It all started with a pot of boiled peanuts in a tiny Manhattan apartment. Two James Beard Awards later, Matt and Ted Lee have become the go-to guys for Southern food- satisfying home cooks with both the comfort of grandma's fried chicken as well as fresh, updated southern recipes for modern living. During their trip to Tulsa, I was able to steal some time with this captivating duo to learn more about their career before a question and answer session at the Philbrook Museum of Art.
The Lee Brothers said they couldn't see where they were headed when they started- and how could they? The catalog, with its hand-drawn illustrations, would lead to a travel piece and future contributing editors spot in Travel + Leisure, which further lead them to food writing and ultimately their first award-winning cookbook.
It took Matt and Ted Lee a whopping six years to compile over two hundred recipes into the nearly six hundred pages that make up their first book, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. Originally a fraction of the size and lacking a traditional fried chicken recipe, the cooks went back into the test kitchen until they had created a masterpiece inspired by traditions stretching across the entire Southern region. Taking home two James Beard Awards, best in breed and best in show according to Matt, as well as two IACP awards, their hard work paid off. From punches to pickles, Southern Cookbook is packed with both updated classics and lesser known treats, such as pickled peach fruit salad gelée, all set amongst fascinating stories that serve to make this more than a cookbook- it’s a southern experience in itself.
Their latest cookbook, The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern, gives southern food the facelift it so much deserved. True to its title, this book is packed with easy to put together recipes featuring beautiful, fresh ingredients. “Fresh” also describes the Lee Brothers’ updated perspective on the cuisine, still emphasizing a key attribute of southern cooking- resourcefulness. While helping in the kitchen, Matt and Ted learned make do with what was available; they recount a memory of one of their influences, described as an old southern sage, using yogurt in her biscuits because she was out of buttermilk. Though unappealing to the eye, they made for the most delicious biscuits she had had in her many years.
Between their two books, the influences behind both their southern food education and delicious recipes are well illustrated. While speaking with the chefs, I got to hear more about the cookbook writing process itself. A true collaboration between the brothers, they follow their nose, whether it’s playing around with the shad roe that’s in season or a recipe from an old cookbook that tickles their fancy. In the test kitchen, they hash out recipes and exchange drafts, deciding whether they will take a traditional or updated approach. After investing plenty of time in developing the recipe, Matt and Ted say the delightful stories throughout the book come easily, the brother with the most relevant and entertaining anecdote writing the headnote.
|From Simple Fresh Southern: Creamy Asparagus Soup with Grilled Asparagus, Radish Butter, Curried New Potato Salad, and Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts|