Matt and Ted Lee, who, amongst many other things, are the authors of the fantastic cookbook of Charleston Kitchen, were gracious enough to grace the Savannah Food & Wine Festival with some of their lowcountry cooking skills this Friday in Chef Darin’s kitchen. Well, one of them, at least. Matt was being a good family man and attending to a sick 2-year old, and Ted was left to fly solo.
“My brother usually cuts me down because that’s our dynamic,” quipped Ted. “But we don’t have to deal with that today!” And that’s pretty much all you need to know about this chef’s disarming demeanor. In fact, Ted Lee is probably the most unassuming chef you’ll ever run across.
Chef Darin was all too eager to let someone else do the talking – and cooking – for the day as well. “Pressure is off me and on Mr. Lee here!” joked Darin, and off we were to the recipes.
After regaling his newfound students with a few stories of growing up in the Holy City, and some cerebral thoughts on the nature of Southern food, the younger Lee began the day with a very old standard, steeped in Charleston food history – Henry’s Cheese Spread.
Henry’s – an absolute institution in Charleston until it closed in 1985, explained Ted – was famous for its unapologetically robust cheese spread. Packed with strong flavors like Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and of course, beer, this delight was never officially on the menu at Henry’s. It was simply the first thing they brought you, before you even had a chance to order. Naturally, these Charleston foodie siblings were determined to track down the infamous recipe, which eventually came in the form of a yellowed old piece of paper found by the late Henry’s grandson.
Ted rambled somewhat aimlessly – in the best way possible – through the recipe, while entertaining everyone with stories such as these. “The other thing my brother serves to do is focus us,” Ted teased. Oh, and the recipe? Pretty dang tasty.
Next it was the brothers’ take on shrimp and grits. “I get the feeling that shrimp and grits is so ubiquitous these days that people are really tired of it,” he mused. “But we still love it.”
This led him off on another bit of a tangent about the rise of Southern cuisine, which is seemingly an endless topic of discussion in the food world these days. “We were asked to do a story about the 6 hottest restaurants in New York with shrimp and grits on the menu. The first one we tried was the craziest. It had smoked jalapeño-infused maple syrup and two poached eggs on top.”
Traditionalists, do not be alarmed – the Lee Bros recipe is decidedly more along the traditional route. Ted walked us through their version of the old standard, including the unique way in which he makes tomato puree, and a little secret – cut the shrimp in half, length-wise! “It makes the shrimp curl up nicely, which adds some more surface area for flavor.”
The shrimp and grits, of course, were delicious. But for my money, the dessert won the day. Reader, meet your new favorite sweet treat – Syllabub with Spiced Pears. Oh my! So simple! So tasty! Such a ridiculous name!
Syllabub is a combination of fortified wine – sherry, for example – and heavy cream, along with some lemon juice, sugar and salt. And it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever had. I, for one, am planning on impressing my relatives with this particular delight over Thanksgiving.
All in all, it was an afternoon well spent. We got some delectable recipes, we got some rambling stories, a healthy dose of self-deprecation, and some good company to boot. And to think, that was all with just one half of this brotherly pairing! Something tells me the Food Network might be calling these gents sometime in the very near future.
Eat It and Like It