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SOUTHERN FOOD POLL: 2010

Southern Food Poll

Our Southern Food Poll reached out to various foodies, food writers, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, and anyone else one might consider a Southern food “expert.” The response was whelming, with nearly sixty responses from enthusiasts across the country who were more than happy to share memories of their best Southern dining experience, or their favorite Southern dessert chef, alongside calls for Southern cuisine to continue its trend toward fresh, local ingredients and away from the deep-fryer.
 
The answers provided for some amusing insights, some to be expected and others not. For instance, it appears a clear majority of our responders would eagerly order their last meal on earth from Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. Also, it appears that Karen Barker’s desserts alone merit a pilgrimage to Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina. Additionally, the people have spoken and they demand more old-fashioned caramel cake on the table, refuse to live without collard greens, and can’t seem to decide if grits are the most overrated or underrated Southern staple.
 
On behalf of the OA, we want to extend a mighty Thank You to everyone who took the time to respond, and we advise that our hungry readers proceed with caution: These responses will indeed make your mouth water.

Contributors

Paco Aceves  •  Hugh Acheson  •  Jason Alley  •  Jean Anderson  •  Ben and Karen Barker 
Megan Mayhew Bergman  •  Jerry Broderick  •  David Chang  •  Dan Chung 
Will Copenhaver  •  Darcy Courteau  •  John Currence  •  Nathalie Dupree 
Dean Fearing  •  Beth Ann Fennelly  •  Marcie Cohen Ferris  •  Martha Foose 
Jessica B. Harris  •  Damon Fowler  •  Marianne Gingher  •  Holly Herrick  •  Jack Hitt
Linton Hopkins  •  Matt and Ted Lee  •  Paulette Licitra  •  Donald Link  •  Bill Luckett  
Edwin Marty  •  April McGreger  •  Matt McKiernan  •  Moreton Neal  •  Michael Parker
Audrey Petty  •  Richard T. Rauch  •  Brandon Reynolds  •  Jonathan Reynolds 
Lee Richardson  •  Sara Roahen  •  Dale Rice  •  Diane Roberts  •  Glenn Roberts
Jim Ruland  •  Michael Schwartz  •  Robert St. John  •  Dana Shavin  •  David Shields 
Breck Speed  •  Frank Stitt  •  Susan Spicer  •  John Martin Taylor  •  Wright Thompson 
Shane Touhy  •  Brad Watson  •  Liz Williams  •  Virginia Willis  •  Tandy Wilson 
Linda Wyman  •  Joe York

 


 

Paco Aceves

Francisco "Paco" Aceves is Executive Chef for Stonewall Resort, located in Roanoke, West Virginia. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Aceves previously served as the Executive Chef for one of West Virginia's most popular restaurants, The Bridge Road Bistro. While working as the sous chef at The Houston Country Club in Houston, Texas, Chef Aceves was chosen to join the United States culinary team at the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon, France, one of the world's most distinguished culinary competitions.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Sampling oysters in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Grits. Everyone claims they can make them, but so few are done perfectly.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Blackened crab cakes.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
That wheel isn’t broken; no need trying to fix it!

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Crab-and-cheddar grits.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Alligator sausage—well, at least up in West Virginia it isn’t so popular.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Crab-and-shrimp au gratin in an eggplant pirogue.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Abita Restoration Ale.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Beignets.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
John Besh, because he is a master at his craft and compiles flavors so wonderfully that I want to eat whatever he creates.

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Hugh Acheson

Starting out as a dishwasher and becoming one of today's most accomplished chefs, Hugh Acheson worked his way through the kitchen. He honed his talent under the guidance of Chef Rob MacDonald at Henri Burger, Chef Mike Fennelly at Mecca, and Chef Gary Danko at his namesake restaurant. In 2002, Acheson opened his own restaurant, Five and Ten, in Athens, Georgia, which reinvents Southern cuisine while  drawing  from local produce. In addition to receiving FOOD & WINE'S 2002 Award for Best New Chef, Acheson won the GOURMET Award for Most Appropriate Chef Tattoo for his radish-inked forearm.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Commander’s Palace Restaurant in New Orleans. This is a restaurant that I have never been to, but I would like to go and have a long, lavish meal there.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Blackberry Farm.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Chicken bog.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Chicken-fried steak.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Continue to go back to being more local.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Rice and beans.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Spoon bread and icebox rolls.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Right now, sorghum.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Terrapin Rye Pale Ale.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Karen Barker.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Mac and cheese is pretty weird fried.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Frank Stitt. He has been doing this for twenty-five years in Birmingham. He was the first very skilled European-influenced chef to go back to where he came from and open up not only a Southern restaurant, but a restaurant that is excellent within the United States.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Muddy Pond Sorghum.

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Jason Alley

With his Granny Alley, Jason spent time in the garden as well as the kitchen, learning the importance of not burning the October beans, and just how dry a “green” cured ham could really get. After a short stint at James Madison University in the Shenandoah Valley, Jason’s professional cooking life began. Jason now serves as Chef and Partner at Comfort in Richmond, Virginia, a restaurant that has received rave reviews from VIRGINIA LIVING, RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, FOOD & WINE, SOUTHERN LIVING, the NEW YORK TIMES, and the WASHINGTON POST.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Lemaire in the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. Walter Bundy is doing some amazing food in Richmond, using almost exclusively Virginian producers. His most complicated dishes still taste purely of the Commonwealth.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Some chef friends and producers had a pig-and-oyster roast at Gryffon’s Aerie farm in Grozet, Virginia. We had four suckling pigs roasted over an open fire, carpaccio from farm cows, charcuterie from some of the other animals, and about four hundred oysters from our friends at Rappahannock River Oysters. Oh yeah, and a lot of adult beverages.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Pinto beans cooked with fat back. I like mine with cornbread, diced onions, and either homemade bread-and-butter relish or chow chow.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
The MoonPie. I’ll take the Dr. Pepper, but you can keep the pie.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
We need to keep a firm grip on our Southern foodways, but we need to keep our techniques and menus moving forward. I really feel like the chefs that are getting a lot of attention right now, Linton Hopkins, Hugh Acheson, John Fleer, and plenty of others are already doing that, it just needs to translate to the home cook as well.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Pimento cheese.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
“Green” ham. We used to always get a salted, unsmoked, unhung ham for Easter. Nothing I’ve ever had tastes more purely porky.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Country ham.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Terrapin India Brown Ale.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Angie Mosier.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Mayonnaise at Crif Dogs in Manhattan.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock. He has his hat in the ring of molecular gastronomy, while still slopping hogs and tending to a remarkable vegetable garden. This combination is truly the good stuff—ground breaking, but grounded.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Wade’s Supermarket hot dog chili. My local grocer in Southwest Virginia growing up was Wade’s, and they still make the best chili in the world. To truly enjoy it, you need to have it on a red hot dog, a steamed bun, and topped with slaw.

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Jean Anderson

Tar Heel born and bred, Jean Anderson returned to North Carolina after many years in New York as a magazine editor, cookbook author, and freelance food and travel writer. Though continuing to cover the world, her focus is downhome, too, because there's a world of good eating south of the Mason-Dixon.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Toss-up between Bonne Soirée and Crook's Corner (both Chapel Hill), Magnolia Grill and Nana's (both Durham).  Maybe I'd have four last meals!

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Oh, so, so many that it would be impossible to choose.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Collards or turnip greens cooked long and slow with side meat.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Chitlins.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
I wish chefs would concentrate on Southern classics instead of trying to fuse them with Asian or Mediterranean dishes. But let me be quick to add that Scott Howell (Nana's, Durham, North Carolina) does brilliant “Southernized risottos” with shrimp, Silver Queen corn, country ham, catfish, and whatever else strikes his fancy.

What one Southern dish could you not live without? 
Really good shrimp and grits. Oh yes, and first-rate fried chicken (like Mama Dip's in Chapel Hill).

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Cracklin' bread, cracklin' bread, cracklin' bread. And maybe the purloos and bogs of South Carolina. Frogmore and pine bark stew would be right up there, too. Oh, and wild persimmon pudding (trouble is, with developers clear-cutting the forests, wild persimmons are increasingly hard to find).

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Two, really: Sourwood honey and stone-ground cornmeal.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I'm not a beer drinker, but I'm becoming more and more impressed by the table wines of Virginia and North Carolina.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
If you're talking pastry chef, Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina. No contest! She is brilliant.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried? 
Dill pickles. Also, MoonPies.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Of those I know well, I'd have to name four (in alphabetical order): Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill (Durham, North Carolina), Bill Smith of Crook's (Chapel Hill), Chip Smith (no relation) of Bonne Soirée (Chapel Hill), and Scott Howell of Nana's (Durham).

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Some really good frozen Moravian chicken pies are now coming out of Asheboro, North Carolina—I’m blanking on the brand but Harris Teeter supermarkets carry them. I'd also recommend Neese's Country Sausage from Greensboro (the regular, the extra-sagey, and the “hot”). All are exquisitely fresh. Also, the fruitcakes, candies, jams, and preserves of Southern Supreme in Bear Creek, North Carolina. Oh, and one more: Aunt Ruby's Peanuts from Eastern North Carolina.

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Ben and Karen Barker

North Carolina-native Ben Barker met his wife Karen at the Culinary Institute of America...they've been cooking together ever since. In 1986, they opened the Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant that makes creative use of regional ingredients. Ben has been named one of FOOD & WINE magazine's Best New Chefs, and was named the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the Southeast in 2000. Karen was selected as BON APPÉTIT's 1999 Best Pastry Chef and won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2003.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Oysters at the bar at Highlands in Birmingham so we could plunder the wine list and hang out with Pardis and Frank.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Uglesich's for lunch during Jazzfest 1994 in New Orleans.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Buttermilk pie with lard crust.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Inept shrimp and grits prepared with poor ingredients and unsound technique.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
More herbs and acidity.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Field peas or butterbeans and corn.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Liver pudding.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Hominy.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Karen Barker (says Ben).

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Butter.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Bill Neal established Southern food from a historical and gastronomical perspective, leaving us with a legacy of pride of place, of plate, and of ingredients.

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Megan Mayhew Bergman

After thirty Carolina-bound years, Megan Mayhew Bergman has recently moved to rural Vermont with her veterinarian husband, Bo, her daughter, Frasier, five dogs, four cats, two goats, and a horse. Her work will appear in the NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: 2010 anthology.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
The H&E Drive-In in Gretna, Virginia. My parents met at the drive-through there, so I guess I owe my very existence to the place. I went there after a funeral once, and though it had another name, I felt as if I were walking on Mayhew Holy Ground.
 
What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Mecca, on Martin Street in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Though the name implies something Arabian, Mecca is a classic Southern joint—a meat-and-three kind of place that’s been around forever—the type of place where you might sit next to John Edwards, or a chain-smoking schizophrenic in a tin hat.

I took some friends from New York to Mecca for breakfast when I was pregnant with my daughter. We ate like kings for about five dollars a head—cheap toast, instant coffee, hot chocolate (from mix), fluffy eggs, and heaps of butter. I noticed I was holding my breath through most of the meal, though, because Mecca’s smoking section was still thriving (the smoking ban has since taken effect). Call me crazy, but it reminded me of the good times. I’ve never been a smoker, but if you were raised in North Carolina before 1990, you might also feel a pang of nostalgia chewing on your pie with a cloud of blue smoke in your eyes.
 
What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Collards. People say they smell funny. I say, cook them for at least an hour, if not all afternoon, in a cast-iron pot with brown sugar, onions, and hot sauce. They are the gift that keeps on giving in any lazy person’s garden. Trust me.
 
What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Sweet tea. Unless you get it at The Beacon, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where a semi-blind guy yells at you, “Talk and walk!” and everyone orders burgers hiding underneath three pounds of onion rings. The Beacon’s website claims they use three thousand pounds of sugar a week. That should tell you why the tea’s good. It’s so sweet it makes you crazy. It may explain a lot about South Carolina, really. All those evangelicals, hopped up on tea.

My father would tell you it was a rabbit biscuit he had once, whipped up by my great-great-grandmother Mayhew. Damnedest thing I ever ate, he’d say. Thought I was going to die. But probably not as bad as the apples she used to dry in the sun, he says. Those were full of wasps.

Grandma Mayhew wasn’t much of a chef, but she was a pretty tough broad—she gave birth to ten children at home and mowed her own lawn with a push mower with nothing but a bonnet to protect her from the Southern sun until she was ninety. 

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Can it? Maybe if we went back to the thrifty “use everything you can from the animal” ethic. I know it’s still alive in the tubular meat industry—I’m a vegetarian and can’t vouch for sure—but I think more people used to eat pig knuckles and chitlins. If you’re going to kill the hog, use all the hog, is what I’m saying. Don’t just make fancy bacon.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Ashley Christensen’s fried corn on the cob at Poole’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s one of those dishes where, even though you can feel a little grease in your mouth, you say: No! I don’t care! I will eat one of these every day for the rest of my life. She’s a pretty awesome chef. Raleigh’s proud of her.
 
Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Hoecakes! Simple, cheap, and fun to say.
 
What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Sweet potatoes. They are magical, healthy, and a clever vegetarian vehicle for barbecue sauce. 

