar’s and pickles, as well as jarred preserves. He’s been working in kitchens since the tender age of 16 and is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University.
His story gave me a new found love for the ingredients I could find locoally all around me and inspired me to want to be more as a cook. When I was in Charleston I was able to get reservations for McCrady’s (another of his popular establishments) and ordered the chefs tasting menu. It was phenomenal in all honesty, and the best birthday dinner a girl could ask for. The course was so well thought out and executed perfectly.
When I found out that he had a cookbook coming out (for 2014) I waited with bated breath. When it arrived in the mail I ripped open the box with the anticipation of a child at Christmas.
It was beautiful. The pages were beautiful. The pictures were beautiful. The stories..
You guessed it-remarkable. The book highlights ingredients that some have perhaps never heard of and pays homage to the people responsible for making these ingredients possible-the purveyors. There’s nothing this book lacks. A how-to on building your own pit (to roast a whole pig) or make tomato jam, or perhaps catch up on the different heritage breeds of livestock. The photography alone will keep you turning the page.
When I heard a rumor that Brock was considering Savannah as another place to call Husk home, I started reconsidering my life path. Should I go back in the kitchen? Where are my old chef pants? Would Brock let me have the honor of peeling Husks heirloom potatoes?? As of this writing the Savannah location is slotted to open sometime this Winter (2017) according to the Husk website. Guess I’d better get my peeler out.