As a young cook, among the very first books I purchased were Nathalie Dupree’s—New Southern Cooking, Matters of Taste. She gets full credit for Batter Fruit Cobbler in my first book, The Perfect Recipe. (She’s right, “It’s the best peach dessert there is.”)
I finally met Nathalie in 2002 when she hosted me on her TV show. I was still pretty green then. I don’t remember much about that day except how incredibly gracious and encouraging she was to me.
So when I realized I was teaching on Nathalie’s turf a few weeks back, I wrote to see if she might have time to get together. Turns out Nathalie lives within walking distance of Charleston Cooks where I would be teaching. Not only did she invite me for lunch, she offered me a place to stay. I said yes to lunch and resisted the room. (It’s a game we Southerners play to test the seriousness of the offer). She made a strong case. I accepted.
My friend Terrie and I arrive at Nathalie’s bustling Charleston “single house” at noon. There are two young apprentices—Kelly Skelly and Joseph Dwesk in the kitchen learning to make soufflés, and Nathalie’s assistant, Beth Price, is in the living room working on Nathalie’s upcoming tome—Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.
Calmly, Nathalie simultaneously supervises all the cook/book activity and manages to graciously host us for lunch. We start with a beautiful pear and pecan salad with lettuce fresh from her garden. Eventually Beth joins us.
Lunch is cheese soufflé—Kelly’s morning project. Nathalie teaches her how to break it open in the center to check for doneness and then scoop a portion for everyone around the crisp outer edge. If it’s runny at the center or deflates, no worries she says—just shove it back in the oven where it will continue to cook and puff. There’s a lot to learn from a master.
Lunch in full swing, Danielle, the culinary director at Charleston Cooks arrives. She’s been invited for lunch too and pulls up a chair as we serve her salad and some of the re-inflated cheese soufflé that has just emerged from the oven.
It’s time for dessert and Joseph brings out his chocolate soufflé, which Nathalie serves with a mound of billowy whipped cream. He returns it to the oven for that second puff and we’re all already excited about our chance at seconds. Now Joseph and Kelly join us at the table where the conversation pings from food to politics (Nathalie ran as a write-in candidate for US Senate in South Carolina’s recent election), current events, and the changing times.
As I took in all the lively conversation, I was aware of how Nathalie had so comfortably shepherded this table from polite lunch to lively salon. It’s clear she’s been at this a lifetime.
The next morning as I stand at the curb waiting to leave, Nathalie pulls in—she’s already been out and has a full day ahead of her. I don’t remember much what we said except how incredibly gracious and encouraging she was… again.