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I like Big Boss Brewery’s Hell’s Belle Belgian Blond and Bad Penny Brown Ale. Cheeky names, Raleigh-born, and super drinkable. Good fridge beer.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
My great-grandmother, Nellie Dodd Pickrel, owned a restaurant in Chatham, Virginia. She raised my mother on red velvet cake that my mom describes as round, four layers high, deep red, and lacquered in thick white icing.  But there was never just one dessert on the table—Nellie’d also whip up a coconut pie and pound cake. Underachiever.

My father has always preferred any cobbler where the baker throws “the entire sugar dish” into the batter. I can make a pretty mean rhubarb strawberry crisp and homemade peach ice cream.
 
What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
I know they’re rather ubiquitous, but I still flinch when I see fried turkey legs. What are y’all turkey leg eaters doing—medieval feasting? Eating with Henry VIII? I see toddlers at the fair gnawing on a turkey leg the size of their femur bone. Freaks me out. Also, Grandfather Gatewood used to eat fried squirrel. My mom says anything he could shoot and bring in the door, her grandmother would fry.
 
Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
My Great-Grandmother Lyons. She only had one working eye—she shattered a thermometer when she was younger and got mercury in the other. My great-grandfather was a grocer by day and bootlegger by night, so Granny Lyons was notorious for going too heavy on the whiskey, especially in the egg nog. My father postulates that she did this so no one else could drink the stuff but her. It’s not as avant garde as culinary foam—Granny Lyons was no molecular gastronomist—but she did leave the feet on the chicken at Thanksgiving and let her grandbabies suck salt off chicken bones. She was also kind hearted. She’d invite the alcoholic boarder she rented a room to down for most meals, and my dad said he’d pray so long that the grease would congeal and turn white on the meat.

Granny Lyons went through three husbands. None of us are really sure, but her ground-breaking cooking may have had something to do with it.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
My father always said all Southern chicken pot pies should be frozen and sent to the North, and that he’d rather take an ass-whippin’ than be forced to eat another corn dog.

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Jerry Broderick

Jerry Broderick is Executive Chef of the historic Beaumont Inn (Kentucky's oldest family-operated inn), the Owl's Nest, and the Old Owl Tavern, all located in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. A Sullivan University of Louisville culinary-school graduate, Broderick started cooking as a second career, after he fell in love with the organized chaos that happens in the kitchen.

From which Southern Restaurant would you order your last meal?
Merrick Inn's “Big Bar.” The atmosphere is great, the attire is casual, and the food is awesome.

What is the single best eating experience you’ve had in the South?
The Ketch (now closed) in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Sad to see you go.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Frog legs and soft-shell crabs.

What is the most overrated?
Coleslaw—can't stand it. Except for bleu cheese coleslaw.

How could Southern cuisine be improved?
Before-shift drinks as well as after-shift drinks. More farmers'-market produce and locally grown items being used.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Chicken and dumplings or okra.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Chow chow (relish). 2010 will be the year of the chow chow rebirth.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Bacon grease/fat.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Bluegrass Brewing Company, Louisville, Kentucky.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Donna Heard at the Merrick Inn, Lexington, Kentucky.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Lamb fries. How hungry was the first person to eat them? Starved, I'm guessing.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Scott Peacock, Georgia. Just got turned on to his cookbooks. Very nice, simple, yet good. Don't forget the spouses who cook for their chefs at the end of a long day. Thanks honey!

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David Chang

David Chang is a critically acclaimed chef and restaurateur, originally from Northern Virginia. In 2004, he opened Momofuku Noodle Bar and later added two restaurants to the Momofuku family. Chang has been praised and featured in the NEW YORK TIMES, THE NEW YORKER, and FOOD & WINE. He won a James Beard Foundation Award in 2007. 

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Blackberry Farm, Tennessee. If it's my last meal I would want to raid Sam's epic wine cellar and drink myself into oblivion. Plus, it's one of the prettiest places to go out. If I'm still alive after all the booze and have some time left, I would go to Oxford, Mississippi, and immediately have a “Pylon” at John's Big Bad Breakfast.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you've had in the South?
Best eating experience was a classic oyster roast in South Carolina. Nothing beats those local oysters and ice cold beer. The best meal I had in the South this year was at Cochon in New Orleans.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Not really a dish, but red-eye gravy when done well is so tasty. People outside of the South have no idea about the coffee and ham combo.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried catfish—I know it's blasphemy, but I just can't get down with catfish. It reminds me of a big goldfish.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Simple—try and keep things local and use the amazing produce that grows in the South.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
It’s a tie between biscuits and gravy and fried chicken. I'm a sucker for all things fried, and there are some amazing joints. Then wash it all down with sweet tea, so sweet you need a side of water.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Fried bologna sandwich. Maybe it's still popular in the South, but surely not in the North.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Hands down: Aged Southern country hams, from Kentucky to Tennessee. I’m partial to Allan Benton's—it's so tasty. It's one of the few things America can call its own.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I don't know if you can call it a microbrew technically, but I love drinking booze out of a mason jar and passing it around.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
I’m not really a sweets person.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
It's not in the South and it's not that strange but it’s delicious. Wylie Dufrense at wd~50 in New York City does a “cold” fried chicken. Yes, it's cold, but tasty!

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock at McCrady's. He has the farm, the great restaurant with so much history, and the ingenuity to take Southern food to another level.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Anson Mills Grits. It’s so simple: People need to eat more grains and preserved foods, and Anson Mills makes the good stuff.

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Dan Chung

Dan Chung was born in South Korea, but now hovers around the Mason-Dixon line. He grew up eating his dad's cooking. He loves eating as much as photography—now it's starting to show. He resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, Nadia, and Chiquillo, who eats rice and lamb every single day!

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I would want to eat at the Watershed Restaurant in Decatur, Georgia, with Chef Scott Peacock cooking. The main reasons are for his relationship with Edna Lewis and his reverence for Southern cuisine.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Catfish/ frog legs dinner near Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. Not so much for the food but for the warmth of the people with whom I shared the meal.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Not a dish per se but country ham—America’s prosciutto!

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Biscuits.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Turn on the oven and use it once in a while. Not everything needs to be batter-dipped and fried.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Black-eyed peas.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Country ham and anything pig-related.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Someone’s grandma—all done by hand.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Frogs’ legs.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
I read about a Korean-American chef in GOURMET magazine who cooks in South Carolina (I think). His subtle borrowing from his Korean roots to enhance Southern cooking sounds interesting. The locals have accepted him for his respect, seriousness, and care for the cuisine. It’s got to be good.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Allan Benton’s ham.

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Will Copenhaver

Born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Will Copenhaver now resides in Charleston, South Carolina, where he works for the French cookware company Le Creuset. 

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
The Shrimp Shack (St. Helena Island, South Carolina)—fried shrimp, hushpuppies, the smell of the ocean, the breeze off the marsh, and the memory of a hundred vacations always puts me in a happy place.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Late-summer childhood meals prepared by Mom C—piles of local boiled shrimp, tomatoes straight from the field, fried okra, squash, corn on the cob, butter beans, cornbread, and fresh strawberry shortcake with ice cream for dessert.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Fried okra.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Shrimp and grits (now seemingly a required presence on every menu in Charleston).

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Fewer chain restaurants, more local po-boy shops.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Barbecue: Pulled pork, Lexington-style preferred.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Pork trotters, if they could all taste like the ones Mike Lata makes at FIG.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Fat, local, Lowcountry oysters.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Pappy Van Winkle bourbon—and yes, I realize I’m taking the definition of the microbrew loosely.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Dewey’s Bakery in Winston-Salem—the Moravians did it right.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Nutria.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Ben and Karen Barker at Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina—their focus on local ingredients, seasonal menus, and global techniques in a neighborhood atmosphere is spot on with today’s trends. The fact that they’ve been doing this since 1986 is remarkable.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
My Grandpop’s homemade pimento cheese.

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Darcy Courteau

Darcy Courteau lives in New Orleans. Her stories have appeared in NEW ORLEANS REVIEW, ROANOKE REVIEW, and NIGHT TRAIN. She is at work on a collection of short stories.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
White beans and rice, Monday night at the Turning Point Lounge, Central City New Orleans. If I were going to the gallows come Tuesday, I’d want the calming effect of sitting with the owner, Lionel Toney, and my neighbors, talking trash with a Miller Lite in hand.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
As a kid, taking a saltshaker with me to the garden and eating tomatoes like apples.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Hominy, preferably with sausage, onions, and tomatoes.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Collard greens. Sammy’s on Elysian Fields makes the best.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Poke, a weed. Great battered and fried or with scrambled eggs.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Dick and Jenny’s on Tchoupitoulas Street makes the best Bananas Foster bread pudding. Everything on their menu is so good it will make you cry.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
My mom. One fall my sister Sarah and I drove home for the holidays. Mom greeted us in the driveway, blood-spattered, announcing that she’d just killed a few chickens for dinner. She didn’t bother plucking them, she said, took too much time, so she just skinned them. Sure enough, we found those birds simmering with a bottle of rosé left over from some work function and a flat of desiccated, marked-down mushrooms. The best coq au vin I’ve ever tasted, even if Mom was still covered in blood when she sat across from us at the table.

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John Currence

New Orleans native Chef John Currence settled in Oxford, Mississippi, where he founded the ever-popular City Grocery, Boure, Snackbar, and Big Bad Breakfast. Though there are many, he is not resting on his laurels: the 2006 Southern Foodways Alliance Guardian of Tradition Award, the 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South, and winner of the Charleston Food and Wine Festival’s Iron Chef Challenge. He has served as Chairman and President of the Mississippi Restaurant Association, President of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, and the Culinary Director for the Southern Foodways Alliance.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
It would be Holy Thursday lunch at Dooky Chase. I can't imagine going on into the next world any more peacefully than with the memory of Leah Chase's smile, plus lunch is long enough that Death might just get tired of waiting and move on.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
This is a total trick question. If I don't involve my mother, I run the risk of being disowned, but the dinner we threw after the Beard Awards in early June 2009 at our house, on our enormous screen porch for about twenty friends with as many bottles of wine and whiskey, a family-style bounty of the summer's vegetables, and a torrential thunderstorm in the middle of it all is about the greatest meal I can imagine.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Hominy.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried green tomatoes...just stop it, people. It’s officially been ruined and you’re about to do the same thing with bacon.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
As wrong as it is to say as a restaurateur, it would be great if everyone started cooking at home again and cooked from the recipes and gardens of their family and friends. When we stopped doing this, things began to slide and people became scared of the kitchen. Until folks brave the failures and take up the cause, cooking nationwide will continue to suffer.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
My bride...or collards. I get a ravenous craving for greens from time to time and collards are the only green that fully scratch that itch.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
I’m glad to say that there seem to be enough young guys out there dabbling in the foodways of the South that there is very little that hasn’t popped its head up somewhere. Personally, I’m a fan of a crispy pig ear. Frank Stitt has never been afraid to slap one on a plate (and a fine one at that), but aside from Frank, there are few other folks out there who mess with them. They are a delicious, textural punch in the mouth if you’ll overcome to your squeamishness and dive in.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Corn...great straight off the cob, creamed, in pudding, as bread, or skillet-fried—then there's the whole matter of grits and masa and that doesn't even get us near the most important part of the equation: bourbon. Stay away from my corn.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Anything Julian Van Winkle makes...I don’t drink beer. It’s a waste of time.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Karen Barker.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Bernaise sauce.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock. Sean celebrates an absolutely fiendish passion for connecting with the food he serves. He tends several acres of vegetable garden in the summer while raising pigs, lambs, and, I am certain, a number of other things most of us have never heard about. He is both a master of traditional technique and a complete mad scientist, elevating simple ingredients in the most perfunctory way while executing alchemy with others as if it were second nature. He pushes the envelope like a Borat of the kitchen...the end result of what he does is unfailingly amusing to the eye and the palate.

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Nathalie Dupree

Nathalie Dupree has created the perfect recipe for a successful, well-balanced culinary career; the ingredients include her roles as teacher, author, and TV cooking-show host. In addition to her top-rated television cooking, shows which air on PBS, The Learning Channel, and the Television Food Network, she has also appeared on THE TODAY SHOW, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, CBS THIS MORNING, and CNN. Two of her books, SOUTHERN MEMORIES and COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING, have received James Beard Awards. A founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, Nathalie is married to author Jack Bass, with whom she lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
SNOB in Charleston.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Frank Lee's fried chicken livers are close to the top, but how does one compare them with Anne Quatrano's or Frank Stitt's or Hominy Grill or....

Truly, Brenda's café—Brenda just died a few months ago—in Social Circle, Georgia, was fabulous. Kate Almand's biscuits still linger in my mind.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Simply cooked lady peas.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
That's a stumper. Some bar food, I suppose, like fried pickles or zucchinis.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
All we need is to keep getting fresh ingredients—how do you improve on something so complete?
 
What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Greens with ham hock or smoked neck.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
I do think boiled chitlins are not given the respect they deserve; but I doubt anyone will resurrect them, and I'm not sure they should be. Still, it would be nice to have them more accessible.

