In their new book The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover's Tour of the New American South, Paul and Angela Knipple explore the vast and varied renditions of Southern cuisine that exist within cultural enclaves — from the familiar Creole influences in crawfish étouffée to Vietnamese-style pickled mustard greens.
The couple traveled across the South to visit first-generation immigrants in the restaurant business. They made their way through Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia — skipping only Florida and Texas.
"We debated about the Florida panhandle because there are some great places in the panhandle. But a lot of it is historic, not first-generation immigrants like we were looking for," Paul explains.
"Plus, Florida and Texas both have such huge immigrant cultures," Angela adds. "It could have easily been two books on those states alone."
Instead, the two focused on lesser-known cultures, like the Kurdish population of Nashville and a Liberian community in Richmond, Virginia, where a chef makes her signature "President Obama's Casserole."
The book is organized into 12 chapters, each detailing a different region's influence on Southern cuisine. There are profiles of these first-generation immigrant chefs, along with choice recipes and informational sidebars.
"We started out with a list of 800 places before narrowing it down to 50," Angela says. "We chose people with the best stories, with a passion for what they were doing."
"Someone we'd just like to sit down and have dinner with," Paul adds.
What did they learn from their culinary pilgrimage?
"Southern food isn't static," Angela says. "These people are Southerners, and they're changing Southern food. Twenty years from now, a bottle of sriracha will be as common on a table as a bottle of Tabasco sauce."
The Knipples will launch The World in a Skillet on March 6th at 6 p.m. at the Booksellers at Laurelwood. A five-course dinner and booksigning will be held at Restaurant Iris on March 18th at 6 p.m. Tickets for the dinner are $60 and can be purchased by calling Restaurant Iris at 590-2828.
Hot on the heels of Simply Salads and Simply Suppers, local chef Jennifer Chandler of Cheffie's is taking on grilling, just in time for summer.
Simply Grilling hits the shelves in April, and like her other books in the "Simply" series, emphasizes quick and easy ways to put dinner on the table.
"Before I had children, I would cook things that took all day. The reality of it is, I don't have time for that anymore, but I still want to put a good, home-cooked meal on the table," Chandler says. "Grilling is a great way to do that."
Chandler sets out to demystify grilling for those who might find it intimidating or assume it's too labor-intensive for a quick meal. She relies heavily on marinades and fresh herbs to keep active prep time to a minimum. Her introduction includes a crash course in essential grill gear, grill maintenance, how to control the heat on both a gas and charcoal grill, and much more.
But she also reaches out to the experienced griller, offering sophisticated twists on old grilling standbys. Her grilled pork souvlaki elevates the conversation from ballpark franks to refined cuisine. Grilled avocado salad, a grilled potato salad, and even grilled desserts, such as bananas Foster and pound cake, will keep your summer cookouts interesting.
If you loved her Simply Suppers, consider this a lighter version, more suited to spring and summer, when fresh vegetables and farmers markets reign supreme.
"Simply Suppers was about winter foods and comfort foods," Chandler says. "I wanted to write something with a lighter, more summery feel."
Chandler will hold a booksigning on April 26th at 6 p.m. at the Booksellers at Laurelwood and a second signing at Babcock Gifts on May 10th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.