Growing up in the South, food was always at the forefront of family gatherings. It’s what solidified the event and made the experience memorable outside of spending time with the ones you love. For my grandparents, I believe it was more about seeing their loved ones enjoy the fruits of their labors than the food itself.
I remember weekends in Lexington, Tenn., when my Gran would spend hours in the kitchen cooking every traditional Southern dish you could ever want. And memories in Seymour, when my Mamaw would somehow make the world’s best pimento cheese on white bread with a side of pickles. After playing outside with my brother, I would come to the kitchen and sit on her stool at the countertop as she sat and watched me eat.
Looking back, I don’t remember her ever eating with me. She would simply watch me, smiling, and carrying on a conversation about what my brother and I were up to outside.
It wasn’t until food became a passion and the center of my career that I realized that the joy of watching me eat her creation was far greater than the food itself. There aren’t many things in life more satisfying than watching someone truly enjoy your work. As the culinary head of a large restaurant, my servers and Sous chefs alike would make fun of me for peeking over the service wall at our guests to get a quick glimpse of them eating after a new seasonal menu launch.
If you’ve never had that experience with food, as the creator or facilitator, I’d like to help aid in giving you that today.
My trifecta of a Southern appetizer, according to my wife: Pimento Cheese with Bacon Marmalade and Bread & Butter Pickles.
Chefs obsess over balance. We always want to achieve the perfect combination on every plate, in every bite. In this recipe the marriage of rich cheese, sweet and savory marmalade and vinegar, onion and mustard-soaked cucumbers will give you a balance for which every Chef or home cook longs.
This trio was on one of my menus years ago, served layered in a Mason jar. That menu was in Seattle, Wash., and watching these Pacific Northwesterners eat this dish never failed to bring me joy — the uncertainty of what they just ordered; the surprise of the first bite; the request for more toast so they could scoop every last bit from the bottom of the jar.
I hope you find joy in cooking and eating these recipes and even greater joy watching your friends and family eat them.
Enjoy these recipes as a cohesive dish, separately, or to accompany your favorite Southern meal. (Fried chicken and Bacon Marmalade? Yes, please!)
Brett grew up in Knoxville and now lives in Seattle with his wife and two children. He has been an Executive Chef for the better part of his career and continues to work in culinary arts across the country.