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.”
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
Queen Evangline and King Gabriel ruled Tuesday night
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
IND Style does Gabriel
Newsy bits for the fam
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.