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Monday, October 24, 2011

Sean Brock profiled in The New Yorker

Seed Savior

Posted by Stephanie Barna on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 8:30 AM

A screenshot from the New Yorker piece
  • A screenshot from the New Yorker piece

Sean Brock, who needs no identifying qualifier these days, gets a big profile in the current issue of the New Yorker.

Interesting setup:

The worst knocks against Southern food — that it was heavy, fatty, bland, and simple-minded, long on fried meat and short on vegetables — were what people loved best about it. Brock’s genius is to have it both ways. His restaurants are like cleverly argued revisionist histories: they appeal to your nostalgia while reversing your expectations. ... At Husk, Brock is recreating what Southern food once was. At McCrady’s, he’s showing what it could be. The setup seems to mirror the oldest divide in Southern culture: between slave cabin and big house, pot likker and plantation sideboard — between eating low on the hog (meaning pigs’ feet) and high on the hog (meaning tenderloin).

Previously unknown fact: Brock was influenced by watching "Yan Can Cook." (I loved that guy!)

Best description of a McCrady's dish I've ever read:

Yet everything seemed exotic and new. The plates were fastidiously composed, like Surrealist landscapes by Tanguy: an orange sea of cantaloupe soup with reefs of sea-urchin roe; an emerald stream of juniper oil lined by mounds of barley malt and lamb’s belly. Brock’s dishes were meant to be wandered through, each taste a different flavor combination: elderberry preserves and licorice-root foam, sweetbreads and rhubarb juice.

City Paper gets a plug: "The restaurant had earned a reputation for excellent but not especially creative fare — 'fancy meat and potatoes,' as the Charleston City Paper put it."

The writer, Burkhard Bilger, is taken on a foraging trip with Brock, Richard Porcher, and Glenn Roberts, who is described thusly:

Roberts, who is sixty-three, has deep-set blue eyes and a silver forelock that tumbles across his face in the heat of a conversation. A self-taught chef, historian, plant breeder, and businessman, he talks in dizzying, often exhilarating torrents, like a manic Ph.D. candidate at his oral exam.

If you've ever spoken to Roberts, you know how true that is.

Oh, snap? Is that Matt Lee dissing Husk a little bit?

The menu at Husk is like a farmhouse table stripped of a century’s worth of sloppy paint, revealing the lovely quartersawn oak underneath. It’s comfort food of the highest calibre, but I sometimes missed the mad inventions at McCrady’s, the seductive strangeness of its flavors. “It’s awesome to celebrate the old recipes,” Matt Lee, a Charleston native who has co-authored two Southern cookbooks with his brother, Ted, told me. “But what happens if you make that antebellum rice cracker and it doesn’t really blow your mind? What happens if you go back and say, ‘That’s sort of bland’?”

Poetic conclusion: "Southern food is more than a collection of recipes and seeds. It’s a distillate of memory and hard-won experience, of ocean crossings and forest clearings, turnip winters and radish springs."

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