- 20120829 - Great Taste - Interview with John Martin Taylor

Hoppin' John's Lowcountry CookingThe 20th anniversary edition of John Martin Taylor's highly acclaimed first book, Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston and the Carolina Coastal Plain, was published this month by the University of North Carolina Press.  When the book first hit stores twenty years ago it was called "a stunner" by the New York Times.  It brought a revival of interest in the culinary traditions of of the South by providing not only 250 updated recipes for dishes including shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, Chicken Country Captain, pimento cheese, cheese pigs (straws), and benne crackers, but making the history of these and other dishes come alive.

For me and my family the book struck a close personal note.  My wife spent most of her very early years in Charleston where her mother's family lived.  She continued to visit her great-grandmother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins every summer, and after we were married we carried on that annual pilgrimage.  Once the kids arrived on the scene we became one of those normal families packing up the car for the summer vacation for a couple of weeks on the beach traveling from St. Louis and later Fairfield to Charleston.

John Martin TaylorFrom 1986 until it closed in 1999, Hoppin' John's bookstore in downtown Charleston became one of our favorite places to visit each year.  Some of the cookbooks that line our bookshelves came from the store.  Our autographed copy of the original edition of Lowcountry Cooking was sent to us by one of Rachel's aunts, who knew we loved to spend time at the store.  We bought our first whole kernel grits there, ground from heirloom dent corn grown in the mountains of Georgia.  Once you eat the real thing you can't go back.  John still has those grits ground to order, and you can find them here.

Talking to John, who is currently living in Bulgaria, a couple of weeks ago for the show was not only a pleasure, but an hour filled with fascinating information about the cultural and historical roots of southern cooking, the reality of fried foods, Bulgarian cuisine, and a variety of other topics.  

I am very much looking forward to hearing what you find fascinating about what John had to say.  As for me, I'm cooking his grits in my slow cooker overnight (four cups of boiling water with a little salt, whisk in the grits, cover and turn to four or eight hours or whatever "slow" setting you have.  When serving add butter and grated sharp cheddar, or a bit of cream,whatever you like.) so they're ready to enjoy in the morning.  Whatever is left over I make into grits cakes and pan fry in a little butter for dinner topping them off with some grated Prairie Breeze cheddar.  Also, I'm planning to study John's,  The Fearless Frying Cookbook to get the perfect crisp on my chicken and potato chips.

For more information on John and the book, check out the press release from UNC below.

Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking
Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston and the Carolina Coastal Plain

University of North Carolina Press

John Martin Taylor is the author of Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking (Bantam,1992; 20th  Anniversary edition, UNC Press, 2012); The New Southern Cook (Bantam,1995); Hoppin' John's Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah (Clarkson Potter, 1997); and The Fearless Frying Cookbook (Workman, 1997). His work has appeared in journals and reviews in both Europe and the United States, including The New York Times, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Fine Cooking, The Journal of Gastronomy, Gastronomica, Bon Appétit, Country Home, Cooking Light and The Washington Post. He is the former food editor of the French-language magazine Ici New York. He has spoken at museums and conferences throughout the country and appeared on both regional and national television and radio.

John has lived in the Caribbean, France, Italy, and Bulgaria, and is practiced in the cuisines and customs of not only his southern homeland but also of Liguria, France, the Balkans, and the African diaspora. He is the owner of HoppinJohns.com, a culinary website and mail-order business that grew out of his internationally renowned Charleston bookstore and cooking school, Hoppin' John's®, which he opened in 1986. In 1999, John closed the shop to concentrate on consulting, writing, and the website. His popular blog, HoppinJohns.net, has 6000 regular readers.

A well-exhibited photographer as well, John took many of the photos for his book on lowcountry style. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called him "the South's answer to Martha Stewart." A founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, he is considered a leading authority on the culinary history of the South and the expert on the cooking of lowcountry, the coastal plain that surrounds Charleston and Savannah. Gourmet has said that “no man deserves more credit for Charleston's  culinary resurgence than John Martin Taylor, author of the exhilarating Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking." In 2007, Charleston Magazine named John one of the city's Top 100 Most Influential people in its 337-year history: "Before Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking was published in 1992, Charleston cuisine was unfocused. Thanks to Taylor, we took pride in our produce, seafood, biscuits, and sweet tea. And foodies of the world agreed."

A boyish 62, John is sought after as a writer, speaker, cooking instructor, and consultant to the food industry because of his encyclopedic culinary knowledge, his distinctive voice, and his vivacious person.  Lee Bailey wrote that John has "a lively sense of humor about the customs, preferences, and foibles of [southerners] - himself included."

John has worked with the Smithsonian Institute’s Folklife Festival as a presenter, a cooking instructor, and a panel moderator. Current and past clients include Charleston Place; the Elliott Group; Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Inman Films (producers of COLD MOUNTAIN); Bobby Flay's Food Nation; Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts; University of South Carolina Press; University of North Carolina Press; Carolina Gold Rice Foundation; American Institute of Wine and Food; International Association of Culinary Professionals; International Foodservice Editorial Council; Shelbray, Inc.; Ford Plantation; Inn at Blackberry Farm; Horizon Hotels Limited; Metropolitan Home; Putnam Investments; Al Roker Productions; Noble, Inc.;  and Phaidon Press.

In 2010, John spoke at the Smithsonian Institution and at Monticello, as well as at several culinary events. In March 2011, he orchestrated an historical dinner in the Charleston, South Carolina, colonial mansion, the Miles Brewton House, during the 14th Charleston Art & Antiques Forum.


(Chapel Hill, N.C.) John Martin Taylor launched a culinary revival with Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking, which has been hailed as the best regional cookbook of its time. Now, the University of North Carolina Press is bringing out a new edition to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this classic cookbook.
In Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking, John Martin Taylor offers a new preface in addition to 250 authentic and updated recipes for regional favorites, including shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, pickled watermelon rinds, and Frogmore stew.
At oyster roasts and fancy cotillions, in fish camps and cutting-edge restaurants, the people of South Carolina gather to enjoy one of America's most distinctive cuisines--the delicious, inventive fare of the Lowcountry. Taylor, who grew up casting shrimp nets in Lowcountry marshes, adds his personal experiences in bringing these dishes to the table and leads readers on a veritable treasure hunt throughout the region, giving us a delightful taste of an extraordinary way of life.
The New York Times called Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking "a stunner!" and noted that his "splendid recipes should be on a National Registry of Great American Food."

Visit John online at www.HoppinJohns.com or at www.HoppinJohns.net.