And we rarely see good caramel cake anymore, certainly not commercially, with the crisp caramel icing that nearly shatters in your mouth before it melts.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Our fresh peas. You just can't find fresh peas as good as ours anywhere—they are so sweet, the kind of thing one lies in bed in the morning and thinks it is worth getting up for...butter beans, fresh lady peas, fresh pigeon peas, whatever.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Kate Almand, who lives in Social Circle, Georgia, makes the best caramel cake in the world.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Pickles; fried peanuts.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Frank Lee at SNOB—day in and day out he serves food that could make you cry, and he really gets little credit. I've never had a bad meal there. His caramelized peaches are so unusual for a restaurant to serve!

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Real caramel cake.

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Dean Fearing

Chef Dean Fearing created Fearing's Restaurant in Dallas, a restaurant whose unique farm-to-market Texas cuisine has received accolades from the NEW YORK TIMES, NEWSWEEK, FOOD & WINE, TEXAS MONTHLY, MODERN LUXURY, and ESQUIRE, which voted it Restaurant of the Year in 2007. The son of a Kentucky innkeeper, Fearing grew up with grandmothers who knew all about food and who appreciated the finer details of Southern cooking and barbecue. With dishes inspired by locally grown peppers, dried chilies, jicama, cilantro, and tomatillos, Gulf seafood, and Hill Country wild game, Fearing received the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
It would have to be Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room in Savannah, Georgia. It has delicious soul food and a traditional style of service that stems from its deep family roots.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Back when Chef Sean Brock was at The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, I had lunch with country star Marty Stuart and it was the perfect combination of great food and great conversation.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Greens! They are delicious and because of their nutritional value, we should eat more of them.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Chicken-fried steak. It is often poorly prepared and inedible.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Certain methods should be brought up to the times with better cooking techniques, such as the traditional use of bacon grease, which will certainly put you in an early grave.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and all-day cooked green beans.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Chicken and dumplings made right are delicious!

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
A few of my favorites are a good pot of navy beans, skillet gravies, corn bread, and greens that have been cooked to perfection.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Fearing’s Bar Manager Jeff Daskam brews a homemade dark ale that is out of this world!

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
I would have to say this honor belongs to my mother, Ollie Fearing. She bakes the best pie in the South, from pecan pie to cherry almond pie to the best apple pie—hands down.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Travel to the Texas State Fair in Dallas and you are sure to find them. I’ve seen fried Twinkies, fried butter, fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and even fried Coca-Cola!

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Chef Bill Neal of Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was an amazing Southern chef and cookbook author. He regrettably passed away long before his time.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Fried chocolate pies by Fearing’s very own Pastry Chef Jill Bates. They are unreal!

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Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly is an Associate Professor at the University of Mississippi, and lives in Oxford, Mississippi. She has received a 2003 National Endowment for the Arts Award, a 2006 United States Artist Grant, and a 2009 Fulbright Fellowship. Her published works include OPEN HOUSE, which won The 2001 Kenyon Review Prize, the GLCA New Writers Award, and was a Book Sense Top Ten Poetry Pick; TENDER HOOKS, and UNMENTIONABLES. Her poems have been reprinted in BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1996, 2005, and 2006, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN POETRY, and THE PUSHCART PRIZE, among others.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Easy: Shrimp and grits from City Grocery in Oxford.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
I fell in love with the man who'd become my husband at the Flora-Bama over steamed Royal Red Shrimp dipped in butter.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Boiled peanuts. I'm sorry, but I don't get the appeal.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Don’t overcook the broccoli.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Candied sweet potatoes.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
BC Powder.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Lazy Magnolia, the only microbrew in Mississippi, makes a lovely Southern Pecan Ale. But Fullsteam in Durham, North Carolina, makes a beer called Hogwash specifically designed to drink with barbecue. I ate roast whole hog one October around a bonfire with a mug of Hogwash, and felt pretty optimistic about life.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
The giant MoonPie the city of Mobile makes every New Year's Eve for its citizens.

Shannon of Honey Bee Bakery makes a naughty little red velvet cupcake.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Kudzu leaves.

Who is the most groundbreaking Southern chef you know and why?
John Currence of City Grocery. He once did a whole menu inspired by fair food: corn dogs, wild mushrooms, Pop-Tarts, lobster mac and cheese.

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Marcie Cohen Ferris

Marcie Cohen Ferris is an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the American Studies Department at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she also serves as the department's coordinator of Southern Studies. Ferris's research and teaching interests include the history of the Jewish South,  food in American culture, American Jewish women's history, and the material culture of the American South. She is the author of MATZOH BALL GUMBO: CULINARY TALES OF THE JEWISH SOUTH and co-editor of JEWISH ROOTS IN SOUTHERN SOIL: A NEW HISTORY. Ferris is a past president of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill because Bill Smith would bring it to me, with a big hello, a hug, and a side order of fried oysters, just to be sweet.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Eating gumbo with my husband’s family on Christmas eve at the farm where he grew up, outside Vicksburg, Mississippi.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Catfish.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried chicken.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Promote its small farmers and food entrepreneurs throughout the region and encourage states, counties, and cities to invest in farmers' markets. (Oh, and we could stop subsidizing industrial agriculture.)

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Caramel cake.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
My mother-in-law, Shelby Ferris’s “Angel Food,” a meringue-custard dessert served with fresh strawberries.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Anson Mills grits and rice.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Yazoo Brewery.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Bill Smith at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill makes the best, to-die-for classic Southern cakes from Nancie McDermott’s SOUTHERN CAKES cookbook (and an amazing butterscotch pudding, too).

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Peanut butter and jelly.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
John Fleer—because his food is absolutely local, absolutely delicious, and unpretentious.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
April McGreger’s Sunshine Bun from Farmer’s Daughter, Inc. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina) and Phoebe Lawless’s pies, from Scratch Seasonal Artisan Baking (Durham, North Carolina).

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Martha Foose

Martha Hall Foose stays in Greenwood, Mississippi, but lives on Pluto. She won a James Beard Award and a Southern Independent Booksellers Award for her first book, SCREEN DOORS AND SWEET TEA. Martha is currently working on her upcoming book A SOUTHERLY COURSE: TRAVELING FOODWAYS CLOSE TO HOME. She lives with the best bread baker in the US and their son, Joe.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
The Steakhouse, Yazoo City, Mississippi. Because it's right between home and the funeral parlor, and Miss Bea's steaks are damn good.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
For sheer consistency and love of thin fried catfish, and desire to get out of the car on the way to New Orleans...Middendorf's, Manchac, Louisiana.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Country-fried steak with rice and gravy.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Shrimp and grits.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Look to the Gulf Coast's Vietnamese community for inspiration and new interpretations.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Country-fried steak with rice and gravy.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Pickled eggs.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Fig preserves.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Lazy Magnolia from down in Kiln, Mississippi, and Yazoo Brewing Co. from Nashville. Though following online the progress of Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, North Carolina, is a ton of fun....

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Delta Delicacy from Money, Mississippi, is my hands-down favorite caramel cake. Turn me loose on it with a quart of The Brown Family Dairy's Whole Milk—this may be what I want for my last meal instead.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Really? What hasn't been fried? And what do you mean by strange?

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Karen Blockman Carrier because from opening Automatic Slim's, One Bar Under a Groove in New York City's West Village in 1986, Automatic Slim's Tonga Club in 1991 in downtown Memphis, the go-to catering company Another Roadside Attraction, and Cooper-Young's innovative Beauty Shop Restaurant, to slamming sushi and noodle bowls at Noodle Doodle Do and working at the late-night lounge Mollie Fontaine, she has always been at the forefront of modern Southern cuisine. She is cool and so are all her joints.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Michael's Pepper Jelly by Magnolia Honey.

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Damon Fowler

Damon Lee Fowler is a culinary educator and historian and the author of six cookbooks, including CLASSICAL SOUTHERN COOKING and THE SAVANNAH COOKBOOK. He lives and eats in Savannah, Georgia.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
With all due respect to the wonderful professional cooks throughout the South, I wouldn't want my last meal to be restaurant food. I would want it to be cooked in my own kitchen by a seasoned Southern home cook who was a close friend, like Jean Anderson, John Martin Taylor, Jim Villas, Nathalie Dupree, or Virginia Willis. The closest to restaurant food I'd come is if the cook who came to my kitchen was Chefs Frank Stitt, Scott Peacock, Ben Barker, or Louis Osteen, because they cook like they're at home.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
I presume you mean a restaurant. That's really hard to narrow down, but I'd have to say Ben and Karen Barker's Magnolia Grill.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Real slow-cooked hominy grits—not the currently fashionable stone-ground, whole-corn grits, but old-fashioned, white hominy grits.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fancy restaurant appetizer-course shrimp and grits.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
By returning more to its home-style roots.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Greens.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Barbecued lamb (rarely seen today outside Savannah and Kentucky).

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Fresh vegetables.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Karen Barker.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Mac and cheese.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Ben Barker, because he stays grounded in his roots.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Stone-ground cornmeal such as that from Logan Turnpike Mill in Blairsville, Georgia.

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Marianne Gingher

When Marianne Gingher's not eating or cooking in her funky little kitchen, she teaches writing at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her most recent books are ADVENTURES IN PEN LAND, a comic memoir, and she edited LONG STORY SHORT: FLASH FICTION BY SIXTY-FIVE OF NORTH CAROLINA'S FINEST WRITERS.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I'd have to travel back in time for this one and order a Castleburger, onion rings, and a “green drink” from the amazing Boar and Castle Drive-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, circa 1964. Alas, the drive-in was torn down and an insurance company occupies the property now, but back in its heyday, the Boar and Castle was the place to eat wildly tasty, butter-soaked food—everything from their famous “pan bread” to jelly rolls.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Breakfast at the Bluebird Cafe in New Orleans.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Collard greens.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
MoonPies or banana pudding made with vanilla wafers.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Less bacon grease, food cooked with more of a Mediterranean spin.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Summer succotash made with fresh baby limas and Silver Queen corn.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
My Kentucky grandmother used to. It was called boiled custard with twelve-egg angel food cake.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
I've not seen it with my own eyes, but I heard that at the state fair somebody was selling fried butter!

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
The artisan breads made by my local downtown bakery in Greensboro, North Carolina—Simple Kneads—and in particular their Asiago peppercorn bread, their Parmesan walnut bread, and their yeast-risen cinnamon buns. My mother said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would come to a screeching halt if loaf of the Parmesan walnut were given to every man, woman, and child.

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Jessica Harris

An Associate Professor of English at Queens College, Jessica Harris is a food writer who specializes in African and Caribbean culinary traditions. Her published works include THE WELCOME TABLE: AFRICAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE COOKING, IRON POTS AND WOODEN SPOONS: AFRICA'S GIFTS TO NEW WORLD COOKING, and BEYOND GUMBO: CREOLE FUSION FOOD FROM THE ATLANTIC RIM, among others. Additionally, she contributes articles to FOOD & WINE, THE NEW YORKER, and GOURMET, and manages her website Africooks.com.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Duck and andouille gumbo from Upperline. Fried chicken from Dooky Chase.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Eating at my grandmother's table. But that was great (read: unequalled Virginia food served in Plainfield, New Jersey).

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Steamed okra.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Get back to some of the basics and stop too much fiddling with tastes.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Collard greens like my paternal grandmother cooked them. Yes, with pig!

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Molasses pie.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Okra.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Don't have one. Love Old New Orleans Rum.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
I'm not really a dessert eater.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Pickles? Twinkies may have trumped that!

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Too many to note. The South is a region rich in fantastic chefs both known and unheralded.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Uncle Bill's filé—it's silky and fantastic—Old New Orleans Rum, and roman candy.

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Holly Herrick

Holly Herrick is a nationally awarded food journalist, Le Cordon Bleu chef, restaurant critic, and author of the cookbooks THE SOUTHERN FARMERS MARKET COOKBOOK, THE CHARLESTON CHEF'S TABLE COOKBOOK, and EXTRAORDINARY RECIPES FROM THE HEART OF THE OLD SOUTH. She currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Hominy Grill, Charleston, South Carolina and it would be the Big Nasty Biscuit followed by a bowl of Robert Stehling's chocolate pudding. These are two of the most heavenly, naughty dishes on the menu, so why not go out savoring guilty pleasures while reaching for the celestial stars?
 
What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Frank Stitt's Highlands Bar and Grill. I ate there last summer. The meal jump-started with a stuffed, fat, fresh fig wrapped with aged ham and oven-fired with a savory whipped cream and lemon zest dipping sauce. I'll never forget the creamed corn or the entire experience. Perfection!
 
What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Tomato pie.
 
What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried pork chop.
 
How could Southern cuisine improve?
Keep going back to the old to find the new.
 
 What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Squash casserole and fried chicken.
 
Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Ambrosia—maybe—but with fresh, toasted coconut and fresh oranges.
 
What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Carolina Gold Rice.
 
What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Don't drink beer, so I'd have to go with (brewed) sweet tea.
 
Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Lauren Mitterer at WildFlour Bakery, Charleston, South Carolina.
 
What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
They fry candy bars at the South Carolina State Fair in Charleston. I think that's a little over the top.
 
Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock, McCrady's. His research and use of heirloom seeds, heirloom pigs and more that he grows in his own bio-dynamic garden before bringing them to the restaurant to use later in the day. Tireless, always seeking ways to shed new, pure light on his food and interpretations.
 
