A Delta chef turns Southern cuisine on its head, and writes a couple of books along the way. By Anna Purdy
Ask Martha Hall Foose which of her experiences made her a chef of note — and the highest honor: a favorite of other chefs — and it isn’t her James Beard Award, her culinary studies in France or even her travels. It’s growing up on the Mississippi Delta.
Big Blackberry Jelly Roll — Long and Short of It
Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 15 x 10 x 1-inch
Foose’s just-released second book, A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home, strikes a balance between Southern cooking and the exotic — coffee molasses, blackberries and caramel, a chocolate cake with a honey ganache — keeping her feet firmly planted in Delta soil while peering outward and around the globe for more exotic possibilities. A Southerly Course follows the pattern set in her Beard Award-winning first effort, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, released in 2008.
“It took me 40 years to write it,” she jokes of Screen Doors. “When I was working on Screen Doors I realized people think that in the South all we do is sit around swattin’, scratchin’ and fannin’.” So Foose worked on a variety of recipes, not just standard Southern fare but foods and combinations that reminded her of places and people she loved. Before each of Foose’s recipes she writes a vignette in a warm, winking fashion — think Eudora Welty at the Algonquian Club — and tells the reader more about why this recipe is included. “I felt like I really needed to give the recipes context. If you want a recipe you can have 100,000 in a nanosecond online, so I’m giving the food some context about what’s it about, why it’s important to me. Sometimes I want to tell a story about a place and I develop a recipe around the story I want to write.”
Foose was raised in Mississippi and spent her formative years working in restaurants where her propensity for baking first reared its head. Following that urge she went to bakeries in Aspen, Colo., and La Brea, Calif. Knowing that a formal education from a formidable culinary school would earn her not only knowledge but ducats, Foose, the Delta-hearted girl, packed her bags for France to study at Ecole Notre. “Two of my mentors had gone there,” she says, so it was an easy choice. After spending a few years learning the craft and probably wearing black and sipping espresso, she came back to the states and headed home, opening the now legendary Bottletree Bakery in Oxford, Miss.
Famous for not only the pastries and bagels and sweet delicacies, baked fresh and selling out daily, Bottletree also had a tremendous coffee selection that came in clear mugs so the art of the crema could literally show through.
After several years she sold it, keeping the head baker by marrying him, and headed a few ticks west to New Orleans. Here she went to work for acclaimed chef Susan Spicer. “I was the pastry chef at Bayona for a short time. I love Susan. One of the things that’s really been great in the years I’ve worked in restaurants is primarily I’ve worked with women chefs, so I think that’s been really wonderful to have such great people to work under. Especially back in even the late ’90s it was still predominantly male kitchens, so that was wonderful to work for those bad-ass women.”
Foose returns to Louisiana in A Southerly Course, recounting the story of visiting her friend’s grandmother, Beauxma, in St. Martinville as a young teenager. It’s tied to a recipe that involves sweet potatoes and sugar cane skewers, folding in the legend of the Evangeline Oak.
Since the Beard Award, Foose has found her footing in the world of celebrity chefs, consulting on other people’s cookbooks and even working behind the scenes in Hollywood in movies like The Help. “I just met today with a producer about doing food research for a film project,” she says. “They just passed all these tax incentives stuff in Mississippi so we can compete with Louisiana. I’m doing research about period foods in the South.”
Next up for Foose are more road trips with her 8-year-old, Joe, and book signings around the South, plus movie consulting and advising other chefs.
But Martha Hall Foose plans on taking a little break, and getting back to her twin passions. “Reading and eating,” she confesses. “If I could just spend my days doing that, I would.”
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The Houston firm said Friday in its weekly report that 1,575 rigs were exploring for oil and 338 for gas. One was listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,776 active rigs.
A crew began erecting the 25-foot mini-wheel late morning Friday in anticipation of the evening’s Hottest Night of the Year party at the park.
Frances Boothe of Nunez, who also happens to be filmmaker Stephen Meaux’s grandmother, prepares a cool-weather fave.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
New Iberia colonial or Broussard traditional home
The LPSB is poised and ready to move forward with the termination of Pat Cooper following a discussion Thursday with the attorney hired for the investigation of the superintendent, but a decision of this magnitude should be left up to the new board seated in January, especially with three pro-investigation board members bailing out come the new year.
Fiery style for game day
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Google vs. Amazon in drone race; more deaths in Syria; Russia escalates Ukraine conflict and more national and international news for Friday, August 29, 2014.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
Three bedroom Port Barre cottage or three bedroom historic district Opelousas home
No laboring for shoppers this holiday
It will be next month before Gov. Bobby Jindal will likely get a chance to change the membership of a South Louisiana flood board that is suing dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
The Acadiana Center for the Arts and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority have announced a new artist stipend program, ArtSpark, designed to offer financial aid to local artists.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Three bedroom traditional or two bedroom Victorian cottage