ArtsMemphis goes on the hunt - inside the kitchens of Mid-South hunting clubs.
Chef Karen Carrier with cook Emma Lincoln at Quail Hollow as pictured in Wild Abundance.
That was the idea when ArtsMemphis, as a further fund-raising effort, was scouting for book ideas following the organization's beautifully executed First Shooting Light, which focused on Mid-South hunting clubs, the landscape, the wildlife, and the hunters themselves (as captured by Memphis photographer Murray Riss).
Wild Abundance, edited by Susan Schadt of ArtsMemphis and photographed by Memphis-based Lisa Buser (with additional images by Will Smith, Murray Riss, and Michael Juiliano), is subtitled "Ritual, Revelry & Recipes of the South's Finest Hunting Clubs," so you can call it anthology — an anthology of stories and images spotlighting the sportsmanship and friendship that exist among these hunters (and revelers and feasters). But it's an anthology of the South's prize chefs too (John Besh, John Currence, Derek Emerson, Martha Foose, Donald Link, and Lee Richardson), in addition to three of Memphis's finest: Karen Carrier, Kelly English, and Alex Grisanti.
Who are the cooks here? If you frequent the Memphis Hunt & Polo Club, you may recognize its executive chef, Kevin Shockency, who mans the kitchen at the Circle T hunting club in Arkansas on special occasions. But Rosie Mae Brown (with help from Annie B. Hogan), Emma Lincoln, Sylvia Hebert Nolan, Chris Robinson, Rebecca Sims, Betty Jean Williams, Vera Williams, and Blair Zuschlag? They're the women and men preparing the food, working the ovens and stovetops, and making damn sure not a hunter goes hungry during the season. They're also the cooks showing the invited chefs a thing or two.
The sugar that Betty Jean Williams adds to her white bean stew? It smoothes out the flavors, or, as Williams said, "takes the whang out of it."
And it doesn't stop with white bean stew. New Orleans chef John Besh may supply the foie gras stuffed duck and another New Orleans chef, Donald Link, may handle the preparation of duck confit, but it's recipes for cornbread, turnip greens, and smothered pork belly that you'll also find in the pages of Wild Abundance. Not to mention stories — stories from the chefs recalling their own upbringing and the simpler, down-home food they ate; stories from club owners and members recalling favorite dishes and times and saluting the cooks in the kitchen, be those kitchens small-scale or industrial-size; and stories from the cooks themselves, who made "local" and "sustainable" not today's buzzwords but a way of life — of life lived off the land, in season and just caught or bagged or harvested.
You'll be treated too to the dangers of late-night "frogging." (Careful to go for the tiny marble white eyes. The red eyes belong to 'gators.) To a dog named Blinky, who can tell crappie (for people to eat) from bass (for Blinky to eat). And to another dog, named Tuff, who bounded onto the dinner table after mistaking a cue from Lila Sessums, member of the all-female Ward Lake Hunting Club in Mississippi.
"The idea of celebrating the kitchens of the hunting clubs was a natural evolution from First Shooting Light," Susan Schadt said, just as she readied Wild Abundance to arrive in stores in late October. "There's a big move to local, sustainable farming. What could be more local than the food being prepared in these hunting camps?"
It's an idea that the chefs in Wild Abundance share. The big question was: Would these professionals have the time to devote to the project?
"These chefs had to travel to the camps, prepare dishes, or help out in the kitchen, spend time away from their own kitchens," Schadt said. "Then they had to write about the experience, record the recipes, tells us about the recipes. And now they're part of the parties promoting the book. They really want to make a tribute to the bounty that the lands provides."
And as for those cooks?
According to Schadt, "We told our invited chefs, 'Let's let the time-honored cooks shine.' But some of those hunting-club cooks were wondering, What's going on in my kitchen? Here's this fancy chef.
"So there was a little 'dancing' around at first. We stepped back. We let the process take its course. But you can see how the relationship between chef and cook grew, got closer. And for that I wanted documentation. I wanted the photographs to capture the people, their spirit. Lisa Buser had the time of her life. Most of her shots are candid to capture the spontaneity."
Those shots numbered close to 9,000. The finished book contains more than 250 of them. The number of recipes featured: more than 80. Presales of the book, off wildabundancecookbook.com, on the site's opening day: $7,000 at $45 a copy. That plus ringing endorsements from writer Julia Reed, food writer Molly O'Neill, Birmingham chef Frank Stitt, and Eli Manning (who is shown in the book visiting Fighting Bayou hunt club in the Mississippi Delta).
All of which makes Susan Schadt that much more pleased and grateful.
"We at ArtsMemphis couldn't have made this happen without the club owners and members opening their private retreats, their traditions, their lands. I want to thank again these chefs for giving up their valuable time. But the real stars of Wild Abundance are the cooks."
The Basics: In 2007, Memphian, Cordon Bleu graduate, restaurateur, and food writer Jennifer Chandler made salads a cinch with Simply Salads, a book that featured recipes using prepackaged greens. Now she's followed that book up with what comes after salad in American households, supper, in a book called Simply Suppers: Easy Comfort Food Your Whole Family Will Love (Thomas Nelson).
The scrumptious photographs are by Natalie Root of New Orleans, but the recipes — for soups, entrees, side dishes, and desserts — are mostly Chandler's, including 30 time-tested favorites you can make in 30 minutes, 10 leftover chicken makeovers, and 20 freezer go-to's, which promise to make life easier in the kitchen and maybe get your loved ones to sit down and eat as one family. And what's not to love? Chicken a la King (and not from a can), mac-and-cheese ("with a twist"), green bean casserole (raised to new heights using haricots verts, pecans and cheddar cheese), and banana pudding (in pie form). More basic than those basics, though, are the book's recipes for chicken stock, tomato sauce, pie crust, and other essentials.
But if the recipes here are Chandler's, she gives credit where credit's due: The blackened catfish borrows from Soul Fish; the Grove Grill inspired the shrimp and grits; the pasta carbonara is an interpretation of the Rendezvous'; the tuna melt owes to Alyce Mantia; the recipe for yellow squash casserole belongs to Linda Cornish, founding board member of the Memphis Farmers Market; and the glazed lemon pound cake won Chandler's friend Kristen Keegan a "best in show" award at the Mid-South Fair. The smothered pork chops? They're not like mom used to make. They are what Mom used to make — the mom being Jennifer Chandler's.