Q+A: Jennifer Booker Blends France and the Old South Together
Jennifer Booker brought Atlanta a twist of French style with her cookbook, Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes with a French Accent. And when she isn't teaching new students at her cooking classes, she hosts her own blogtalkradio web show. How's that for busy?
The afterthought on your cookbook title is “Southern Cooking With A French Accent.” Doesn’t all Southern food have French influences though? How did you combine this with French styles, as in from modern France?
The 'French Accent' was written because although yes, Southern food does have a French influence, we Southerners have taken what was taught to Southern slaves and created our own cuisine. So yes,the French Accent I write about has more to do with the similarities they have, like using farm fresh ingredients, how pork and wild game are prevalent, and the use of canning and curing as preservation methods are widely used by both; than the differences. I did however, add the aesthetics of French cuisine to my dishes that I believe is often lacking in how Southern cuisine is presented.
When you trained in France, was there a food you discovered that you absolutely hated or at minimum, hated the preparation of? Was your cookbook a means of bettering what the French do?
I'm the type of Chef that will cook, and eat, anything. So no, I didn't mind cooking whatever was required of us-even the rabbits with the tails, paws, and a head of snarling teeth! I have a huge ego, but at no point in time would I ever say that my cookbook is an attempt at bettering what the French do! I do think that my cookbook does a good job of reminding us of how similar our cuisines are in ingredients, cooking methods, and cooking philosophy.
At this year’s Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival, where you judged, how did you decide on the top three winners? And without revealing who made the bland shrimp, what mistakes did the losing contestants make?
I ALWAYS check the temperature of the plate first-cold food should be served cold and hot food, hot. After that I really look at the plate-how does it make me feel: do I want to take a picture of it, do I want to rearrange it, do I want to eat it? Since shrimp was the focus, I judged most heavily on how the shrimp was prepared and tasted. The biggest mistakes people make is over cooking their ingredients, not tasting their food, and over garnishing their plate.
The most awful macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten is in Austin, Texas, where I finished my university degree. In contrast, the best I’ve eaten is in St. Louis, Chicago and Atlanta. Where do you go in Atlanta for the best macaroni and cheese ever?
Wow! This is a hard one. Some dishes I just won't eat out, and macaroni and cheese is one of them; because I'm usually disappointed and thinking of how I would change it-the entire time I'm eating it. Do you have any recommendations?
The New York Times interviewed you about okra. Which we’re pretty much all familiar with on its own. How else can we eat it? Or is okra the one thing we should not mess with in tradition?
I honestly believe that okra is one of those Southern dishes that people eat, because they always have, but are always looking for new and exciting ways to prepare it. I've grown to love okra stewed with tomatoes and onions and made into a gravy, they are good roasted with pecan oil and sprinkled with seasoned salt, stir fried is always tasty, and a pickled okra pod is delicious in a dirty martini!
What are your fav restaurants in Atlanta when any of us visit?
Sooo many to choose from! I love The Pecan, in College Park, for 'new' Southern cuisine, Asante, near Centenial Park, for 'coastal soul', Chops, in Buckhead, for a great steak, and Sawicki's Meat, Seafood & More, in Decatur, for awesome sandwiches. Of course there is General Muir for the best pastrami hash and Holeman & Finch for a life changing burger . . .
This article originally appeared en español on my ELLE Spain blog.
ELLE Spain discontinued their freelance blog journalism program in 2016. I have republished it on NicoleRussinMcFarland.com once again so my journalism may live on. I am grateful for the experiences I had from 2011-2016 writing for my personal Spanish language blog, revista ELLE for providing the blog, and the time from all of my interviewees.