Lee Schrager, founder of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and a vice president of Southern Wine and Spirits, admits that before writing Fried & True, he had only prepared fried chicken once in his home kitchen.
Now, he says, he realizes that dipping cut-up chicken in buttermilk, dredging the pieces in seasoned flour and frying until golden brown is “as simple as cooking gets.” His new book, co-authored by Adeena Sussman, serves 50 fried-chicken recipes and stories.
Miami-based grilling maestro Steven Raichlen has carved his cookbook and television niche from live-fire cooking.
For his next trick, Man Made Meals, Raichlen is stepping out of the back yard and in to the kitchen to teach guys essentials like how to mix pancakes, shuck oysters and stir martinis.
At Miami Beach’s Barton G. the Restaurant, an order of Sweet Garden Pots will bring to the table terra-cotta planters embellished with brownie “soil” and emerald-color sponge cakes that resemble moss. In his new The Big Dish, restaurateur and event planner Barton G. Weiss gives detailed instructions for that and dozens of his other customer-favorite whimsical dishes.
He also lets readers know they couple omit the sponge and soil and planters and be very happy with the dessert’s simple peanut butter and banana filling. Still, he writes, “there is no reason that home cooks can’t be inspired to create thrilling experiences for their own friends and family.”
The authors answered questions from the Miami Herald via email about their new cookbooks.
LEE BRIAN SCHRAGER
Q. What do you think is the biggest intimidation factor that keeps more people from trying to cook fried chicken at home?
A. I think the bottom line is that most people just aren’t used to frying at home. Something about that idea scares them. But what I think this book does so well is it demystifies the idea with recipes for the home cook.
There are two basic rules: Make sure that you have all of your ingredients ready to go, and that your oil is at the right temperature. Of course, there are plenty of other tips and tricks that the book touches upon, but for the most part, it really is that simple.
Q. Your collection includes recipes from cooks who are white and black, Northern and Southern, male and female, celebrities and relative unknowns. How does that speak to the universal nature of comfort food in general and fried chicken in particular?
A. Fried chicken is the most basic of comfort foods, hands down. Just think about the way you eat it — with your hands, on the bone. On top of that, you can make really good fried chicken for next to nothing. And I think what we learned was that everyone has a favorite recipe that in some way, relates to a very visceral story about their love of fried chicken.
There is so much history and love and sentiment in these recipes. Each of the chefs and cooks highlighted in the book learned and perfected their individual recipes and what they ended up with was something really extraordinary.
Q. You easily could have tapped into your Rolodex gotten chefs to email their recipes. Why was the road trip element of Fried & True important to you?
A. We already knew the white tablecloth chefs, but the important thing for us was getting the chance to tell a story that explores fried chicken’s very humble roots and now (as I think everyone can see), its limitless possibilities.
And I think we needed to really see it — made and served in everyday life to everyday people — in order to do that. The people we met along the way were so good to us, directing us either to someone or some place that we had to visit.
Q. It’s hard to imagine “manlier” cooking that outdoor grilling, your specialty. What made you want to show guys that there’s more to cooking than beer-can chicken and medium-rare rib eyes?
A. I’ve been with Workman Publishing for more than 20 years. This was a book that the late Peter Workman asked me to write. (In fact, it’s dedicated to him.)
Once I got into, I realized how limited many guys were in their knowledge of cooking basics, so I thought it was time they had a book just for them. No cupcakes. Just big-flavored guy food that every man should know how to make. So Man Made Meals became a sort of crash course on culinary literacy for guys, with a strong activist message on how we should cook and eat in the world we live in today.
Q. Was Man Made a conscious effort on your part to showcase your range beyond grilling?
A. I’ve written about a vast number of topics in food over the years. I’ve been a restaurant critic and a wine and spirits columnist. My last book was a novel.
When I graduated with a degree in French literature, grilling was the furthest thing from my mind. I went to Europe on a Watson Foundation Fellowship to study medieval cooking in Europe. I wound up at the Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools in Paris, so my training was in classical French cuisine.
Q. How did you choose the men to interview in the Food Dude parts of the book? Did any of them reveal anything that particularly surprised you?
A. I tried to pick men from all walks of life — actors, writers, bloggers, activists, even a Founding Father — who had something important to say about food. Yes, I interviewed a few chefs, but most of my food dudes (like me) do not cook for a living. In this they reflect my readers. I tried to pick young guys and mature guys, Americans and foreigners, amateurs and professionals. The only requirement was a strong belief system and a passion for cooking.
Andrew Zimmern surprised me with his confession that cooking is how he expresses his feelings: “As a guy, I’m lousy at expressing my feelings. Cooking is as touchy feely as I get.”
But it was Jose Andreas who best summed up the message of Man Made Meals: “If you want to lead the tribe, you have to be able to feed the tribe.”
BARTON G. WEISS
Q. Barton G. the Restaurant has been open a dozen years. Why do a cookbook now?
A. After about 20 years of being in the event business, and after almost 12 years behind us at Barton G. the Restaurant in Miami, it was just time. Our guests are constantly taking pictures of our creations as they come out of our kitchen, and we are always asked, “How do you make that?!” It just seemed like the next step, to show them how they could do it at home.
The book not only provides those great food shots, it illustrates the recipes and provides the inspiration and stirs the imagination to create those memories that will last well beyond a night out at a restaurant. Our objective was to show how fun dining can be possible anytime to enjoy with family and friends.
Q. Anyone who’s been to Barton G. likely assumes your creations are out of the reach of a home cook. How did you try to make the cookbook fun, approachable and not intimidating?
A. The whole process of trying to create at home what you see on those amazing food shots can be quite intimidating. But we made it our mission to turn that around and make the entire creative process fun and an event the entire family could participate in to enhance the experience.
We used every resource to simplify the process and preparation of each recipe. We even hired experts to break down the recipes, so that even the most novice at-home cook could create every recipe in The Big Dish with ease — and have fun doing it! We know there are many cookbooks out there that aren’t easy to follow — we did not want this to be that kind of cookbook.
Q. Is The Big Dish really a ploy to get people to realize no one does these dishes like Barton G., so they’ll come in to the restaurant?
A. That’s funny, but no. This is a step-by-step, do-able cookbook — really. We’d still like you to eat at our restaurant though!