Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Lee Brothers

I'm a little confused, but then it doesn't take much to confuse me. The "In" cookbook writers these days are the Lee brothers, Matt & Ted. Now, in full disclosure, they are the ones who finally led me out of the darkness and saved my reputation by showing me how to cook collards. That said, I was reading a write up about them and their new cookbook. They said that even though they went to school in the northeast, they grew up in Charleston. What is interesting is that they moved to Charleston in 1980, with their family, from Manhattan - as in New York City.

I imagine that their reaction when they got here was something to the effect of "What the Hell have Mama and Daddy done now?" They talk about skateboarding in downtown Charleston. (I can also envision some locals saying, "Where did these young men come from?".) But they are bright boys and knew a good thing when they saw it (or tasted it.) They obviously learned a lot and have done well with it. And, don't get me wrong, they never claim to be native born blue blood south of Broad Charlestonians. Their long road to culinary success is in their cookbooks. And, it is an interesting story.

Now back to my confusion. In reading through their cookbooks, which have very interesting stories about local characters and customs that play into their recipes, they are quick to give credit to others. They talk about their education in southern cuisine and learning how to cook. It is all very basic. Paula Dean calls them the "Lewis and Clark of southern cuisine". Actually, I think they are the most honest southern cooks.

They give credit where credit is due. Other authors who write southern cookbooks (and yes I worded it that way on purpose) are just like carpetbaggers. They come in, get to know nice people, claim the traditions as their creations, write them down, and make fortunes selling cookbooks. Worse yet, they take our wonderful cuisine and "doctor it", make it "better", and then write their books. These folks should be hanged to dry somewhere. (This goes back to the Fried Chicken craze in New York City. See Jan 12)

Black eyed peas can be served with fresh artichoke relish on the side, but it is not a dish of chilled peas to be served mixed with mango chutney in a sherbet dish with a sprig of mint. You can grill your shrimp with a cinnamon glaze (God forbid) but don't call it southern cuisine. And, if don't know what She-crab soup or Chicken fried steak is, or worse yet, are afraid to add it to your cookbook it's not true southern cuisine. Most good South Carolina cooks have a copy of Charleston Receipts (the cookbook first published by The Charleston Jr. League in 1950 and it is very much the same in its 33rd edition). We don't change much here.

What I am trying to say is, you have 2 young men who came in as boys, embraced a way of life, and gave back by writing cookbooks that recount stories of our culture and the people. Their recipes are of the true food and the way to prepare it. No fuss, no fake accents. If they weren't honest and good folks, we wouldn't have welcomed them in. The irony is, they had to come here, from out there, to appreciate the "real thing". And, they are not scared to write about it, because they understand the wealth of authenticity.

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