It takes a lot of chutzpah to name a cookbook “Mastering the Art of ….” After all, Julia Child pretty much has the rights to that phrase in perpetuity. But my old friend Nathalie Dupree has never been the shy type. And why should she be? Having done all of those 11 cookbooks and 300 TV cooking shows teaching the pleasures of biscuits, fried chicken and coconut cakes, if she hasn’t earned the right to call her new book (written with Cynthia Graubart) “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking,” who ever will?
This is a terrific sampling of all food Southern, albeit somewhat “New Southern.” So beside your gumbo and Country Captain, you’ll find peaches and figs wrapped in country ham, and roasted broccoli. You get an excellent primer on Southern biscuits as well as another adaptation of (New York baker) Jim Leahy’s no-knead bread.
But this “Mastering” is more than just another regional cookbook – you could think of it as a culinary primer with a pronounced Southern accent. Dupree is at heart a cooking teacher and the book is liberally sprinkled with bits and pieces of kitchen wisdom. And if you’re really interested in Southern cooking – beyond the practical aspects – there’s a tidy introduction to its history and range and a nice bibliography of notable Southern cookbooks.
As seems to happen periodically, Southern cookbooks are the rage – yet again – this year. There are a slew of good ones, cheffy things like Kevin Gillespie’s “Fire in My Belly” and Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing’s “Southern Comfort” and homey treats such as Jean Anderson’s “From a Southern Oven” and “Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides”. Heck, there’s even a “True Blood” cookbook for those whose vision of the South is broad enough to include both Spanish moss and vampires (and why shouldn’t it be?).
But if you had to pick just one, it would be hard to argue with Nathalie Dupree. I know. I’ve tried.
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