From Publishers Weekly
The playful title of this Southern-French cookbook belies its studious attitude to cookery. Willis, a chef who has cooked for the White House and stars like Aretha Franklin and Jane Fonda, grew up in Georgia and Louisiana, absorbing her mother's and grandmother's repertoire of grits, casseroles and gumbos before developing her professional skills at French cooking academies. The result is a hybrid cuisine she calls refined Southern, which applies traditional French technique and lighter ingredients to produce new versions of Southern staples. Her collard greens are cooked up with smoked salt instead of hog jowl; her cornbread is dressed with panko. Sprinkled liberally throughout are the Southern ingredients that Willis was raised on: Vidalia onions, okra, Georgia pecans and peaches. Willis's approach is faithful, yet she's unafraid to reinvent culinary clichés when necessary—like making pimiento cheese from scratch. Some of her creations—like a tipsy salad, riffing on the frat boy combo of watermelon and vodka; Yukon Gold and Edamame Mash; and Coca-Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs—elevate mundane flavors with sheer ingenuity. Magnificent color photos; detailed, helpful tips; and Willis's cheerful, trustworthy guidance make this an original and welcome newcomer to a classic cookbook library. (Feb.)
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Although Willis has trained in France’s finest kitchens, her heart dwells nostalgically in her deep roots in America’s South. Her grandmother and mother, both adventuresome cooks, were skilled at whipping up southern classic dishes as well as reproducing dishes shown each week on Julia Child’s television series. Willis takes pains to treat the whole of this tradition respectfully. Thus, she presents quintessentially southern cheese straws (interestingly enough, baked by her grandfather) next to similar, yet thoroughly French, gougères. Fried chicken takes its customary top spot among the poultry recipes, but there are many less-caloric propositions for dealing with one of the South’s favorite meats. Shellfish dominate seafood offerings, and both Cajun and Creole traditions appear. Southern baking wouldn’t exist without biscuits, and Willis presents clear instructions for making both yeast and baking-powder versions. To crown these biscuits, Willis has recipes for both jams and jellies. --Mark Knoblauch