I smile every time I compare how busy we’ve been with how busy we thought we’d be.
SoCo has been fortunate, but we don’t view the fortune as luck or a circumstantial hand out. We’ve worked hard to get this far, and cared for our guests as if our success depends on them—because it does.
Besides, our primary goal with SoCo was to make friends and feed them the best food we can make. [Successfully maintaining our business is really just a means to that end. (Sorry, Immanuel.)]
So, we’ve been happily busy, and as SoCo means “SOuthern COmfort food with a twist,” Kimberly and I eat a lot of leftover twisted southern comfort food.
Keeping to a focused cuisine is difficult for me. Kimberly and I have been together for 7 years, and I have cooked thousands of meals for us, yet only repeated a few dinners. ADD? Probably.
So, now that I’ve found a tasty groove with southern comfort food, I’ve left behind my usual dabblings in other cultures’ cuisines.
I’ve also forgotten what it was like to aim for an untested dish with a limited pantry. But, I couldn’t feed Kimberly another southern dish, however successful our dishes have been. She (read: we) needed a brief visit to another culture.
We’ve planted a huge garden and will soon be adding chickens to our farm. Self-sustainability is important to us. Interaction among local farms is good, too. I truly think we could (and should) return to the systems that sustained our anscestors in the days before e.coli contamination, steroids and processed foods.
Consistent with our vision, I am hellbent on using every ingredient we have access to as fully as I can. For example, a chicken is cleaned and cooked. The trimmings, scraps and bones—along with skins and scraps of onions, leeks, garlic, carrots, and herb stems are used to make stock. The resulting stock may be a base for a soup or sauce, consommé or demi-glace. I then pick off the bones any available meat to supplement what we feed our dogs and cats.
It’s not unexpected, then, that I am drawn to the fundamental garde manger (keeper/protector of the food) techniques that make the most of every available food item, like charcuterie.
I’ve had a salt beef project going for nearly two months now. My 2-pound chunk of flat iron steak has never left the fridge, but has been securely covered in a frosty coating of salt and spices. Periodically, I’ve rinsed, sliced and sampled the beef. A simple cut of beef has been elevated to a rich, tender, uber-beefy psuedo-jerky.
But, my salt beef wanted some attention as badly as we wanted some refreshing flavors.
In my quest to provide my wife with a fresh flavor profile, I raided the most neglected corners of our pantry, finding a lot of Asian elements.
Beef bones and veggie scraps gladly accepted puréed ginger, fish sauce, brown sugar, star anise, sesame oil and hot chilis. We had some angel hair pasta, pickled ginger, sweet onion, lime, rice wine vinegar and black sesame seeds, too.
Once trimmed, my salt beef gladly provided the unifying umami to its formerly neglected supporting cast. Kimberly was pleasantly surprised by what I placed before her on the dinner table. Granted, Pho is still southern cooking—albeit southern Vietnamese cooking.
But, the dish’s success underscored the versatility and strength of food cultures in traditionally impoverished regions, which rely on techniques including curing meat.
This Vietnamese Pho won’t likely make it to the menu at SoCo, but tonight, it embodied the supreme resourcefulness and dedication to ingredients that defines the southern American comfort food that is the heart of SoCo.
(And our dogs and cats inhaled the tender beef we picked from the soup bones.)
Technically, at SoCo, I’m a chef and owner. But, tonight, I returned to the most important, food-providing role of home cook, making the most of my ingredients to nourish my loved ones.
Frankly—and despite how unprofessional it sounds—“nourishing my loved ones” is what I see as my mission no matter whom I’m feeding.
I look forward to, and am excited by the future. I hope we’ll see you here.