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The Southern Food New York Needs, According to Chef Matthew Bell

Gotham Magazine

August 17, 2015

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Southern-inspired fare is all the rage in New York City these days, but Matthew Bell, the chef at South on Main in Little Rock, Arkansas, will bring his interpretation to a special dinner at the James Beard House tonight. We caught up with the chef to learn where he eats on every visit to the big Apple, who he wants to grab dinner with while he's in town, and what Southern food he thinks NYC needs.

What is your favorite place to eat in New York, and what do you order there?
Matthew Bell: I only get to New York every so often from Little Rock so I always like to try new places—or classics I have never been to. The one place that seems to get me every time I am in town is Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint. It’s close to my sister-in-law’s apartment, and I just can’t resist the Hellboy [a pizza with fresh mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, Berkshire sopressata picante, parmigiano-reggiano, and Mike's Hot Honey].

In your opinion, who is a rising-star chef to watch in New York?
MB: I don’t think she is a "rising" star anymore, but I think everybody in America should know Patti Jackson of Delaware and Hudson. She has obviously received amazing recognition but her food just wows me. She is truly talented.

If you could have dinner with any New York chef, dead or alive, who would it be?
MB: If I could have dinner with any New York chef I would have to choose a former chef. I would love to eat with Danny Meyer. Aside from the obvious, I am amazed by his dedication to groups like No Kid Hungry. I find him truly inspiring and supremely talented. We would also have a pretty great choice of restaurants to go to.

What New York City neighborhood do you think has the best food scene?
MB: This question is incredibly tough. I am almost scared to pick one. If I am picking one, I think that Harlem is amazing. Of course, Marcus Samuelsson is killing it, but chef Joseph "JJ" Johnson is really doing exciting things with the Cecil and Minton’s.

What are you most looking forward to about the James Beard Foundation event?
MB: The highlight of this trip for me is that the staff that will travel with us. Many events I get to attend don’t require my staff. They are the reason this opportunity has come about and it will be amazing to have them here.

What kind of food does New York need more of?
MB: I don’t know if anywhere needs more cheese dip. Arkansas lays claim to inventing it and [they’ve] been interested to see it gain favor in New York. My sister-in-law, who lives in Williamsburg, is really happy to see it popping up.

Watch Matthew Bell and his team make this Crab Salad with Fried Green Tomatoes and Celery (click through for the recipe!) and other dishes LIVE tonight on our JBF Kitchen Cam.

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This interview was originally published on gotham-magazine.com.