Stories / Interviews, Interviews

The Bookshelf: Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking

Elena North-Kelly

Elena North-Kelly

February 20, 2013


Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

In their new cookbook, Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, JBF Award winner Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart share their expert guidance on classic Southern cuisine and traditions. We caught up with the authors to learn about their go-to restaurants for authentic Southern fare, their favorite food city in America, and the advice that every home cook should take to heart.

(Join Nathalie and Cynthia today at noon for a special installment of our Beard on Books series at the Beard House.)

JBF: Nathalie, you've been quoted as saying: "Southern cooking is the mother cuisine of America." Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Nathalie Dupree: The Southerners took the lead. The Southern ports were active since the earliest days of the colonies, with many new food products brought to the lands by Jefferson and Washington. And combined with other cultures, particularly African American, unique cooking methods were developed. As people migrated west and north at various times, the recipes of the South moved along with them. It is the first truly American cuisine.  

JBF: Do you each have a favorite recipe that you feel most captures the magic of Southern cooking? 

Cynthia Graubart: I think the magic of Southern cooking is most evident in our light, flaky, and tender biscuits. They require practice and a special touch, and are best shared with loved ones—all part of the essence of Southern cooking. 

ND: I'm with Cynthia about our baked products. But our peas (over 30 kinds were brought over by Thomas Jefferson) and rice were—and still are—distinctive as well.

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking

JBF: Is there one Southern technique or tip that you think every home cook should master? 

CG: Although you can get by with a store-bought pie crust, conquering your fear of pie crusts can be so empowering.  

ND: My best advice is to understand that no one is a born baker or cook. It all takes practice. Give yourself the same permission you’d give a man with a bucket of golf balls: you can get the same amount of satisfaction practicing a pie crust or a biscuit without having to hit a hole in one.

JBF: What are your earliest food memories from your Southern upbringings?

CD: My grandmother's banana cream pie.

ND: Our boarder's fried chicken. We used to eat the little bits of fried chicken straight from the pan.

JBF: Why do you think Southern food is so comforting for such a wide range of Americans, even when it doesn't tap into childhood nostalgia? What is it about Southern food that's so innately satisfying?  

ND: Southern food is real food. It’s home-based and we had very few restaurants until modern times. Nothing is overly garnished.

JBF: When you're not cooking at home, what are your go-to restaurants for great Southern food in your home cities of Charleston and Atlanta?  

CG: In Atlanta, you can't beat JBF Award winner Linton Hopkins’s Restaurant Eugene!

ND: Our favorite restaurant in Charleston is Slightly North of Broad (also known as S.N.O.B.), which was the first restaurant to do “honest Southern food” and to support local farms. Although others have gotten on board, they remain true to their roots. We also love JBF Award winner Sean Brock’s Husk.

JBF: Do you have any favorite spots for dining out when visiting New York City?

ND: I love Butter, where I have eaten some wonderful Southern food.

JBF: What is your favorite food city in America? 

CG: Charleston is our favorite food city, and apparently the rest of America agrees with us!