Today I’m excited to bring you more from the Chef Lee Richardson who’s featured in this month’s Style Feature. He’s the mastermind behind the fabulous food at Ashley’s at Little Rock’s Capital Hotel.
Chef graciously took the time to answer a few questions for the readers of Tobi’s Blog. Check it out:
TF: What inspired you to become a chef?
LR: I’ve always been really turned on by variety and adventure at mealtime. I started deer and duck hunting with my grandfather when I was six year old; getting that stuff to the plate was always very exciting to me. My grandmother’s cooking was so good. I always told her she should have a restaurant. In college, I started cooking for my friends; everyone else brought beer to parties; I brought gumbo! I really enjoyed adding to the creation of a good time; that’s when it really started to get into me to take the path I’ve taken.
TF: You’ve described your cooking style as “New Americana Cuisine.” The readers of Tobi’s Blog would love to hear your description of this!
LR: New Americana is a very deliberate, and otherwise almost unspoken arrangement of words. In a broader context, it would fall into “contemporary regional American,” but what I do is more than contemporary and it isn’t really with a twist or kicked up a notch, so to speak. With the New Americana Cuisine idea I mean first to honor, celebrate and curate our past. We have a lot of iconic food traditions that define our culture. These things nourish both our bodies and our souls. They comfort, heal and make us happy. But I’m watching our culture, food in particular, give way to commercial exploitation in a model which strongly favors efficiency over substance or quality. More and more, a tomato is never picked ripe and southern greens and beans come from a can. This evolution of commerce has a market trading on the reputation of these products and preparation when they were something entirely different than that which is being delivered today. My celebration of Americana is to find my way back to the time before many of these cultural expressions developed. I’m taking cornbread back to freshly milled corn and I’m rejecting big agriculture’s genetically modified produce. In a sense, all I’m really trying to do is get back to cooking the old fashioned way, without the assistance of processed ingredients and cooking by hand, with care and in celebration of life and community. It’s a trip back toward the future. I call it a return to pre-tradition. What’s new, in part, is the return to cooking, the departure from increasingly relying on processed foods and outsourced and superficial production. But today, chefs are armed with a much evolved set of techniques and tools with which to execute old world practices. I’m not so much adding new ingredients to old dishes, but trying to create our future’s history in a meaningful way.
TF: What are your favorite seasonal produce selections available this time of year?
LR: This time of year I’m most excited about our local grapes, pecans and winter squashes. I’m also getting a little anxious about my dwindling supply of the late summer’s purple hull peas.
TF: Any tips on creating the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving?
LR: The best thing you can do for your turkey is to brine it for a day or two before roasting it. This gets it nicely seasoned throughout the entire bird and a little brown sugar added to the brine will help it develop a nice mahogany brown in the oven. If you can bear to give up the Norman Rockwell scene, cutting up the turkey and roasting the white and dark meat separately can also help insure better doneness.
TF: What are your Thanksgiving culinary traditions?
LR: Like anyone else, I guess, Thanksgiving is more about the gathering of family and friends around the table, and then the sharing of traditional dishes. For me it’s all about the dressing and the gravy. If I can carry my grandmother’s dressing and gravy to my own grandchildren, I’ll be ok!
Thanks chef! If you’d like to keep up to date with Chef Lee, you should check out his blog.
New Americana Cuisine is filled with great food, recipes and inspiration.
And if you’re ever looking for a great meal or luxury accomodations in Little Rock, the Capital Hotel is the perfect destination!
Saint Nick – A fresh new look for a jolly old soul!
Visit Tobi Fairley Home to view the new Saint Nick pillows just in time for your holiday decorating! Three beautiful colorways available as well as left and right facing options.