If you are tuned in even a little to the South’s culinary scene, you have probably heard of Sean Brock.
Brock is executive chef and partner at four restaurants in Charleston, S.C., and Nashville, Tenn. He was named best chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2010 and was a finalist in 2013 and 2014 for outstanding chef, a national award
Brock started getting attention at The Hermitage in Nashville and later at McCrady’s in Charleston, fine dining restaurants known for refined Southern cuisine executed with some futuristic techniques borrowed from science labs. He became better known after opening Husk, farm-to-table restaurants in the two cities that celebrate heirloom plants and heritage-breed animals. He became more widely known for starring in eight episodes of the acclaimed PBS show, “The Mind of a Chef.”
That’s all a preamble to say Brock’s debut cookbook, “Heritage,” which came out this fall, has been widely anticipated. The publisher, Artisan Books, is known for producing stunning photo-filled books that can sit on a coffee table as well as a kitchen shelf. Brock will be in Pittsboro Wednesday for a sold-out book event at the Fearrington Inn. While tickets are no longer available, fans who want personalized copies of the cookbook can call McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village.
The 330-page book offers a mix of recipes. Some are ripped from Brock’s restaurant menus, others from his home kitchen, and an entire dessert chapter features recipes from his female relatives. In a recent interview, Brock talked about what led to his book, how the concept changed along the way and why he was happy to include a recipe for his grandmother’s “Hillbilly Black Walnut Fudge,” made with a pound of Velveeta cheese.
Brock said he never wanted to write a cookbook until he started collecting cookbooks from the 18th and 19th centuries. As a restaurant chef, he said, his recipes are constantly evolving and being improved upon.
“It’s really just a moment in time that you’re capturing,” Brock said. “There was an opportunity to capture a moment of time in my life, not just the restaurants,’ not just a place. The book started to become more personal. I decided I had an opportunity to possibly influence people, and maybe influence people to maybe take the same journey that I’ve taken as a chef.”
What had been envisioned as a cookbook documenting the foods and purveyors of South Carolina’s Low Country became a book documenting his personal journey. Brock wrote about growing up, eating and cooking alongside his grandparents in western Virginia, where it was common to have a large kitchen garden, to save seeds and plant heirloom varieties of plants for generations. Brock said he only later realized how special those foods and traditions were.
The recipes reflect all areas of his life: the fried chicken that he makes at home, the corn-goat cheese soup with brown butter chanterelles at McCrady’s and the chocolate eclair cake that his sister makes every year for his birthday. About that fudge recipe with the Velveeta cheese, he said: “People love it.”