If your cookbook collection is lacking in local flavor, allow me to point you toward three titles from friends and family of CMI, the parent company of Memphis magazine.
First up is Joy Bateman’s The Art of Dining in Memphis 2. By day, Bateman is an account executive for Memphis magazine, and her relentless drive most certainly applies “by night” as well. Somewhere in there, in the past seven years Bateman has found the time to produce four cookbooks in her Art of Dining series.
The first Art of Dining in Memphis came out in 2005, followed by Art of Dinings for New Orleans in 2007 and Nashville in 2009 — each containing recipes from those cities’ most beloved restaurants along with Bateman’s illustrations and restaurant profiles.
Bateman says what brought her home for The Art of Dining in Memphis 2 was simply that it was time. Some of the restaurants in the original book had closed, and many new restaurants had opened. Others, she says, merited a return visit.
Bateman’s method is to ask the restaurant to provide a favorite recipe of their choice, and if they don’t mind, she’ll do the choosing. She says she’s never had a restaurant refuse her, pointing to the many signature dishes contained within the pages of The Art of Dining in Memphis 2: Paulette’s K-Pie, Grove Grill’s oyster and artichoke soup, and Restaurant Iris’ Brussels sprouts salad, among them.
According to Bateman, she and her editor test out all the recipes. One dish in particular, Ronnie Grisanti’s Elfo’s Special, made her eyes widen with its two cups of butter plus olive oil. “I was skeptical,” she says, “but, sure enough, it was right on the money.”
I exaggerate only a little when I say that the next title, Laurance Daltroff Triplette’s Gimme Some Sugar, Darlin’, has made me a better person.
Gimme Some Sugar, Darlin’, a fine-looking book designed by Memphis magazine art director Brian Groppe and distributed by locally based Wimmer Cookbooks, is a compendium of 800 or so family recipes that the Memphis-born Triplette spent five years putting together. She then value-added the book by including the wonderful and funny “Secret Lexicon of Southernness” and “One Old Bride’s Guide to Cooking Southern.”
Because of the “Lexicon” and “Guide,” I now know wearing blue eye shadow before a certain hour is tacky-tacky (and that means it’s really tacky). And, with these life lessons learned, I’m now considering improving my life just a bit more by de-cluttering and tossing out other cookbooks in my house. Gimme Me Some Sugar, Darlin’ has everything covered, from Hoppin’ John and slow-cooked barbecue to fried chicken and lemon chess pie.
The final title, and one I’m anxiously awaiting, is Bianca Phillips’ Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South, due out this spring from Book Publishing Company.
Phillips is associate editor at Memphis magazine’s sister publication, the Memphis Flyer, and the company’s vegan pixie (she’s got the tattoos to prove it). She started her blog Vegan Crunk in 2007 with the goal of veganizing traditional Southern dishes. Phillips’ approach of providing great recipes with a dash of sweet-natured sass has proven successful. Vegan Crunk garners an amazing 40,000 hits per month.
Phillips says there is not a dish she cannot make vegan. She’s got a country-fried tempeh steak, a coconut pie, biscuits and chocolate gravy, and peanut-butter cupcakes to honor Elvis. She’s also included cornbread dressing and hot wings (that’s “dressin’” and “wangs,” she insists).
While we all know that being vegan means no animal products no way, it’s the “crunk” that may need explaining. “It’s a style of rap music,” Phillips says. “I wanted a name that meant Vegan Memphis without saying ‘Vegan Memphis,’ conveying the Dirty South. I’m a crunk white girl.”