There are some very remarkable chefs that continuously produce incredible dishes that are innovative but stay true to Southern form; while they may add a twist to a classic, it is done in a way that underlies the history and nature of the dish at hand. Frank Stitt, Virginia Willis, Scott Peacock, Damon Fowler, and Martha Nesbit are just a handful that come to mind – and there are many others – who know that good food can stand alone without changing the DNA of their art.
(Photo of me imploring people not to ruin their deviled eggs)
Baby butter beans cooked with a few tiny pods of fresh okra….just-caught shrimp, lightly seasoned and sautéed with a sprinkling of green onions and parsley served over some aromatic Satilla River rice…..a piping hot biscuit right out of the oven – good quality, farm-to-table Southern food does not need a great deal of embellishment to make it outstanding.
But it seems to me that every time I turn around there is another “new Southern” spot cropping up that goes out of their way to make a STATEMENT. My friend Gaye and I ventured out to yet another such restaurant last night, and again I came away shaking my head at what some people do to try and un-southernize Southern cooking. Don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoy fusion cuisine, and appreciate those artists who make things modern and enjoyable. But in many cases I find chefs are just taking things too far in hopes of formulating some yet-to-be-had southern-flavored sensation and end up just messin’ and gommin’ around in the kitchen. (For those of you that aren’t familiar with the expression, messin’ and gommin’ translates from country vernacular to mean going about your business in a nonsensical, haphazard way, particularly when dealing with food……as my Nannie Carrie would say to me when I would play with the food on my plate, making a volcano out of mashed potatoes and gravy with English pea boulders “Child, stop that messin and gommin and eat your supper!”.
This night I found on the menu board the Chef’s appetizer specialty was a sampling of deviled eggs, all which were done with a bold “flair.” These flavor twists on the Southern classic included one infused with lemon grass and topped with cilantro, a second with green curry and chopped nuts, and yet another that was made with truffle oil and crème fraiche. Gaye looked over the descriptions, raised a High Shoals, Georgia, eyebrow, and said she found them “entertaining.” I was much less gracious in my observation, as I stated that they all sounded like a total waste of a hen’s efforts.
(A platter of REAL Southern Deviled Eggs and some homemade sweet pickles)
This experience came on the heels of a jaunt to a similarly styled eatery offering up homemade pimento cheese that was laced with Cointreau and spiced with Chipolte. What the H? Seriously? We don’t need to put Scarlett O’Hara, the Pink Panther, and Charo all into the same movie, do we? Then why do we want to make my ‘Mento Cheese a Cannes nominee for best international food feature?