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Chef Q&A: Southern Cooking Expert Nathalie Dupree

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This Saturday, May 4, Les Dames d’Escoffier International’s Philadelphia Chapter presents Cuisine, Culture & Community: A Global Celebration of Women & Food. For those unfamiliar, the Philadelphia Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) is a reputable and philanthropic group of chefs, restaurateurs, cookbook authors, bloggers, media personalities, wine and spirits specialists, educators, nutritionists and farmers. The group is hosting this one-day symposium fundraiser to benefit its educational, scholarship and Green Tables initiatives.

Some of the many impressive presenters scheduled for Saturday’s event include: legendary chef Georges Perrier and Charlotte Calmels of Bibou who are panelists in the “Women and their Role in the French Kitchen” panel led by Chef Michele Haines of the Spring Mill Café, plus a hands-on cooking class taught by Chef Marta Quintana, a guest appearance by Jason Roberts of the hit television talk-show The Chew, and local chef and author Aliza Green who will sign her latest book, Making Artisan Pasta.

Southern cooking guru, Nathalie Dupree, is scheduled as the day’s keynote speaker and will be signing copies of her recently released cookbook, Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. Dupree is the author of 10 cookbooks, has hosted 300 television shows, has won two prestigious James Beard Awards, has been the chef of three restaurants, along with many other accomplishments.

Main Line Today caught up with Dupree at her home in Charlestown, S.C. to dish on all things Southern cooking, the chef’s storied career and why she wasn’t intimidated cooking for Julia Child.

MLT: The Philadelphia Chapter of Les Dames is thrilled to have you as their keynote speaker this Saturday. Have you been to Philadelphia before?
ND: Yes, many times. Philadelphia is one of my favorite cities.

MLT: Your bio is incredibly impressive. You’ve hosted more than 300 television shows, written 20 cookbooks and owned three restaurants.
ND: I started doing the television shows early in my career. I did a number of series for PBS. I also did two 65-part series for the Food Network so that totaled up to a lot of shows, too.

MLT: Do you feel more comfortable in front of the camera or in front of the stove?
ND: Oh, I guess I never thought of it that way. I’m comfortable both ways. I’m very comfortable in front of an audience because I’ve taught for many years. I was the director of Rich’s Cooking School in Atlanta for many years and I taught thousands of students there.

MLT: With everything you’ve accomplished in your career is there one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most?
ND: I’ve been lucky that my career has led from one thing to the other. I can honestly say I’ve loved everything that I’ve done. It’s wonderful that I found a niche where I fit and could carve out a career for myself that was completely different than all the careers I was given a choice of as a little girl like being a teacher, secretary or whatever. No one ever heard of this career.
 

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MLT: Your latest book is Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. Is Southern cooking something that can be mastered?
ND: Absolutely it can. The book came out in November of last year and we’re up for a James Beard Award. I actually find out the night before I come to Philadelphia if we won—so fingers crossed. The book is more than 700 pages and it took me about six years to write it.

MLT: Do you have a favorite dish that you like to make?
ND: My favorite is Country Captain, a chicken curry dish that originated in Columbus, Ga. It’s a famous dish that was developed for FDR and another person who loved it was Gen. Patton. My stepfather worked for FDR and my father worked for Patton so that dish has always been a favorite of mine.

MLT: Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever cooked for?
ND: My husband (laughing), along with Julia Child, the ambassador from England, several governors, several editors of the New York Times. A wide variety of the kind of people you cook for when you write cookbooks.

MLT: Is it intimidating to have a food critic at the table?
ND: I cook things that I know how to cook and I don’t try to impress people. Even if they’re famous the point of having them over is not to impress. The point of having them over is for everybody to enjoy themselves. I don’t feel like its something that’s difficult. People are people. You just want to make sure they have a good time.

MLT: Even Julia Child wasn’t a bit intimidating?
ND: No. She was doing a cooking demonstration at the school and I had to prepare lunch for her. I remember that she didn’t want chicken so I prepared something else.

MLT: Who are some of the top chefs today in your opinion?
ND: We have three James Beard award-winning chefs here in Charlestown and I’m fond of all three of them: Robert Stallings at Harmony Grille, Mike Lata at Fig, and Sean Brock at Husk.

MLT: So will you take any time to visit any Philadelphia restaurants this weekend?
ND: Yes, I’ve always loved Susanna Foo’s and I want to try Le Bec-Fin. 

Cuisine, Culture & Community: A Global Celebration of Women & Food is held May 4, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, 4207 Walnut St., Philadelphia, lesdamesphiladelphia.com.