When I think of southern cooking, I think of soul food. I imagine dinner tables groaning under the weight of perfectly fried chicken and tangy ‘slaw; lip-smacking jambalayas and huge hunks of buttery cornbread; glorious gumbo, smoky barbecued meats and perfect peach cobblers.
Yet for a long time, it was an impression of a cuisine cultivated from the devouring of books and films rather than actual food. That all changed in 2014, when Mississippi-born chef Brad McDonald brought his take on southern cooking to Lockhart, London W1H.
He served up a thrilling menu that was exactly as I'd envisaged and very different at the same time. For all the simplicity of a homely style of cooking, there was also the confidence of a chef who had worked with such culinary luminaries as Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller and René Redzepi.
But now McDonald's food can be reproduced, thanks to the publication of his debut cookbook, Deep South. While ambitious home cooks will get a big kick out of producing authentic southern fried chicken, chefs will enjoy the chance to play with less familiar ingredients.
They'll also get a kick out of McDonald's move away from traditional pork chops in favour of pork neck, a cut he got to know while living in Denmark, during his stint at Noma. And their hearts will pound at the idea of recreating McDonald's whole hog roast using a grate over stacked blocks, seasoned logs for optimal flavour and a whole lot of patience.
For as much as this book offers a comprehensive guide to authentic southern food, it also provides a glimpse into a way of life, where good food is worth taking your time over in both the cooking and the eating.
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford
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