What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Charleston Crepe Company's crepe cake—unbelievable lightness and love layered between whisper-thin, freshly made crepes.

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Jack Hitt

Jack Hitt is a contributing writer to THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE and HARPER'S.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Bowen's Island near Folly Beach, South Carolina, for their creek oysters, when they are in season. Not ocean oysters (which are often just farm-raised things from Texas), but the fresh creek ones. Why? You can't get them anywhere else. Plus, it's Bowen's—ever been there?

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
I don't have a favorite movie or book either.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Grits. Everyone thinks of them as a side or a delivery system. Grits are more than white warmth.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Vidalia onions. They're just well-behaved onions; they don't even make you cry.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Quit fetishizing the crummy recipes of our grandparents.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Lowcountry red rice.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Venison jerky.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Crabmeat.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
My sister-in-law Andree's Pecan Pie with a hint of bourbon beaten into the whipped cream.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
My nephew and I once deep-fried a MoonPie. It was awful. Of course, truth is, it was awful before we fried it.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Probably the chef at Bowen's Island that fateful night. Why? The place burned to the ground.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
The local varieties of jerky in the Deep South are as varied and magnificent as styles of barbecue and sauces.

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Linton Hopkins

After working at The Grill Room in New Orleans and Jeff Tunks's DC Coast Restaurant, Chef Linton Hopkins opened Restaurant Eugene in 2004 with his wife, Gina. Eugene has been lauded by ESQUIRE, BON APPÉTIT, and GAYOT. In 2006, Hopkins appeared on the Food Network's IRON CHEF, and in 2009 was nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast. Most recently he was named one of the Best New Chefs of 2009 by FOOD & WINE. He is a board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, and Georgia Organics.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I would go to Birmingham and eat at Highlands Bar and Grill. I would go because the food is what is best about our cuisine: seasonal, top-notch local ingredients prepared with passion and thoughtfulness.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
I can’t pin one down, but the first oyster po-boy I ate at Domilese’s when I was a cook in New Orleans comes pretty close.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Beaten biscuits.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried chicken. Even though I love it, it seems like everyone thinks all we do is fry chicken down here.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
It should continue to understand that at its heart it is seasonal, and that without the products of preservation we fall short of creating a true Southern pantry.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Butterbean succotash.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Sorghum. My fear is that it will disappear except for a few suppliers. I see a great diversity depending on who makes it.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Country ham.
 
What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Sweetwater 420.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
My pastry chef Heather’s fried peach pie in summer.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Veal testicles.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Frank Stitt. He started a revolution back in the ’80s by taking his regional heritage of cookery and focusing on what made it great. His approach said the future of Southern food was not just replication of the past but was based on a philosophy of seasonal local produce, connection to our farms, and refinement of technique.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Sorghum—its complex nature is ideal for sweets and for cookery.

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Matt and Ted Lee

Matt Lee and Ted Lee grew up in Charleston and founded The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue in 1994. They are contributing editors at TRAVEL + LEISURE and write for MARTHA STEWART LIVING. Their first cookbook, The LEE BROS. SOUTHERN COOKBOOK, won the 2007 Julia Child Award from the IACP and the 2007 James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Watershed in Decatur, Georgia, for Scott Peacock's outstanding vegetable plate. We've heard the afterlife is vegetarian and we'd like to be prepared.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Alligator Creek oysters roasted over a wood fire in Legareville, Johns Island, South Carolina.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Purloo.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried turkey.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
By reviving the olive-oil industry that existed in Georgia in the 1700s.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Shrimp and grits.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Liver pudding.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Besides boiled peanuts? Definitely collards.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Fullsteam Mothervine (Sparkling Scuppernong Ale).

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Karen Barker.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
A stick of butter.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock. Because he's growing antebellum-era ingredients and applying twenty-first-century molecular-gastronomy to them.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Mrs. Sassard's Fig Preserves.

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Paulette Licitra

Paulette Licitra is publisher and editor-in-chief of ALIMENTUM: THE LITERATURE OF FOOD. In addition to teaching food-writing workshops and cooking classes, she also works as a food editor for the webzine URBAN DESIRES and as a food columnist for the RIVERDALE PRESS. Her work has appeared in the NEW YORK TIMES, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE MAGAZINE, JOURNAL OF ITALIAN FOOD, WINE & TRAVEL, and TEA: A MAGAZINE. Paulette completed her professional culinary studies at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, and travels extensively for culinary research.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I'm a recently transplanted Northerner now in Nashville, Tennessee, so I'm a bit of a newbie. But give me a corner table near a window decorated with playful dish-towel curtains at the Loveless Cafe (luckily, right in my neighborhood) with a plateful of their fried chicken and a pile of Loveless biscuits, and I'll be very happy!

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
This one sticks in my mind: the 2008 SFA Symposium Viking Range Luncheon outdoors in a garden setting at Ole Miss. The chef was Anne Quatrano. We started with a tableful of assorted jars that we all dug through including beet-pickled eggs, potted pork, and watermelon rinds...then pickled white shrimp, quail, and sorghum pudding, among other yummies.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Fried pickles.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
White gravy (just can't do it).

How could Southern cuisine improve?
I hate to say step away from the fryer (oh, all the flavor you'd leave behind), but a little less grease might do our hearts good.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Biscuits. Even in the North we made them for breakfast. I want to taste every biscuit I see...and usually the last one I ate was the best one.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Probably. Please resurrect. I want to know what I've missed.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Greens: collard, turnip, and mustard.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Yazoo Pale Ale.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Somebody please tell me!

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Pickles, and I love them. Does anyone do olives? That would be fun, yum.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Jeremy Barlow of Nashville's Tayst Restaurant. It's the first “all-green” restaurant in Nashville. Jeremy's ingredients are mostly local, plus thoughtful, flavorful, inspiring, and surprising.

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Donald Link

Chef Donald Link is a grand-dad-inspired, fun-loving, bow-fisherman from Crowley, Louisiana. In addition to Link being named Best Chef of the South by the James Beard Foundation in 2007, his restaurant Cochon was nominated for Best New Restaurant. His inventive take on traditional Creole and Cajun cuisine has won the admiration of food critics from the NEW YORK TIMES, GOURMET, and the TIMES-PICAYUNE. In his new cookbook, REAL CAJUN, Chef Link shares some of the secrets that have made his restaurants (Herbsaint, Cochon, and Calcasieu) such a hit.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Hawk’s in Rayne because it has the best boiled crawfish and  étouffée in the world.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
A place called Cajun Café in Lake Charles; when my friend and I used to go there in high school, there was a old Creole lady who would come sit at the table and talk to us while we ordered. The food was very Southern with its soul-food plate lunches. Smothered chicken, creamed corn, and homemade rolls.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Smothered beef tongue.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Less messing with it. Make it like granddad did.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Gumbo.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Squirrel.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Black-eyed peas.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Abita.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
There are several, they are the ones preserving the classics while being inventive with respect to the old methods.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
The Zaunbrechers’ deer jerky.

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Bill Luckett

Lifelong resident of Clarksdale, Mississippi, Bill Luckett is a senior partner at Luckett Tyner Law Firm and co-owns Madidi restaurant and Ground Zero Blues Club with Morgan Freeman. Luckett serves as the President of Clarksdale Downtown Revitalization, Inc., and as a board member to the Mississippi Heritage Trust. He is currently running as a Democratic candidate for Mississippi's 2011 gubernatorial election.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?    
Madidi Restaurant, Clarksdale, Mississippi, New Year's Eve, 2009.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?    
Catfish. 

What is the most overrated Southern dish?  
Turkey and dressing.
 
How could Southern cuisine improve?   
Less salt and less fried.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?  
Mustard greens.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?    
Yams and rutabagas.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?  
Seared ahi tuna.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?  
Dutch Oven, Clarksdale, Mississippi.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?  
Mountain oysters.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?  
Levi Minyard, Madidi Restaurant.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide? 
Kibbee.

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Edwin Marty

After completing an apprenticeship in Agroecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Edwin Marty worked on sustainable farms in Mexico, Mongolia, Australia, and Chile. Returning to Birmingham in 2001, Marty worked for SOUTHERN LIVING MAGAZINE as a garden writer while establishing Jones Valley Urban Farm. In 2006, Edwin began working as the full-time director of Jones Valley, which has grown to include over twenty-eight acres of urban farm land, employs twenty people, and teaches thousands of youth every year about growing and eating wholesome food.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Champagne and oysters at Highlands and walk next door to Chez Fon Fon for crab cakes. Try it. Call me if this answer doesn’t make sense. 

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Outstanding in the Field” featuring Frank Stitt at Jones Valley Urban Farm.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Good ol’ casserole with a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup topped with crackers.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried green tomatoes—why waste a good tomato? Sub in some tofu!

How could Southern cuisine improve?
What’s so wrong with something that tastes great, features local Southern ingredients, and isn’t deep-fried?

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Biscuits and gravy!

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Chicken and waffles.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Real butter. Farm-fresh eggs.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Good People!

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Grandma. Food Studio B—Sean Butler’s famous frozen yogurt with balsamic vinegar and olive oil!

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Kids that die of heart-related disease at sixteen in downtown Birmingham.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Robby Melvin, Salt Fine Catering. He walks the fields at Jones Valley Urban Farm before planning an event to decide what to prepare. Before the event, he comes back and helps harvest so he can take the ingredients back to his kitchen and prepare them immediately for eating. Lots of people talk about this. Robby actually does it!

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April McGreger

April McGreger is the proprietor of FARMER'S DAUGHTER, a farm-driven pickling and preserving business in Carrboro, North Carolina, and writes a food column by the same name for GRIST MAGAZINE. She is a leader in her local Slow Food chapter, where she is known to curate field-pea tastings. When not in the kitchen, she can usually be found reading Southern-diaspora literature, singing old Southern gospel, and playing the tenor banjo with her husband, Phil.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I plan to go out eating a big Southern-style vegetable plate. If I get lucky and my last meal falls on a Tuesday, you better believe I’ll have a heap of lard-fried chicken to go with that. Nobody does either better than Watershed Restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. Unless, however, it happens to be the height of summer and tomatoes, watermelon, and sweet corn are all in season, then I’d have to have to make my way to my favorite neighborhood restaurant Crook’s Corner for a the cold fried chicken picnic plate and a side of refreshing tomato-and-watermelon salad. If I’m lucky, Bill Smith will bring out a big bowl of wild blackberries, which he foraged along the Libba Cotten Bike Path, and fresh whipped cream for dessert.
 
What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Nothing moves me like my daddy’s fried crappie and onion-and-jalapeno-flecked hushpuppies cooked and eaten outside on the first warm night of a Mississippi spring. My father takes great pride in procuring my favorite fish and game for me when I come home these days and knows I can’t get them anywhere else. We’re sure to have plenty of ice-cold beer, crisp coleslaw, my homemade tartar sauce, and slabs of sweet onion to go alongside, as well as one or two of my mom’s cool and creamy desserts: strawberry layer cake, chocolate meringue pie, and banana pudding all being favorites.     

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Chicken and dumplings—the humble, rolled variety.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Barbecue from factory-farmed pigs, cooked over gas or electric, drowning in sweet sauce.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Less gimmick, more garden-fresh vegetables.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Fresh field peas cooked with whole okra pods and fatback with a side of thin and crispy cornbread. It tasted best when my granddaddy grew the peas and okra, but I still make it once a week during the height of summer. I love this dish so much that before I married my Yankee husband, I made sure he understood I never intended to live where field peas and okra wouldn’t grow.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
High-quality lard! Traditional Southern foodways were built on lard from healthy, rooting-and-roaming, pigs. They produced lard that was healthy, creamy white, and had a fresh scent. Lard from today’s supermarket is made from pigs raised in confinement and is abominable stuff. It’s partially hydrogenated and full of preservatives to make it shelf stable, and worst of all it smells like a wet dog. No wonder lard is nearly extinct in home kitchens.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Sorghum—I’ve smuggled it into many a restaurant for Sunday brunch.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I’m really excited about Durham, North Carolina-based Fullsteam Brewery’s plow-to-pint beers. They are going to be selling at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market with me this spring. I also love Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Their Valdez Coffee Stout was my beer of choice this winter.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Sugaree’s Bakery in New Albany, Mississippi. My family threw all reason to the wind and ordered three of their fresh coconut cakes when I was home for Christmas. Their caramel cake and red velvet cake are tops, too, as well as their five-pound chocolate meringue pie.  

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Honestly, this is one trend that I wish would just go away. I’m pretty bored with ironic food already. With complete sincerity, however, Dorie Sanders writes about deep-fried corn-on-the-cob, battered and rolled in corn flakes, as a celebratory corn-shucking supper food. I can get down with that.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
If I’m allowed to choose from past Southern chefs, I would have to say Edna Lewis. She was preaching the merits of doted-on, garden-raised vegetables a generation before Alice Waters and the Slow Food Movement. Miss Lewis also presented an incredibly beautiful, diverse and sophisticated selection of Southern recipes in her cookbooks that challenge the idea that Southern food is coarse, heavy, and inevitably fried. Of today’s chefs, I’d say Donald Link is someone whose style I most admire. He continues to be perfectly on trend: wood-fired oven, butcher shop, signature cocktails, seasonal house-made pickles and preserves, and a wine bar featuring a stellar, small-producer wine list; all the while putting his cultural identity and familial culinary traditions front and center. 

