The American Dance Festival is marking its 40th season in Durham with a delicious new twist: a live cooking demonstration and discussion about what makes Southern food Southern.
“The Boiled Peanut Hour,” to be presented July 9, stars The Lee Bros., food historians and award-winning cookbook writers Matt and Ted Lee. Tickets go on sale June 6 and include a limited seating option of a four-course, after-show dinner at The Durham Hotel prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing.
The hometown chef for the Triangle edition will be Reusing, of Lantern in Chapel Hill and the restaurant at The Durham Hotel. They’ll be joined at Duke’s Reynolds Industries Theater by choreographer Mark Dendy, formerly of Weaverville, whose “Elvis Everywhere” will be performed July 12-13 during ADF.
“The gist of what we’ll be talking about is how you create your identity through food,” Matt Lee said in an interview. “Of course the arena for that, for most of us – including Ted and I, who have never worked in a restaurant – is the home kitchen. But these curious creatives, these great chefs, have a different perspective.”
While some of the discussion will lean toward the academic, such as tracking the roots of iconic Southern dishes and ingredients around the globe and across centuries, Lee says the show will be a good-humored evening imbued with the irresistible smells and sizzle of live cooking. It will begin with pre-show nibbles as well as cocktails from Maker’s Mark Bourbon and beer courtesy of Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery.
The show takes its name from The Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, a mail order business specializing in Southern foods. The brothers, who grew up in Charleston, S.C., created it in 1994 when they found themselves desperately missing those familiar flavors while attending colleges in the Northeast.
“It’s when you’re loving somewhere else to be very critical of what restaurants claim as Southern food,” says Lee, who co-hosts the TV show, “Southern Uncovered with The Lee Brothers,” with his brother on the Ovation cable network. “When you really start to look at Southern food, though, you find that much of it came from somewhere else.”
Reviving classic cookbooks
The Lee brothers became determined to illustrate this fact by reviving a cookbook that’s been out of print for more than four decades. “Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook: A MouthWatering Treasury of Afro-American Recipes” celebrates the legacy of Pamela Strobel. The book was hailed Monday by The New York Times as “a definitive collection of African-American cooking from the 1920s and ’30s.”
“It was published pathetically the first time around as a crumbly newsprint paperback. It wasn’t intend to last longer than a bus ride,” Lee says. He notes that a teenage Strobel cooked in kitchens in Winston-Salem after leaving her South Carolina home and before she settled in New York.
Strobel’s recipes did not reflect the style of soul food that started to gain attention around 1969, when the book was first published. Instead, it drew inspiration from her mother’s and grandmother’s South Carolina kitchens, where snout-to-tail cooking was a frugal necessity.
The Princess Pamela project is the first in a series of reprints the brothers will oversee for Rizzoli New York. Lee says the next release will be a new version of the first American cookbook by Graham Kerr, who reveled in exuberant gastronomy from 1969-71 as TV’s “The Galloping Gourmet.”
“Talk about food and movement,” says Lee, who is familiarizing himself with episodes via YouTube.
“It’s shocking to see how au courant his sense of humor and profanity, of having fun in the kitchen and taking food seriously, really is,” he said. “It’s much more Mario Batali’s profile than it is Julia Child.”
Kerr broke new ground with his show, in which he cooked before a live audience while drinking from a glass of wine – a style the Lee Bros. embrace in “The Boiled Peanut Hour.” They plan to augment the publication, tentatively set for spring 2018, with a video documentary to be filmed this summer.
Jill Warren Lucas is a Raleigh-based freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jwlucasnc.
Want to go?
▪ “The Boiled Peanut Hour: A Live Cooking Show about Southern Identities” is at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 9, at Reynolds Theater, Durham. It features the Lee Bros. (Matt and Ted Lee), with Andrea Reusing, chef at Lantern in Chapel Hill and the restaurant of the Durham Hotel, and choreographer Mark Dendy.
▪ Tickets are $50. A limited number of $250 VIP tickets are available, which include a ticket to the performance and an after-show four-course dinner with the performers at The Durham Hotel prepared by Andrea Reusing. Proceeds benefit the ADF Scholarship Fund.
▪ Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. June 6 at the Duke University box office at tickets.duke.edu or by calling 919-684-4444. For information on the dance festival, go to americandancefestival.org.