Balance essential to southern food, not just bacon drippings

turnip-greensIt’s no mistake that the food that we create at SpringHouse is southern and, until a couple of days ago, I had a real clear vision of what that was and how everyone else looks at southern food.  It took a well-known TV cooking personality to announce to the world that she has Type 2 Diabetes. She talked about the medicine she is endorsing to fight the disease and her clothing line. All of this made me realize that the rest of the world hasn’t seen the same evolution of southern food that I have. I still look at southern food in the same way, but I now realize that the rest of the country still thinks everything is deep fried, heavy and bad for you. Everything southern isn’t made better by adding a pound of butter. In fact, we have tried to do the opposite and add acidic things, such as homemade chow chow or a simple squeeze of lemon juice. These, in my opinion, bring more to the party to enhance the flavors of food, rather than compete with them. Have I stopped putting smoked ham hocks in greens when we cook them?  NO. But we are not making it all about the ham hock either. It is about the greens, and the hock is there to add the flavor of smoke.

All food must evolve, and southern food is no exception. Southern chefs are spending a lot more time finding the perfect source for each and every ingredient they use. Take Sean Brock for example. Everything he serves at his Charleston-based restaurant, Husk,is from below the Mason Dixon Line — EVERYTHING.  That is a true celebration of southern food.  If I have been searching for the perfect source for turnip greens, I want you to taste those turnip greens in their best possible form. In order for food to truly be great, the flavors have to be balanced, not masked by several things which don’t belong.  Take the turnip greens that I just spoke about. If you cook them in water, it probably won’t be a memorable experience. But with the addition of a ham hock, pepper sauce and a little salt, you have created balance and an amazing thing that isn’t bad for you. Those same turnip greens will turn unmemorable again with the addition of too much of any of those ingredients. Southern chefs today are cooking to celebrate the foods which are indigenous to their areas, but also to celebrate the history and culture behind that food.

Ok I’m jumping off the soap box now, but the point I’m trying to make is, said TV personality has placed a stigma on what southern food is — full of butter and bacon drippings. I cannot deny that those things do find their way into southern food, but just because you see them listed as an ingredient doesn’t mean there is enough in a dish to put down an elephant. It is all about balance.

— Rob McDaniel, Executive Chef