This week on Special Sauce my guest is the great Southern food chronicler John T. Edge. I've been discussing food as seen through the lenses of race, class, and ethnicity with John T. for almost 20 years now (no one, not even his wife, calls him just "John"). So when I heard that his magnum opus, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, had been published, I knew it was the perfect excuse to continue our discussion, but with both of us miked up.
As usual, John T. has plenty to say regarding the issues he has devoted his life to writing about. He describes his work as a kind of settling of debts, particularly with those who have given so much to him, even as they remained nameless. As he says, "The South is a place to parse out racism and its impact. I grew up not knowing the name of the BBQ pit masters who worked the pits at my favorite place just down the road. I loved Miss Colter, the owner, I can tell you what her face looks right now, I can picture that kind of serious gray curls on top of her head. But I don't know the names of the men who actually cooked the BBQ I grew up loving. And that recognition has driven me throughout my career as a writer."
Check out this episode of Special Sauce, which is, in the best Southern tradition, drenched in both redeye gravy and provocative notions, thanks to my friend John T. And tune in next week when he and I take a deep dive into The Potlikker Papers, which is a must-read for all Serious Eaters.
Last week's episode of Special Sauce ended with Michel Nischan and I discussing his groundbreaking restaurant, Heartbeat, and his efforts to serve food that was healthy and actually delicious.
This week we pick up where we left off and talk about how leaving Heartbeat led to Michel becoming a trailblazing sustainable food consultant for major airlines, hotel groups, and corporations looking to develop healthier menus by sourcing better, organic ingredients. It was this consulting work that led him to develop a friendship and partnership with the late actor, entrepreneur, and activist, Paul Newman, with whom he operated the former farm-to-table Dressing Room Restaurant in Westport, CT. Michel and Newman hit it off, in part, because Michel hadn't seen any of his movies. "One day he finally said, 'Have you seen any of my movies?' I said, 'I've seen <em>Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid</em>.'" Newman looked at him a moment and then replied, "I knew I liked you for a reason."
Newman also served as the catalyst for Michel to found his remarkable nonprofit, <a href="http://www.wholesomewave.org/">Wholesome Wave</a>, the goal of which is to increase access to healthy, locally and regionally grown food in underserved communities. Michel discusses the nonprofit's remarkable growth, and describes—with much-deserved pride—its accomplishments, like influencing the 2014 Farm Bill for the better.
There's a whole lot more to our discussion, including Michel's thoughts on ways to get involved in fighting for iamportant food policy issues, and of course the usual grab-bag of Special Sauce questions. I do hope you listen; Michel is doing admirable work.
This week on Special Sauce, I have as my guest my old friend, Michel Nischan, the three-time James Beard award-winning chef, author, and food equity advocate. Michel's a busy guy. Between his work as the founder and CEO of Wholesome Wave, which aims to increase affordable, healthy food access for underserved consumers, and his work with the Chef's Action Network, which he co-founded, he doesn't have a lot of free time, so I'm delighted that he had the time to join me.
Michel has had a long and storied career, so we've broken up the interview into two parts. This week we focus on his origins, and how he went from being a broke, teenager playing music with some legendary names–think The Edgar Winter Band and Rick Derringer–to becoming a kind of savant line cook, due to ample exposure to good cooking at home. At his first job at a truck stop diner, he took one look at the griddle and all the breakfast meats and proposed to the owner that they make biscuits and gravy from scratch. "The guy thought I was stoned or something."
From there, he worked his way through a number of kitchens in the late 1970s and the '80s, moving every time he was given an incremental wage increase. "Two bucks more an hour in 1979 is like, wow. Sold."
But it wasn't until he started cooking at Heartbeat in New York City that he connected all the disparate elements of his life and career and began producing food that was way ahead of its time; healthy, yet still tasty. I do hope you take the time to listen to Michel's incredible story–particularly since he embodies the ideal of chefs who care about the people they cook for. And this week is just about his restaurant career; next week we'll get into how he's trying change the world.