Matters of Taste

By: Helen Mitternight

 

When Nathalie Dupree was around 10 or 11 years old, she made the hasty decision to run away from home after a particularly bad day. She prepared her bicycle for the long voyage ahead, along with a peanut butter sandwich topped with sliced banana. Soon after she was on her way, however, the plan was foiled; it was the culinary doyenne’s first lesson that good food is about control.

“I realized that if you put a banana in with a peanut butter sandwich, the bread tastes terrible, and if you ride with a Coke on your bicycle, it gets hot, and you have to find out where you are getting your next meal, so you have to go home,” Dupree said, curled in a chair at her own sunny home in downtown Charleston.

Dupree is something of a legend here in the Holy City. She had seven cooking shows on PBS and was the first woman since Julia Child to have more than 150 episodes on the network. She’s been featured on The Today Show; Good Morning America; CNN Good Morning; The Food Network; and The Learning Channel. Before moving to Charleston, Dupree ran a cooking school in Atlanta and is widely acknowledged to be a Southern cooking pioneer, thanks to more than 14 best-selling cookbooks. She taught Pat Conroy how to cook, and she started numerous Southern chapters of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international organization of women in food, beverage and hospitality. She was also a founding member of the Charleston Wine & Food Festival, Southern Foodways Alliance and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Dupree has been in the Lowcountry for 20 years. She made the move from Atlanta with her husband, journalist and civil rights scholar Jack Bass, when he was offered a project with the College of Charleston. She left behind her business contacts and friends but says she quite easily found a tribe in Charleston, many former students she had taught to cook.

She has definitely seen Charleston cuisine evolve in the last two decades. “Very few people are cooking Lowcountry anymore,” she commented. “It seems to have shifted away in the last five years, with food trucks and ethnic restaurants. You don’t find a lot of straight Southern or straight Lowcountry cooking. It’s kind of too bad. I think it will swing back. Food in Charleston is always going to be a mixture of trying to accommodate the tourists and represent the Lowcountry but also serve what people want.”

Dupree turns 80 this month, and the conversation soon turned to mentors and legacies. “I didn’t really have a mentor. They didn’t have such a thing as women mentors when I was coming up. Julia [Child] was very nice to me, but I wouldn’t say she was my mentor. I can’t think of anyone who was, not that people weren’t kind to me,” she said. “When I started out, hardly any women were cooking, and few were doing what I did. There were women’s cooking schools, but very few had full participation cooking, except for professional ones— but there weren’t many professional ones that even wanted women. There weren’t many women teaching cooking and certainly not supporting themselves as I did from the time of my divorce… onward.

Most of the women who were teaching cooking had a secondary person who was paying the rent,” she added. She remains skeptical of what her legacy will be. “I don’t know that I’ve ever considered anything like legacy. We didn’t use those words about women’s cooking either; we didn’t know.”

Others, however, are more confident about Dupree’s legacy. Writer John T. Edge, director of Southern Foodways Alliance, talks in his book, “The Potlikker Papers,” about how she courageously hosted a publication party for author Salman Rushdie when the Ayatollah in Iran issued a fatwa ordering him killed—then turned around and defended the Muslim protesters who objected her decision. She brought this subversive egalitarianism to women as well. “To women in the 1980s and 1990s, Nathalie Dupree communicated a subversive feminism.

Less than a decade after Julia Child swanned into living rooms …Dupree emerged as a second-wave women’s libber … Dupree taught the South to cook again,” Edge writes in his book. To commemorate Nathalie Dupree’s milestone birthday, her publishers have issued a special limited version of “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking,”—an eight-pound tome—as well as the shorter “Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories and Recipes.”

Still thinking about her legacy, Dupree said, “I just like to give people permission to get in there and cook. I don’t have an agenda. I love teaching people to get dominion over what they put in their bodies. It’s so freeing to be able to cook for yourself and your family.

That’s what I want for people: to cook and to make mistakes. It’s perfectly all right to make mistakes, and I like for people to know that— that they can correct them, and that if a recipe is difficult, they can find an easier one that is satisfying. If they want to take up a challenge, they can, but if it’s a personal challenge, do it as a personal challenge. If you have to have a dinner, choose something you can prepare, and don’t experiment on the guests.” She smiled mischievously. “Of course, I do that all the time. I usually tell my guests that they’re my guinea pigs. I give them that courtesy, anyway.”

 

NEWS

 

OPENINGS & CLOSINGS Another concept by Queen Street Hospitality Group, owners of 82 Queen and Swig & Swine, Jalisco will feature tacos prepared in an open kitchen, showcasing the vertical rotisserie of marinated pork for Al Pastor.

The space vacated by Tradd’s on East Bay Street is becoming a Brazilian steakhouse known as Galpao Gaucho. There’s no firm opening date for the steakhouse, which has successful locations in California and Texas.

Fans of Pink Bellies who have followed the restaurant from its pop-up days will now be able to enjoy Vietnamese food in a more permanent spot. The owner has signed a lease at 595 King Street.

Top Chef  alum Jamie Lynch and the team behind 5Church Charleston are opening a seafood restaurant on North Market Street in Spring 2020. Tempest will serve upscale seafood from Lowcountry fishermen, oyster farmers and other purveyors—including Lynch’s own farm near Charlotte.

The sun has set for SOL Southwest Kitchen & Tequila Bar on Meeting Street. The Mount Pleasant and Summerville locations will stay open, but the downtown edition “lacked the volume of customer traffic,” according to owners.

King Street shoppers and College of Charleston students are going to have to get their gyros somewhere else— Taziki’s Mediterranean Café has closed its downtown location, although the Mount Pleasant café is still open.

Black Magic Café has closed its doors at Folly Beach and reopened in West Ashley.

 

EVENTS Mount Pleasant’s Handcraft Kitchen and Cocktails is turning itself into a “Winter Wonderland” with a pop-up cocktail bar concept called “Miracle.” The pop-up will run through December and include festive cocktails, glassware and decorations, all set to a soundtrack of beloved holiday songs. Visitors to the Wonderland will also enjoy holiday movies and “Christmas Karaoke.” It’s time to figure out where you’re spending New Year’s Eve. The Cedar Room has announced a James Bond inspired bash, featuring live music, lots of food and an open bar. Tickets are $160 and are available at Eventbrite.

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