By Chef DeeDee, Cooking Columnist
What comes to your mind when you hear people say “Southern Cuisine” or “Soul Food?” How are these two styles different or are they really different? As a child growing up in the south with a mother that cooks southern food on a daily basis, I never felt there was a difference.
Basically, I think the difference is debatable. I think of “soul food” as the fried chicken, pot roast, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, rice, brown gravy and cornbread my mother cooked for Sunday dinner.
Southern Cuisine to me is the blending of culinary traditions and ingredients with food that is derived from the South.
Recently, my husband & I visited a Spanish restaurant in Tampa, Fla. and one of the dishes we tried was called Pollo Al Ajillo which consisted of bite size pieces of fried chicken breast, parsley, garlic sauce and Spanish piquillo peppers. It immediately occurred to me that this dish would not be as great as it was without the Fried Chicken, which was the star of the dish. Southern cuisine is the “core” cuisine that most cultures and chef’s use today and can always use and count on to create a great meal.
As a chef that specializes in southern cuisine, I use my mother’s old southern recipes and add my own twist & flare to them. Most of the time I am using healthier ingredients while making sure the dish still has the flavor and southern comfort that my mother’s recipes have. Substitutions are the key to making Southern cuisine healthier.
I love to take common dishes and raise them to new levels by using better and healthier ingredients and constantly improve my culinary skills as a chef. I, personally, have experienced Southern cuisine taken in new directions by all types of chefs with various culinary backgrounds.
Now the controversy is that Southern cuisine can’t be healthy. Southern cuisine has gotten such an unhealthy stereotype for several reasons. One reason I believe is convenience food such as greasy fried chicken and buttery biscuits which are a contributing factor for the obesity we see in the African American Culture today.
I personally do not equate or define these foods as Southern cuisine. I will occasionally use pre-packaged sauce mixes and other conveniences for my recipes but only in moderation. Cooking from scratch or cooking semi-home made dishes allows me to avoid all the unhealthy ingredients normally used in Southern cuisine.
I was brought up on soul food and I continue to eat a variety of Southern cuisine today. I even indulge in a little fried chicken and macaroni and cheese from time to time, but as I said before everything in moderation and it’s all in the preparation.
I like what Michelle Obama says about being a healthy woman, “It isn’t about getting on a scale or measuring your waistline. We need to start focusing on what matters- on how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves.”
So enjoy your life, make it a priority to eat healthier, it is okay to enjoy your ancestors recipes in moderation, portions sizes and healthier smarter preparation. Southern cuisine is not the enemy. It is a great style of cooking with a touch of soul that brings families together.
It is the core of other cultures, how they prepare, flavor and spice up their food. It is cuisine that I think highly of and prepare and serve with passion and love. I give God all the Glory for the gift of cooking Southern cuisine.
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