Someone's in the Kitchen With Sara New Cookbook Shakes Up the Classics
By Deborah Salomon
If it walks like a Southern cookbook and talks like a Southern cookbook but Sara Foster wrote it, expect a lot more than cornbread and fried chicken. Expect choices: a mess o'greens or arugula pesto snap beans. Hoppin' John or creamy grits with roasted butternut squash and blue cheese. Country ham and hominy hash or pickled jalapeno meatloaf.
Sounds like this Tennessee gal's been hanging out in Napa Valley.
Actually, Foster hangs out at Foster's Market in Chapel Hill (with a branch in Durham), a nouvelle Southern deli furnished in mish-mash chic. Here, she sells house brand and other gourmet products and serves, wisely, recipes from her four cookbooks. The newest, "Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal," may be the genre's most adventurous.
Foster will be at The Country Bookshop, in Southern Pines, at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22, to sign copies of her new book.
Yet on the Southern cuisine shelf Foster is a true-blue birther brought up in Granny Foster's Tennessee kitchen, where greens simmered four hours, not four minutes. Granny was a farm woman who got her greens - and everything else - straight from the ground.
That changes, too, Foster says. "Now we're seeing Swiss chard and Asian greens."
What's changed most is Foster's interpretation. Her updates result from working in Martha Stewart's catering business in Connecticut, appearing on Stewart's TV show, operating her own catering business and the two restaurants, which regularly host farm-to-table dinners for customers of the Sandra-Bullock-in-"The Blind Side" ilk.
However, "My mom loves my cooking and I think Grandma would be willing to try," Foster says. "It's not really new Southern food - it's our old Southern food."
Both designations beg -definitions. For decades, commandments were handed down by Mrs. S.R. Dull (her byline, believe it or not), who published the biblical "Southern Cooking" in 1928, revised in 1941.
Dull was Margaret Mitchell's editor at the Atlanta Journal Sunday magazine, so you know where she's coming from. Cajun/Creole/soul food perked fresh interest in the 1980s. This rage inspired gorgeous books and magazines that twisted old-timey preparations around new ingredients and nutrition doctrines.
Out with the fatback! In with the skinless chicken breasts!
These days, carpetbaggers equate the newest new look with Paula Deen of the toothy smile, "y'all" salutation and gooey butter bars.
Gooey doesn't make Foster's cut. Her recent -publication - the first with "Southern" in the title - is all about close-up photos of caramelized red onion tarts and smoked beef brisket; brown-bag chicken (roasted in a grocery bag - fantastic) and watermelon-tomato salad with feta and mint. She does a mean fried -oyster po'boy and an apple-sour cream pie.
Best, Foster pays homage to fried okra, pound cake, heavenly biscuits (including a sweet one for shortcake) and mounts an entire chapter on "Pig, a Food Group All Its Own."
Throughout, on "Sidetracked" pages, Foster highlights restaurant finds which are "worth the detour" a la Southern Living and Our State, the closest being The Original Q Shack in Durham.
Reviews of this gorgeous book, so far, have been gaga, primarily because it makes folks want to get off that couch and cook.
Wake up, Mrs. Dull. You've met your match.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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