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
I think Jackson, Mississippi’s Mayflower Café or Hal & Mal’s Restaurant and Brewery could bottle their Comeback Dressing and put Hidden Valley Ranch out of business.

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Matt Mckiernan

Matt McKiernan, a resident of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, currently serves as the Marketing Director at Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Pepper's, Discovery Bay in Pass Christian, Mississippi. It was the all-time classic coastal joint with cheap beer, the freshest seafood and a great, local crowd with a killer jukebox. The evening would always start off laid back and then slowly progress into madness. Katrina swept it away, but if we're talking about my very least meal, I would probably build it back, have one last unforgettable experience and then bow out.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
This is impossible to answer, but I tend to like any place that serves drinks with the same passion as they serve their food. My best experiences at restaurants begin with several rounds before the meal. John Currence masters the art at Snackbar in Oxford.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Okra in most any form or style.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried pickles.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Tough to say, but I think we're good on the butter.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Boiled crawfish.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Hard to say...I'm a damn Yankee.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Soppin' gravy.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I am clearly partial here, but I'll take a pint of Lazy Magnolia Jefferson Stout just about any time of the day.

Who makes the best dessert?
Any grandmother who insists I still have some room for one piece of homemade pie.

Strangest food I've seen Southern fried?
I am really trying to figure out what I haven’t seen fried.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Chef Stephen Stryjewski and the crew at Cochon in New Orleans. They attempt things that are seemingly impossible and pull it off with style. And where else can you drink moonshine while dining on fried pig ears?

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
The world at large needs more greens. Southern-style greens to be exact.

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Moreton Neal

Moreton Neal explores the restaurants of North Carolina and beyond as the Food Editor of METRO MAGAZINE. A former restaurateur herself, she and her former husband, the late Bill Neal, founded La Résidence in Chapel Hill. After leaving the restaurant business, she co-hosted FOOD FORUM on WDNC radio. Moreton has written articles and restaurant reviews for various publications, and is the author of the memoir/cookbook, REMEMBERING BILL NEAL: A LIFE IN COOKING, and most recently, THE CHAPEL HILL FOOD LOVERS' GUIDE. 

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I'd want this meal to last a long, long time so it would require several courses. In my fantasy, each course would be prepared by the chefs of some of my favorite restaurants: Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, The Watershed in Atlanta, Peninsula Grill in Charleston, and Magnolia Grill in Durham. But more realistically, I would want to be closer to home dining at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill. I'd have Bill Smith's soft shell crabs with Pol Roger champagne, surrounded by folks I know and love.
 
What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
A recent multi-course tasting dinner with wine pairings at Herons in Cary, North Carolina, knocked my socks off. The new chef there, Scott Crawford, is an absolute wizard in the kitchen.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Any preparation of okra—fried, pickled, stewed or pan-roasted.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Chicken-fried steak.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
More wine and spirits used in cooking. Banana pudding tastes so much better flavored with rum, pecan pie with bourbon.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Collard greens cooked for at least an hour with onions and bacon.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Spoonbread.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Soft-shell crab po-boys made with New Orleans-style crunchy French bread.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Abita Turbo Dog.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Nancie McDermott, author of SOUTHERN CAKES and the upcoming SOUTHERN PIES.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Butter, and I don't recommend it.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Paul Prudhomme, who brought great Creole and Cajun food into the national spotlight in the early seventies before the American/Southern regional movement existed.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Any flavor of Farmer's Daughter Brand jams from the Carrboro Farmers' Market spread on one of my son's biscuits at Neal's Deli—heaven! Both the jams and biscuits are now available only in Carrboro, North Carolina.

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Michael Parker

Michael Parker is a North Carolina-based writer whose worked has appeared in THE IDAHO REVIEW, NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: 2003, and THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE. Parker won the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2006, and his novel HELLO DOWN THERE was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize in 1993. When not teaching at UNC-Greensboro, Parker participates in triathlons, which he says is a lot like writing fiction, only a little less sweaty. His most recent books include CAN'T FIND MY WAY HOME, DON'T MAKE ME STOP NOW, and IF YOU WANT ME TO STAY.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Beef Burger, Lee Street, Greensboro, North Carolina because eating there often will take you to the door of death.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Fresh Albemarle Sound oysters and Budweiser with my dad at a long-gone oyster shack in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Field peas, by God.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Grits, by God.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Stop it with the fancy grits already. And stop calling stuff “foodstuff.”

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Field peas with ketchup.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
I don't tend to eat popular.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Not sure what that means, “foodstuff.”

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I don't tend to eat "microbrew," either.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
My daughter swears by a pie at a barbecue hut in Burlington, North Carolina, near the turnoff to Graham.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
A girl I used to know deep-fried a pineapple. She was from Vietnam by way of Grand Rapids but it happened on Tate Street in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
There used to be a lady who made biscuits at this one Hardee's that deserves to be as famous as, I don't know, Taylor Swift?

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Margaret Holmes makes a mean canned field pea. I'd take her national myself if I had the wherewithal.

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Audrey Petty

Audrey Petty's stories and poems have appeared in such venues as STORYQUARTERLY and THE MASSACHUSETTS REVIEW, while her nonfiction has been in SAVEUR, THE SOUTHERN REVIEW, and the BEST FOOD WRITING: 2006. A native Chicagoan, Audrey teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I'd have to say City Grocery. Having spent extended time in Oxford, I’ve come to love City Grocery. I look forward to making my way there anytime I'm in the neighborhood to discover the menu of the season. The flavors of the offerings there are always fresh and harmonic. And the dining room is such an elegant, welcoming space. To top it off, John Currence (the head chef and owner) is a peach. For the occasion of my last meal, I'm guessing he'd let me hang out afterwards at the upstairs bar for a leisurely, potent digestif.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Treating my folks to a meal at Highlands in Birmingham. Years ago, the three of us took a long road trip together. The drive itself became a special occasion because we had all kinds of time to talk, and I was finally smart enough to ask them to remember things for me. I learned a lot about the Southern lives they'd lived before my time. One of our main destinations was my father's hometown of Parrish, Alabama. Parrish was a coal-mining camp when my father was a boy. And my father's father, John Hunter, was a miner there. After our visit to Parrish and another former coal town named Docena, we headed to nearby Birmingham for a two-nights' stay. We kicked off the visit with supper at Highlands. We started with champagne cocktails and settled in for an impeccable dining experience. The food was superb and the waitstaff was incredibly gracious. That night it seemed we had all the time in the world to notice our surroundings, to savor our food, and to simply relax. My father still remembers for me his entree from Highlands: Mississippi rabbit “with some kind of excellent fresh peas.”

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Pot likker.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Pecan pie (though I do love pecans).

How could Southern cuisine improve?
I need a lot more time to think on this one.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Fried catfish (with cornbread coating) and collards on the side.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
I've heard some good press about possum and taters.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Louisiana Hot Sauce.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I don't like beer much, but I'm partial to the sweet tea at Chanterelle's in Atlanta.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
A little rule-bending here: I have to give shout-outs to the Cake Man's velvet cake in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and to the caramel cake at Brown Sugar Bakery on the South Side of Chicago.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Pimento cheese. And, yes, I loved it.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
I'd have to say my mother. She's an all-star. She bakes well, she fries well, and she made me the unabashed chitlin-lover I am today. I'm forever astounded that during all of my childhood, she worked fulltime outside of the house and also regularly prepared from-scratch dinners for the five of us.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Burgers from Hamburger King in Montgomery.

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Richard T. Rauch

Born and raised around New Orleans, Richard T. Rauch lives along Bayou Lacombe in Southeast Louisiana and tests rockets for a living. Rick is a casual, make-out-as-best-you-can kind of cook, but finds few things sexier than "a woman commanding a stove." His work has appeared or will appear in QUIDDITY, THEMA, and THE ALEMBIC.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I hear Commander’s Palace is “to die for.”

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Tony Angello’s (New Orleans, near Bucktown). “Look, why dontcha just let Mr. Tony order for you…” then prepare for an extravaganza of off-the-menu samples of the best Southern/Creole Italian food on the planet.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Cat Head biscuits and white gravy (heavy on pepper and bacon grease).

How could Southern cuisine improve?
24/7 free delivery anywhere!

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Fried oyster po-boy (dressed, extra pickles).

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Baked short ribs with rutabagas.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Depending on the mood, Gulf Coast seafood, rib tips, or both.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Abita Amber from the Abita Brewery in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
My sweet mother, of course. (Thanks, Mom!)

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Fried Oreos for now, but I’m still waiting for someone to fry up an Oreo stuffed in a beignet.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Someone we haven’t heard of yet—you know, like writers.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Sweet Daddy’s (Mandeville, Louisiana) barbecue sauce and Miss Louise’s (Picayune, Mississippi) blueberry crunch.

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Brandon Reynolds

Brandon Reynolds has been in Los Angeles long enough to think "microgreen" is an insensitive term; he prefers "downsized foliage." An Annenberg Fellow at the University of Southern California studying biology and journalism, he is working on a thesis about how Fragile X and autism affect the workings of the brain and the family.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
The Salt Lick, a barbecue place (or perhaps better called a compound) outside of Austin. This is the place you swarm to—pile friends in a car, pile beer in a cooler, hurry out there, and get excited about the hour-plus wait. Because the cooler is with you. When you finally get your own picnic table, there's only one order—“All You Can Eat.” And onward come ribs and brisket and chicken and sausage and potato salad and sweet and savory things in endless profusion. You eat in joy with your friends, then in competition, then in pain. It's a true Texas debauchery, Hill-Country epicureanism. Caligula's smokehouse. Hell, I nearly die every time I go there anyway. Might as well finish the thing there.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Zeus Gallery in Richmond—a tiny place hiding the best steak I've ever eaten.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Fritos?

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Pork belly. I like some meat with my fat.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
That's for the law to decide. More crazy hybrids of “high” cuisine and Sunday supper menus, maybe. I like to be surprised by jalapeno cornbread in a white napkin kind of place.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Mac. And. Cheese.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Gosh, I don't know. I'd like to see brains and eggs on a few more menus, but mainly as a hangover dare.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
The corndog (though some dispute this—as a Southern food, not as my favorite foodstuff).

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Legend Brewery in Richmond puts out some excellent varieties—big, grown-up beers—and has one of the best views in the city.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Whomever my mother buys desserts from.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
The chicken-fried chicken, a Zen riddle. What is the sound of one hand frying?

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Richmond has this crazy-fertile food scene these days, and chefs and owners who are unafraid to play a high-stakes game with their menus. Of this group a favorite of mine is Todd Johnson at Mezzanine. Local ingredients, creative dishes, constantly changing menu, all run out of a postage-stamp of a kitchen. Plus he's a real nice guy.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Dr. Pepper made with cane sugar could stand to get out in the world a bit more.

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Jonathan Reynolds

Jonathan Reynolds is a lauded playwright, screenwriter, actor, and author. He is the recipient of Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundation grants as well as The Dramatists Guild Flora Roberts Award. Previously, he wrote a food column for THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE. His memoir, WRESTLING WITH GRAVY: A LIFE, WITH FOOD was published by Random House in 2006.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
A barbecue joint with a big kettle outside just east of the intersection of 421 and 21 in North Carolina.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Aunt Fanny’s Cabin, Smyrna, Georgia (long-since closed).

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Stone-ground grits made plain or with anything.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Blackened anything, but mostly fish.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Less flour, mo’ butter.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Galatoire's shrimp remoulade (but only if eaten at Galatoire's; the dish on its own isn't that exceptional—eating it at Galatoire's is).

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Wild (muddy) catfish.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Calhoun Bend Mill Peach Cobbler Mix, Libuse, Louisiana.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Dixie (well, “micro” compared to Budweiser).

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
I do.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
My wife's hand (by mistake, Your Honor, by mistake).

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Chatzie Kirk, Roaring Gap, North Carolina, because she can wing anything.

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Lee Richardson

After obtaining a psychology degree, Lee Richardson returned to his native New Orleans and immersed himself in the culinary arts. Working with such top-notch chefs as Kevin Graham, Emeril Lagasse, and John Besh, Lee eventually became Chef de Cuisine at Besh's celebrated Restaurant August. Katrina led Richardson to Little Rock, where he now leads a culinary tour de force at Ashley's in the Capital Hotel. Since the restaurant's opening in late 2007, he has been a three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South and has been featured in FOOD ARTS, GARDEN & GUN, BON APPÉTIT, and GOURMET.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Cochon Butcher in New Orleans. Putting myself into a coma with Donald Link's boudin would be about as blissful an end as I can think of.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you've had in the South?
Impossible to answer this. There's a beginning but no end. My grandmother's dressing and gravy; freshly boiled Louisiana blue crabs dripping down my arms as they're cracked; the full run of sweetbreads with artichokes and smoked bacon, pan-roasted squab with dirty rice, and port wine, and sublime crème brûlée ever at Anne Kearney's Peristyle!

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Cornbread, cracklings, pimento cheese, and, in general, catfish.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Does sweet tea count? Cheese dip (it's an Arkansas thing).

