When I first started cooking, I was fond of the Moosewood cookbooks. They were filled with fun vegetarian recipes that seemed exotic and cosmopolitan to my southern sensibilities. It was where I was first introduced to the “magic” of cooking, to the idea that if done right, the whole could be so much more than the sum of the parts. Who would have thought that broccoli and tofu, when sautéed with a good peanut sauce, could be so delicious?
From that beginning, I ventured into other cooking destinations. Alice and I vacationed in the American Southwest, so I got into Mexican-inspired foods. I discovered that for some reason, the small apartment we lived in on South Main near the Stadium was the perfect environment for making fresh bread. I tried my hand at cassoulet (not bad), then pad thai (not good). I discovered that cooking is a really fun and useful hobby. There is always some new food to try, some new spice to discover (fenugreek!) You feel like Magellan when you walk into the kitchen.
Then I stumbled across Cook’s Illustrated, a quirky (no photos, only drawings….no idea why) bi-monthly magazine. The editor looked a bit like Pee-wee Herman and always wore a bow tie in his photo…I mean drawing. Little did I know that I would be seeing this guy for the rest of my life. He’s like Waldo…on NPR, on PBS, in bookstores, on the internet.
Anyhow, I remember reading their magazine and finding articles like “The Best Meatloaf” and “Perfect Fried Chicken.” These were all foods that seemed out of fashion and pedestrian, the types of foods that no one ate any more, the types of foods that I hadn’t seen on a dinner table since I was a kid. And then, at the urging of my wife, I tried some of these recipes. And a funny thing happened. They were good. Really good.
We are all drawn to the “new”, especially when it comes to food and restaurants. I love finding a piece of candied ginger in my cocktail, or eating a gazpacho that has avocado and fresh corn instead of green pepper and celery. But there is something to be said for the common foods that have graced our family dinner tables for generations. And if these foods can be cooked properly and served gratefully, all the better. This is what we strive to do at Satchel’s.
When I think about the patchwork quilt of reasons and circumstances that led me to start a BBQ restaurant at age 45, I have to acknowledge that guy in the bow tie. He gave me a new appreciation of the simple meals I had eaten as a kid and had since forgotten. He led me home, and for that, I am grateful.