Years ago, when I started to get serious about cooking, I thought to be good, the recipe had to be complicated with expensive, hard-to-find ingredients and most likely French. I still love to cook and labor in the kitchen just as much as I did all those years ago, but I have learned that more often than not, simple is best.
Sometimes, complex recipes become just a muddle of ingredients, and flavors that should be sharp and clean get lost in the mix. My old friend, Lyle Bonge, used to say, “If some is good, more is better.” But, I do not agree with that. Make it simple, use fresh, and if possible, local ingredients and you will be much better off in the end.
I take this philosophy a step further as well. If you want great Italian food, go to Italy. If you want the best French food, you know where to go. It’s the same for us! We live in the South and have great culinary traditions, so cook where you are. I am not saying that I don’t make Italian dishes or occasionally serve tacos, but when I want to put the best I can on my table for friends, I cook southern. For me, that means Deep South and coastal.
I have recipes that have been in my family for generations such as my mom’s chow chow, that amazing southern condiment that is so good on cornbread, peas, beans, and greens. With just those five ingredients, you can come up with some wonderful combinations. Black-eyed peas with a dollop of chow chow on top can be an absolute showstopper. Greens on top of cornbread with lots of fresh butter and more chow chow is one of my favorite things in the world.
On the coastal side of things, I would have to put gumbo at the top of the list. I have written more about gumbo than any other dish, and when made with care and no shortcuts taken, it’s as lovely and as hearty a dish as can be. Jambalaya is my go-to recipe for feeding large groups. It is delicious, filling, and inexpensive. And what could be better than a po-boy! The shrimp po-boy is the most popular one in most restaurants, and with a little extra mayo, is it great. But personally, I want a pot roast beef po-boy that is so messy you need half a roll of paper towels to get through it. More often than not, I head to Quave Brother’s in D’Iberville for my roast beef po-boy, but they are really not that hard to make. It just takes time and patience.
I don’t have a lot of cooking rules but keeping it simple and avoiding shortcuts is the way I go about it. Cook simple and local, celebrate where you are. We have an amazing culinary history, so be proud of it.