How could Southern cuisine improve?
I think Southern cuisine could stand resurrect some of the soul that has been lost to the fast life in the name of efficiency. It looks to be somewhat endangered by the fast-food giants. Honest cooking today can be hard to find without an iPhone and the informed guidance of John T. Edge. That, and we could bring back the lard.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Purple-hull peas with cornbread and pot likker.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Cracklings.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Steen’s Cane Syrup.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Diamond Bear Pale Ale (Little Rock), my favorite any kind of beer. I wish I could get Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale, too, though.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Tandra Watkins of Ashley's Restaurant, Capital Hotel and Capital Bar and Grill. Sounds biased, I know, but come try her answer to the “fluffernutter” and her pecan pie macaroons and I think she'll have you too!

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Turtle soup.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
This is impossible to answer for too many reasons to list, but I have to mention Frank Stitt and Ben and Karen Barker for pioneering the humility of Southern food into a respected fine dining arena; John Besh for finding an organic evolutionary departure from the confines of Louisiana's Cajun and Creole past to an unadulterated but new expression of its celebrated culture and natural resources; and Willie Mae Seaton for “holding her ground” and refusing to compromise her celebrated chicken-frying technique for the sake of expediency or volume.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Fried black-eyed peas.

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Sara Roahen

Sara Roahen is a writer and oral historian living in New Orleans. She wrote the memoir GUMBO TALES: FINDING MY PLACE AT THE NEW ORLEANS TABLE.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
If my last meal were today, Brigtsen's Restaurant in New Orleans. Because my last meal would have to include gumbo, and the rabbit gumbo there is some of the best on the planet. Plus, I could get a Sazerac, something with fresh Gulf shrimp, and pecan pie as well. I could die happy after that.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Probably a crawfish boil. Boils are as much about the experience—the sharing, the talking (or not), the teaching, and learning to peel and twist and suck, the community—as they are about the eating, and the eating at a boil is terrific.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Okra is underrated in places outside the South. How I subsisted for twenty-nine years without it in my regular diet I'm not sure.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
I don't get the whole MoonPie thing. Does that count as a dish?

How could Southern cuisine improve?
It could improve the lives of Northerners by spreading.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Red beans and rice. My heart would wither without it.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Coffee and chicory is on the wane, tragically.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
What does this mean, “foodstuff?” If I'm understanding the question, then my answer is either smoked sausage or Gulf shrimp. It's a tie.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
NOLA Blonde Ale, NOLA Brewing Co.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Ashley Hansen of Hansen's Sno-Bliz: cream of nectar sno-ball.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Southern-fried bacon is pretty strange. But so is Southern-fried sausage, which leads me to one of the best Southern creations: boudin balls.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock, for many reasons, including deep-fried peanuts in the shell.

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Dale Rice

Dale Rice is currently the director of Journalism Studies in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University, where he is in his second year of teaching. Prior to that, he spent thirty-five years in the journalism profession, including the last fifteen as a restaurant critic and wine writer for the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Royers Round Top Cafe in Round Top, Texas. My last meal would have to be on a Sunday, when Royer's serves a limited amount of the best buttermilk-and-garlic coated fried chicken to be found anywhere, accompanied by home-style bowls of mashed potato casserole and creamed corn, and topped off with a piece of Bud Royer's pie.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Dinner at Bayona in New Orleans, where Susan Spicer is a master in the kitchen.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Collard greens. A recent version cooked with bacon, onions, poblanos, a splash of vinegar, and a touch of brown sugar was heavenly.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Grits. Too many chefs seem to think they can throw anything into grits and call it a gourmet dish. They can't.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Reduce the amount of salt by a third, or half.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Barbecue.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Country ham.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Cornmeal/cornbread.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
St. Arnold of Houston.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe in Fredericksburg, Texas.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Deep-fried butter at the State Fair of Texas.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
It may sound strange, but the answer is Tyson Cole of Uchi, a sushi restaurant, in Austin. As FOOD & WINE magazine once noted, he marries the Japanese aesthetic with American ingredients (many of which are locally grown or produced) in a way no other chef has mastered.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
The beef jerky made by the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center at Texas A&M University.

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Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts beat up her first birthday cake (Angel Food tastes better that way). But she loved her vittles, really. She had farm kin, so they got fresh pork and fresh beef. One grandfather had a peach and pear orchard; the other grew sweet corn, greens, beans, and field peas. Tallahassee was a locavore's paradise—not that they knew what a locavore was. Lately she's interested in Cuban food (she's about to write a NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO essay about it, and she covered Cuban food in Florida for our first food issue), which she says the most Southern cuisine on earth. (Pig, sugarcane, corn: the three essentials for cooking in the old plantation cultures.) Other than that, she's just finished a novel (not about food) and is getting her tomato bed ready for summer.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
My last meal would start with raw bivalves at Boss Oyster Bar in Apalachicola, Florida. Then I’d drive up to Tallahassee to eat some black grouper, cheese grits and greens at Kool Beanz Café. Since it’s my last meal, I’d try to guilt them into giving me a free bottle of champagne.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
My pick hit sublime dining experience was in 2004 at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami. We had a big old table full of newspaper reporters and magazine journalists all trying to pull out crab meat and talk politics at the same time.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Underrated: mullet. It’s a beautiful fish, delicate when fried up fresh, dark and seductive when smoked. Red roe—now so rare I only get it when some kind fisherman gives me a few from a winter catch—is richly delicious. Your Beluga, your Sevruga—they’re fine. But give me a couple of mullet roe fried or steamed. That’s Christmas.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Overrated: barbecued ribs (all that gnawing for so much sauce on your face and so little meat).

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Outlaw use of canned soup in casseroles, even for funerals.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
I will not, I cannot, live without iced tea. Otherwise I would die of Diet Coke poisoning.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Bring back fried squirrel! We have plenty of the little varmints (digging up my yard, getting into my bird-feeder). Battered up right, squirrel tastes like chicken.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Obviously, my mother makes the best dessert in the South (sour cream pound cake that will knock you flat with joy). After her, it would have to be my friend Sydney Duncan’s Virginia mother, famous for her brown-sugar pound cake with cooked caramel icing. It’s pretty much the heroin of baked goods. One hit and you’re deliriously happy; two hits, you think you can fly; three hits and you’re begging and drooling.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Strange fried food: They’ve been known to deep-fry pizza in Scotland. Down in Florida’s Big Cypress Swamp, it’s exotic species. This old boy who last had a full set of teeth in 1972 and who assured me that anyone from North of the Caloosahatchee River qualified as a Yankee, liked to fry up python, Nile Monitor lizard, anything he found invading the indigenous ecosystem.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses from Thomasville, Georgia, and Register’s Sausage from Cottondale, Florida would, in a just universe, be available to all the people of America. But only if the terroir (Alert! Untranslatable French Word!) of Georgia goats and West Florida hogs could be replicated on a large scale. Which it can’t.

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Glenn Roberts

Glenn Roberts is President and CEO of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, a member of Slow Food USA Biodiversity Committee, and a founding member of the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans and Chefs. He founded Anson Mills in 1998 to address the loss of historic Southern heirloom mill goods like coarse fresh grits, new crop biscuit flour, and hand-pounded Carolina Gold Rice. In 2002, Anson Mills launched an international preservation effort to support research and repatriation of landrace grains and legumes threatened with extinction. Today, Anson Mills is the landrace grain seedsman for thirty organic farms in the US.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Geechee Girl Rice Café, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Valerie and her sisters are truly humble Lowountry cooks in the slow-hearth, black-iron traditions of Carolina farm cooking…you can taste three centuries of soul, pain, triumph, and honesty in every dish they prepare.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Rice Harvest Dinner at two P.M. in the late fall on the veranda of Middleburg House on the Cooper River…Mackie Hill and his family are true stewards of antebellum Southern foods.
 
What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Hominy stew from slow-cured acorn-masted pork, fresh hominy, fresh picked heirloom greens, chilies, and laurel.
 
What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried chicken from industrial chicken.
 
How could Southern cuisine improve?
Chefs and cooks should read about and collect oral histories of their unique local food traditions then work to achieve an elegant balance between those ideas and “modern” Southern cuisine.
 
What one Southern dish could you not live without?
The dish known as “Charleston Ice Cream”: simply local rice and fresh-churned sweet butter.
 
Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Benne rice bread.
 
What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Aged Carolina country ham.
 
What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Old Field Rogen Bier.
 
Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Michael Lata at FIG in Charleston, Sticky Sorghum Pudding. It’s British-Colonial food disguised as a mind-blowing, humble, modern dessert…it pushes every “crave” button.
 
What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Hot-sweet-cornmeal-crusted frozen lime Kool-Aid jelly…sorta like jelly bean attacks pastry chef in a psych ward.
 
Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock—Sean learns by growing most of his food himself, then developing dishes that reflect that farming experience in concepts that are remarkably tactile and close to the soil. Sean is also fearless in his ability to turn every ingredient he touches inside out in a careful and thoughtful way to heighten simple flavors and then make combinations of these transformed ingredients in a unique creative fashion to present dishes that inspire, surprise and give immense pleasure and comfort.
 
What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Carefully grown, high-quality, fresh-dug, boiled green peanuts simmered in the late afternoon and shipped overnight-air-early-morning-delivery anywhere in the USA, along with a chilled bottle of great tête du cuvée champagne. This is a perfect pairing of Southern flavors.

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Jim Ruland

Jim Ruland is the author of the short story collection, BIG LONESOME, and the host of the L.A.-based reading series, Vermin on the Mount. He lives in San Diego with his wife, the visual artist Nuvia Crisol Guerra. Once, while in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he ate pork ribs so divine he had to call home and tell about it.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Leatha's Barbecue in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I was dining alone and ordered a plate of pork ribs that was so good that I had to call someone in California and tell him about it.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
I wandered into a restaurant in New Orleans after a few too many beers. I don't remember the name of the place or what street it was on, but they served up some mighty fine yardbird.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Fried oysters.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Chicken-fried steak.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
By embracing more flavors from the other side of the Gulf of Mexico. I'm thinking pecan-crusted catfish with habanero salsa or ceviche on a bed of hominy grits....

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Fried chicken and biscuits, obviously.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Hush puppies. In Oaxaca, Mexico, they have a dish caled molotes, which are cigar-shpaed treats of fried corn mean stuffed with chorizo, beef, or potatoes. Hush puppies could make a comeback if infused with the right ingredients.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Vegetables. Defeats the whole purpose.


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Michael Schwartz

Chef Michael Schwartz, the man behind Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, the Miami dining sensation, is a 2009 nominee for the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South. NEW YORK TIMES's dining critic Frank Bruni included Michael's in his list of ten best new restaurants in the US, ranked fourth. Schwartz is a member of Slow Food Miami, on FOOD & WINE magazine's Grow for Good campaign committee, and part of the advisory board for Miami Dade College's new culinary arts program launching in August 2010.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Well, it would have to be barbecued pig. There’s this place called Po Pigs Bo-B-Q I heard about from road foodies Jane and Michael Stern. They’re only open Thursday through Sunday. It’s out of the way, about an hour Southwest of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s snout to tail, just the way to go.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Holeman & Finch Public House.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Green tomatoes with remoulade.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Barbecue is the best and the most overrated at the same time. It’s an artisanal craft. Not all barbecue is necessarily good barbecue.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Sticking to simple, traditional, down-home cooking rather than chefs trying to make it fancy.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Fried chicken.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Well, I’m not a Southern food historian by any means, but I am always interested in heirloom produce, especially tomatoes. So traditionally prepared dishes with indigenous ingredients like pumpkin and beans from old seeds would be at the top of my list.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
It’s hard to choose one thing, but let’s just say that there are two major things that Southern cuisine gets right. One, nothing goes to waste on the animal or from the ground, and two, the mastery of making those things otherwise unappetizing and likely to be overlooked taste delicious.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
How can you not say Abita?

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Joe’s Stone Crab’s key lime pie.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Chitlins. I’m all for eating all of the animal, but you have to admit the strangeness of eating that part.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Mike Lata at FIG in Charleston.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Mississippi Kool-Aid pickles. There’s something so wrong about these that they’re right.

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Robert St. John

Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef, author, columnist, and world-class eater. He owns the Purple Parrot Cafe and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and has released eight books in the last eight years.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I'd order the Five-Course Chef's Tasting Menu from the Purple Parrot Cafe because I could load it with our greatest-hits offerings from the last twenty-three years. I'd be able to have my friends and family there, too. So much of the dining experience has to do with the other people who are seated around the table. Great company and intriguing conversation always makes the food taste better.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
This will read as a very contrived, corny answer, but the plain truth is that the best meals of my life were served at my grandmother's table on Sundays when I was a child. She was an excellent cook and a very competent hostess. My love of all foods came from those meals. I have eaten all over this country from The French Laundry, to Charlie Trotter's to you-name-it in New York. I wouldn't trade all of those meals put together for another shot at sitting with my grandmother eating her leg of lamb.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Fresh Gulf blue crabmeat. One of my servers once told me, “People would eat a turd if you put enough crabmeat on top of it.”

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Grits. I'm as Southern as they come. I'm so Southern my great-grandmother was called Bubba (true story—petite little society lady from Nashville). But you've got to do a whole lot to grits to get me interested in eating them. A close second: Biscuits with that nasty, thick, milk gravy on top. Country ham and butter: Yes. Blackberry preserves: Yes. Milk, too much roux, and cheap sausage: No way.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
By becoming lighter and more local.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
My recipe for baked shrimp and squash.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
All of the old-line New Orleans baked crabmeat dishes are mostly good (“Crabmeat Maison” and the like). I reworked and updated that idea several years ago into a dish I call “Crabmeat Holleman” (after my daughter), which finds its way onto many of my menu items (or as a component in a dish).

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Seafood straight from the Gulf of Mexico, namely blue crabmeat, shrimp, oysters, speckled trout, and flounder.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I quit drinking twenty-six years ago, but our restaurant customers love all of the Lazy Magnolia beers from Brett Favre's hometown of Kiln, Mississippi, namely the Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale. We braise short ribs in it.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
The strawberry farmers in Pontchatoula, Louisiana.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
I haven't seen it, but every year I read about some guy deep-frying something new at the Texas State Fair. In years past he's deep-fried peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Last year he deep-fried Coca-Cola. I don't know how one goes about deep-frying a soft drink, and, in the end, I guess I don't want to know. This year he deep-fried butter. That's just wrong on so many levels.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
John Besh. For years he has led the charge on growing/raising local in the New Orleans area. A lot of chefs in the Crescent City are buying local. John is the only one I know with pigs, chickens, and a sizable garden behind one of his restaurants (La Provence).

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Allan Benton's sausage. Unfortunately, it can't be shipped out of Madisonville, Tennessee, unlike his bacon and ham. I load up an ice chest anytime I am within ninety miles of his smokehouse. It truly is a spiritual experience in a cast-iron skillet. Runner-up: the butter made at Smith Creamery in Mt. Hermon, Louisiana.

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Dana Shavin

Dana Shavin's essays have appeared in ALASKA QUARTERLY REVIEW, FOURTH GENRE, THE SUN, and PUERTO DEL SOL. Raised a conservative Jew, she dreams in pork rinds.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
My earliest restaurant memory is Aunt Fanny's Cabin in Smyrna, Georgia. Were it still in business, I would make it my last memory as well. Heaping platters of fried chicken, corn on the cob, and fried squash cemented an eight-year-old's vision of heaven as edible.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Table 2 in Chattanooga, celebrating a big event with my seven best friends. The waiter handed me a hot stone, a pearly slab of mahi mahi, and a bottle of wine. At least I think my friends were there.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
The softball-sized wood-grilled red cabbage wedges drizzled with anchovy cream at Canyon Grill in Rising Fawn, Georgia.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Red-eye gravy. From the name to the coffee grounds, it's just disturbing.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
It's exciting when traditional Southern foods flirt with other regional food trends in style, taste, and preparation methods. In short: Less fry, more flash!

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Cornbread. It’s what you eat when therapy stops working.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Since we Southerners are known for eating almost anything, I can’t imagine how bad a food had to be to fall out of favor. In which case, why shock it back to life?

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Pork rinds. Like Benicio del Toro and Javier Bardem, I've only had them in my dreams.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Highland Brewing Company, Asheville, North Carolina pale ale. In a glass. With cornbread.

Who makes the best dessert in the south?
The Baklava cheesecake at City Café Diner in Chattanooga is a personal favorite. Embarrassingly, so is the kettle corn at the Pensacola Art Festival.

What is the strangest food you’ve seen Southern-fried?
Alligator tail.

Who is the most groundbreaking southern chef you know and why?
Johnny Holland, Canyon Grill in Rising Fawn, Georgia. Creative foods like slash-and-burn catfish, grilled okra and red cabbage, and a blackened poblano-pepper appetizer with black beans, cilantro, and goat cheese.

What southern, independent, locally made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
My husband’s no-egg, cornmeal-dusted, fried okra should be sold in vending machines.

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David Shields

David Shields was born in D.C. in the height of the Cold War. His mother taught him to cook and how to see beauty. He's been a professor at Vassar, The Citadel, and the University of South Carolina.  Shields became an expert in the history of Southern agriculture and cooking.  He chairs the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation bringing heritage grains and vegetables back into commercial production. 

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Fulton Five in Charleston—an Italian restaurant, I know, but they roasted a free-range chicken perfectly one rainy evening when I sought shelter with my wife. It stopped time. Looked at Luci and she looked mighty fine. Felt the warmth of the room while the chilly rain streaked the big front window. A moment when you think there is balance, rightness, repose, and skill in life. Might need to be reminded of that at the end of things.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Since the home-cooking experiences are so fraught with associated emotions, I’ll limit myself to a restaurant meal. A stellar dinner at Elizabeth’s on 37th in Savannah sometime in 1999. and when the waiter asked my nine-year-old son what his favorite vegetable was, and he said sorrel, the kitchen staff went out into the garden, picked a bunch and made a salad just for him.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Boiled peanuts. Tasty, nutritious, and a surprisingly congenial accompaniment to ball-park beer.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Turducken: Factory chicken stuffed into factory duck, stuffed into freakish genetically engineered big-titty turkey and baked until the tryptophan ooze of the turkey suffuses the meat-wad into a sleepy nonentity.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Feed cows, pigs, and sheep on Southern sweet potatoes (like they do in China) instead of corn. Healthier animals, better-tasting meat, and richer soil for growing other vegetables.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Honeysuckle sorbet. Had it at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. The taste of childhood. Now I make it every spring.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Rice bread. I’m working hard to bring back other good stuff, such as benne and the rice pea.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
The best damn field peas on the planet are grown here. White Acres, Purple Hull Crowders, Sea Island Red Peas. You can go down to a feed and grain store and pick up a sixty-pound bag of iron and clay peas that corn farmers grow between rows to keep deer from stripping the fields, and cook those up. The deer like them for a reason. Best tasting cheap eats around.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I’m a wine drinker now.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Read my comment about honeysuckle sorbet. But I’ve had some killer fruit pies, bourbon-pecan pies, and caramel cakes prepared by some fine Southern women. My next door neighbor, Cassandra Crooks, made the best caramel cake I’ve eaten in the last thirty years this past Christmas.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
I have never learned to love the deep-fried dill pickle. First had one in New Orleans twenty-five years ago. Also the last time I had one.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock of Charleston—rethinking the tradition, but doing it right, growing his own vegetables, doing the research, and trying to keep what was most pleasing in the old flavor profiles.
 
What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Caw Caw Creek Country Prosciutto. Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice.

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Breck Speed

Breck Speed is Chairman and CEO of Mountain Valley Spring Water Company headquartered in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Mountain Valley, "America's Premium Water since 1871," is the oldest bottled water company in the United Sates and is headquartered in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  He is a member of the board of the International Bottled Water Association, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, and serves on a number of charitable boards.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
My last meal will be at McClard's BBQ in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where I will order the full portion of the tamale spread with cheese and onions and a sprinkling of Louisiana Hot Sauce. Normally I only order the half portion because the full is too much to eat but, what the heck, it's my last meal!

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
The best eating experience I've ever had (and continue to re-experience whenever possible!) is at Domilise's on Annunciation Street in New Orleans. Fried oyster po-boy, special sauce, linoleum tables, funky art, and a cold, long-necked Barq's root beer or Dixie Beer. The family lives in another room of the house.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Hominy is the most underrated Southern dish. Much more flavorful than grits.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Grits is the most overrated. It is good combined with other things but only because it is combined with other things. Kinda like poi in Hawaii.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Southern cuisine continues to improve as it moves away from “tump” dish standards and incorporates more and more fresh, locally grown food.

What one Southern dish could you not live without? 
I could live, but not happily, without purple hull peas.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Tamales are not widely identified as a Southern food but have been around for a long time. They could be more popular.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
My favorite microbrew is the local brewery in whichever town I'm in. Beer tastes best really fresh!

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
We are fortunate to have a lot of fabulous, ground-breaking chefs in the South. Lee Richardson at Ashley's in Little Rock, Linton Hopkins at Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, Frank Stitt at Highlands in Birmingham to name just a very few. I swear it isn't because they all serve Mountain Valley Spring Water!

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Frank Stitt

Frank Stitt's journey took him from Cullman, Alabama, to the legendary Chez Panisse in California. Stitt then worked in vineyards in Provence and Burgundy, and finally returned home to Alabama. His flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill, opened in 1982 and was recently nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the 2009 Outstanding Restaurant. Stitt received the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 for Outstanding Chef. His restaurants have been featured in the NEW YORK TIMES, GOURMET, and NEWSWEEK. He remains highly committed to the ideals of sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Highlands Bar and Grill, I love the food and the place.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Galatoire’s Sunday dinner.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Frogmore stew.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Pralines.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Fresher, local, heirloom vegetables.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Southern summer vegetable plate—boiled okra, fried okra, creamed corn, lady peas, greens, cornbread, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans cooked with onions and potatoes, butterbeans, fried green tomatoes, corn on the cob, and blackberry cobbler.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Poached pompano with crabmeat.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Gulf seafood—shrimp, crabs, soft shell crabs, pompano, speckled trout, oysters, gigged Apalachicola flounder.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Good People Brewing Co. Birmingham, Alabama.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Karen Barker, Magnolia Grill, Durham, North Carolina.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Pig lips.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Sean Brock—local ingredients with cutting-edge technology.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Spicy-bitch pimento and cheese.

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Susan Spicer

Susan Spicer began her career in New Orleans as an apprentice at the Louis XVI Restaurant. After working in Europe and California, Spicer opened Bayona in 1990 with partner Regina Keever. Bayona has been featured in numerous publications from FOOD & WINE, GOURMET, BON APPÉTIT, the NEW YORK TIMES and more. She was the recipient of the 1993 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast. Bayona received the highest rating from the TIMES-PICAYUNE. In 2008 Chef Spicer was inducted into FOOD & WINE's Best New Chef Hall of Fame.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Popeyes or Highlands Bar and Grill.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Maw-maw’s table.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Stewed okra, turtle soup, mirliton casserole.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Shrimp and grits, alligator.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
No answer. Perhaps, then, this is the answer—it doesn’t need to!

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Fried chicken, biscuits, boiled seafood, red beans and rice.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Old-style crawfish bisque.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Corn or pig: pickled pork cracklins, boiled peanuts.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Terrapin, (Athens, Georgia,) Abita (Abita Springs, Louisiana).

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Beignets from Café du Monde…pecan pie, sweet potato pies when it is Thanksgiving and you are at someone’s house…McKenzie’s—R.I.P. Buttermilk balls, and turtle cookies. King cakes from anywhere they are done right—and this is a very subjective thing—like Croissant d’Or, Cake Café (apple-and-goat-cheese-filled) and again, McKenzie’s. Bananas Foster from Brennan’s Restaurant.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Fried roast beef po-boy at Jacques-Imo's, chicken-skin po-boy at a sandwich shop no longer in business on the corner of Louisiana and Carondelet Street in New Orleans.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Frank Stitt and Justin Wilson.

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John Martin Taylor

John Martin Taylor, aka "Hoppin' John," is a Southern food writer, culinary historian, and purveyor of stone-ground corn. He was born in Louisiana but moved to the South Carolina low country as a toddler. In 1986, he opened his culinary bookstore, Hoppin' John's in South Carolina. He closed the storefront in 1999 to concentrate on his writing, consulting, and his website, HoppinJohns.com. He was a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and is considered the expert on Lowcountry foods. Since 2004, Taylor has lived with his partner of seventeen years in Washington, D.C.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Frank Stitt's Highlands, because if I'm dying, I'm guessing I also won't be cooking, so I would want the things dear to me, and Frank's cooking is most like mine.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Gathering my own oysters in Lowcountry estuaries in the ’60s. No people, no pollution, just gorgeous, ten-inch-long, meaty, briny oysters garnished only by the glint of the January sun.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Truly Southern cornbread made in a cast-iron skillet with whole-grain corn and no sugar or wheat flour. Must everyone mess it up by adding a bunch of crap to it?!

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Most casseroles, including mac and cheese.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
By using classic techniques with our beautiful local produce, game, and seafood. If I hear one more foodie praise the supposed virtues of store-bought mayonnaise and/or Coke (the one filled with soy oil—nasty stuff—and the other with corn syrup), I'll die.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Long-grain rice cooked just about any way—in pilaf, jambalaya, with Country Captain Chicken, with shrimp Creole, with fried chicken and gravy.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Jellied-meat dishes such as boeuf en daube glacé and many-layered cakes such as a caramel cake. They may be still be popular, but you pray to find someone who bothers to use calves' feet in their daubes or who doesn't use powdered sugar in their icings.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Stone-ground corn.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
I stopped drinking beer years ago, though I lived on the stuff in college.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
I've never had better than my own, but I also almost never eat desserts while dining out. They're usually too sweet and too rich for me. Plus, I rarely eat in self-proclaimed Southern restaurants.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
I wrote a book on frying, and believe me, I've seen it all. You probably don't want to know the weirdest foods I've seen fried, but I count rats among them.

Who is the most groundbreaking Southern chef you know and why?
I guess I would have to say Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski because the ground they broke was the return to tradition, for which I have been pleading for decades. Whole-hog cookery has taken off all over the country, but at Herbsaint and Cochon, it's heirloom cooking.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
I've never had grits and cornmeal better than my own, and they have won every taste test they've ever been in. Over twenty years ago Chuck Williams tried to get me to sell him my grits and cornmeal, but there's no way our supplies could match the demand. That's why it's so good: Everything about our operation is artisanal. Sacrificing quality for quantity wouldn't make any sense. It's like fresh figs: You just gotta enjoy them while you can. I've never had anything better than a fresh Southern fig, but so much of the magic is waiting for that window in July and August when they're available. The great thing about the South is its incredibly long growing season and its widely varied terrain. I eat shad in the spring and oysters in the winter. Corn in the summer and melons in the early fall. My heirloom corn is grown in hollers in Appalachia. Would it taste the same if we had it planted elsewhere? Probably not. Taste a glass of Meursault alongside a chardonnay grown anywhere else. It's no different with corn.

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Wright Thompson

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN THE MAGAZINE. He lives with his wife, Sonia, in Oxford, Mississippi, and prefers whiskey, because "beer is for Yankees."

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Abe's BBQ, Clarksdale. Big Abe Chili Cheeseburger. Not because it's the best place, or the oldest place, or the most famous place, but because it's my place. It tastes like home.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Anytime you get a big group of people at Doe’s. Beer bottles piling up, plates of hot tamales, and big thick steaks. It's the closest we'll ever get to seeing our grandparents as young adults.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Bojangles' chicken biscuits. It's the only reason to fly through Charlotte.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried catfish from Taylor in Oxford. I'm sorry. I just don't think it's that good. It is certainly not Middendorf’s.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
More pig.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Pimento-cheese sandwiches.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Well, I'd argue the hot tamale. They used to be much more of a staple.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Coffee with chicory.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Beer is for Yankees. Drink whiskey. Seriously. The fetishizing of beer is my least favorite trend of the past twenty years.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Commander's Palace, baby.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Coca-cola.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
John Currence. His riffs on fair food show his love for the simple and his familiarity with the complex. The man's a genius.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
That's easy. The Mayflower’s Comeback Dressing. God, I wish I could load that in a syringe and take it straight to an artery.

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Shane Touhy

Shane Touhy was born and raised in Dalton, Georgia. He attended Presbyterian College, before moving on to culinary school at Johnson and Wales in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1998, he opened a casual, Chicago-style steakhouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, called Mickey and Mooch. In 2000, he took over the kitchen as Executive Chef at Blue Ridge Grill in Atlanta. He opened his first Atlanta restaurant, Dogwood, in 2008, on Atlanta's most celebrated street, Peachtree Street, just a couple of blocks south of the famed Fabulous Fox Theater. 

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
My own. Dogwood. That way, the last thing I would be doing, is something I love. Cooking.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
My sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Eating oysters on the half by the Intracoastal waterway at Palmetto Bluff Resort. It was sunset and the oysters were awesome!

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Grits!

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Pecan Pie.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
It can’t. It’s perfect!

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Peel-and-eat shrimp with a beer in hand and flip-flops.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Brunswick stew.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Anything pig.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Sweetwater Georgia Brown.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Mercier Orchards’s fried pies (Blue Ridge, Georgia).

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Bacon or a Twinkie.   

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Frank Stitt from Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. Great use of local products and straightforward flavor profiles. He lets the flavor of the food really shine.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
The fried pies from Mercier Orchards, again. Great pies!

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Brad Watson

Brad Watson teaches at the University of Wyoming. His books are LAST DAYS OF THE DOG-MEN, THE HEAVEN OF MERCURY, and ALIENS IN THE PRIME OF THEIR LIVES.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Raw oysters at Felix's—take some oysters with me.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
The one in my article.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Ground-beef, baked-bean, onion, and garlic casserole.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Oysters, not raw or fried.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Don’t fancy up traditional dishes.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Collards.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Deep-fried pork tenderloin on a bun with ketchup, mustard, and pickles.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Fresh tomatoes.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Mountain oysters.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
The old-timey, greasy hot tamale.

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Liz Williams

Liz Williams grew up fascinated that the lure of nutmeg and peppercorns motivated the exploration of the world.  Through a cosmic mistake, she became a lawyer. Now she is President of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Her writing centers on legal and policy issues related to food and foodways. She believes in eating well.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
There isn't just one restaurant that could create my last meal. I would have to cherry-pick from many restaurants, plus make a few dishes at home. I would also invite lots of my friends to share this experience, as well as have very good music. I prefer to think of this as my celebration instead of a funeral.

I would begin with a Sazerac served cocktail-party style as I milled about talking to friends. Being passed would be soufflé potatoes from Antoine’s, and small slices of po-boys, all dressed. Roast beef ones from Parkway Bakery, meatball po-boys from Domilise's, and peacemakers from Casamentos. All in New Orleans. We would then sit down at the table. Start with the turtle soup from Commander's Palace. Bread, which keeps appearing on the table, would be several different types, Leidenheimer's French bread, good cornbread from Dooky Chase's, and butter from Smith's Creamery. Then I would have soft-shell crabs that I sautee myself. I like the way I cook them, topped with chopped capers and lemon juice. I would also serve them with my olive salad that includes very thinly sliced whole lemons, artichoke hearts and lots of black olives, anchovies, and capers. The bread would be dipped in the oil that leaks out of the salad. Also, I would have made roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic and toasted pecans. (I love Brussels sprouts). I would have my grandmother's lasagna. I would have anything with oysters from Acadiana in Washington, D.C. I would have a cheese course with French bread from the Boulangerie in New Orleans or from Susan Spicer's Wild Flour Bakery. Lots of Gorgonzola. Then I would have fresh figs and Creole cream cheese. I would have the house wine of the South, iced tea without sugar. I hate sweet tea. It makes me gag and hurts my teeth. I might have sipping bourbon after dinner, maybe Woodford Reserve. Then I would have a cup of coffee and chicory. I die smiling.


What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Eating at my grandmother's table.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Grits.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Kool-Aid pickles.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
Just keep evolving. Don't get so tied to the past that the cuisine dies because it has stopped evolving.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Soft-shell crab po-boy.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Lard.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Creole tomatoes.

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Virginia Willis

Virginia Willis is the author of the acclaimed cookbook BON APPÉTIT, Y'ALL: RECIPES AND STORIES FROM THREE GENERATIONS OF SOUTHERN COOKING. A graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne, she previously honed her attention to detail as the kitchen director for MARTHA STEWART LIVING TELEVISION, where she supervised the food segments. Other television credits include EPICURIOUS, THE MAIN INGREDIENT WITH BOBBY FLAY, SHIRLEY CORRIHER'S KITCHEN SECRETS REVEALED! and NATHALIE DUPREE. Her articles have appeared in COUNTRY LIVING, FAMILY FUN, and EATING WELL.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
I'm not too sure I'd want to go out to dinner for my last meal! I think I'd rather get in the kitchen.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Cornbread and cabbage with fried fatback. It was a pantry meal for my grandmother, whom I called Meme. She always had cornmeal and generally always had a head of cabbage and a piece of fatback. Sensational.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Fried Green Tomatoes. Granted, yes, they are delicious, but there's this whole effort to make napoleons out of them, slather them together with atrocities such as chipotle pepper pimento cheese and drizzle them with red pepper coulis. Stop it. Leave the poor things alone. They are best eaten off the brown paper sack that they should drain on adjacent to the cast-iron skillet in which they were fried.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
I actually think we're on the right track. There's increasingly more Southern chefs and authors returning to the food of our grandparents. Chefs are working with farmers bringing back the heritage breeds and the heirloom varieties. We are focusing on local food sheds and what is sustainable, nutritious, wholesome, and good. We need less “Syscofication,” less homogeny and more regional and local. And, we're doing it.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Hands down: fried chicken—without a doubt. It's in my soul.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Souse or head-cheese. My grandfather made it when I was growing up. I thought it was gruesome, the head bobbing in the cast-iron skillet. It was only when I went to France that I learned to love fromage de tête. I think it would be wildly popular with the whole-animal eaters.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
I've been buying Elliot pecans from Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Georgia for over ten years. They are perfect, petite balls of pecan fat and absolutely indispensable in my Southern pantry.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
The Very Good Chocolate Cake with a glass of milk from Watershed has to be on that list.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Frankly, I am tired of this obsession. It also further contributes to the idiotic notion that Southern food is nothing more than fried foods and overcooked vegetables, a mass of unhealthy, fat-laden meals that contributes to our absurd statistics on obesity and heart disease. Anything can be fried. It doesn't mean it should be.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
Patrick O'Connell from the Inn at Little Washington.

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Tandy Wilson

After graduating from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tandy Wilson attended the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. After a year of culinary training, he worked at the world-famous Tra Vigne restaurant in St. Helena, California. Wilson traveled to Italy to explore regional Italian cooking. Wilson returned home and opened City House in Nashville's historic Germantown district in December 2007. He has been a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance for the past two years and is frequently involved with local and regional culinary activities.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Martin's BBQ, the wings in Alabama white sauce are the best I've ever had and I love wings, not to mention everything is delicious.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Pig tails—too many bits are left out nowadays, and the tails fall into that category for sure. I love them cooked moist until tender and then fried crispy. They might come from the backside but enjoying them is eating high on the hog.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
I hate to take the easy way out on this one, but I have to. The most overrated Southern food is anything that is mass-produced without the heart and soul of a grandmother. Y'all know what I'm talking about every bad pimento cheese, fried chicken, and cornbread—to mention a few—just plain suck when you cannot taste the love.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
I think that Southern cuisine can improve if we look into the rearview mirror as much as we look out the windshield. We, as a culture, must never forget what has gotten us to where we are. We are cool in our way, in a rocking-chair style, not in a big-city-doing-the-new-thing fashion.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
 Cornbread, I don't think that I have to say any more.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Ice-box rolls. I'm not saying that they are dead, but too many come out of the freezer these days.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Buttermilk. I'm not talking about that the crap from the grocery store—I mean real buttermilk. It is so important in sweet and savory uses across the board.

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Yazoo Hefeweizen. Not only is it a great beer on a hot summer day, it is a fantastic food beer and it is from my hometown.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
This is the South. We are allowed to fry anything at any time for any reason, it's a birthright.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
I'm a Southern chef and have many friends that are as well; I don't think I should answer this one.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
I think that we have so many items that could fall into this category, but I think we should make the rest of the world come to us.

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Linda Wyman

Linda Wyman grew up in West Point, Mississippi, did graduate work at George Peabody College in Nashville, and for many years has taught English at Lincoln University in Missouri.  She says, "Southern cooks have an insistence on food that is delectable-even when it is healthful."  In addition to poetry and food, she has a passion for theatre, an appetite which she satisfies with twice-yearly trips to London.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Sorry—I understand the point of the a question, but I wouldn't go to any restaurant.  I'd have shrimp Creole prepared by my brother-in-law, Paul Portera, because I know of no restaurant that has food that good.
 
What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
Regina Lorenz's Chianti chicken, Blacksmith Shop Café, Westphalia, Missouri.
 
What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Pimento cheese.  I was shocked to discover that there are people who have never tasted it.
 
What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Sweet-potato pie, or anything with red-eye gravy.
 
What one Southern dish could you not live without?
Turnip greens.
 
Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Deviled eggs!
 
What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Sage dressing.
 
Who makes the best dessert in the South?
My Aunt Kitty's banana pudding (my mother's boiled custard is a close second).
 
What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Kudzu, at Mo'Suga's, Grenada, Mississippi.
 
What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Regina's celery seed salad dressing.

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Joe York

Joe York works at the University of Mississippi's Media and Documentary Projects Center, where he produces documentary films for the Southern Foodways Alliance.

From which Southern restaurant would you order your last meal and why?
Arnold's Country Kitchen in Nashville, TN, because I've never eaten anything there I didn't love and because I imagine it's the kind of place that would be fine with a dying man going back for fifths.

What is the single best dining/eating experience you’ve had in the South?
If I was the only living member of my entire family, I still wouldn't answer this question.

What is the most underrated Southern dish?
Creamed corn: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

What is the most overrated Southern dish?
Any dish that employs “salad” to form a compound word. Also, most casseroles.

How could Southern cuisine improve?
More butter, less charcoal.

What one Southern dish could you not live without?
My grandmother's cornbread.

Is there a Southern food that is no longer popular that should be resurrected?
Squirrel.

What is your favorite Southern foodstuff?
Louisiana Hot Sauce. Honorable mention: Dale's Sauce (aka Alabama Umami).

What is your favorite Southern microbrew?
Lazy Magnolia's Indian Summer.

Who makes the best dessert in the South?
Caramel cake from Sugaree's Bakery in New Albany, Mississippi.

What is the strangest food you've seen Southern-fried?
Pimento cheese.

Who is the most ground-breaking Southern chef you know and why?
I'm going to take “ground-breaking” literally and go with John Currence of City Grocery for his inspiring commitment to the rebuilding of Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans. I am certainly biased here, but I do believe that saving good food is at least as important as making good food. John has done more than his share of both.

What Southern independent, locally-made foodstuff is so good it should be available and popular nationwide?
Cruze Farm Buttermilk from Knoxville, Tennessee. Honorable mention: L.L. Lanier & Son's Tupelo Honey from Wewahitchka, Florida.

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