Gesprekken en gerechten, cuisinier Bill Smith

 picture cook Bill Smith

I invited chef Bill Smith to join in in my blog series “gesprekken en gerechten” American writer Frances Mayes suggested me to invite him for this series. She calls him a prince. Bill is a man from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who I follow on Facebook. He is the proud owner of a reaturant Crook’s Corner. Bill is the creator of many original recipes in his cookbook called Seasoned in the South. And I hope a wine lover. I know he takes a beer with him when  foraging for ingredients. For instance honeysuckle to make sherbet. Now my curiosity became even bigger.  I immediately ordered his book and started to read. In  the Netherlands we do not know much of the cuisine from the Southern states. The USA are more than burgers or an incidental Cajun style dish as Bill proves. Time to send him some questions and  based on Bill’s answers he will be rewarded a “southern style” Dutch recipe. To pair with a wonderful wine.

Who is Bill Smith and what would you like to share with us?

I was born and raised in Eastern North Carolina. This very much informs the way I cook today. I didn’t set out to be a chef. It was just good luck that I stumbled upon this profession.

You come from Chapel Hill, can you give a description what makes this place so special? 
Chapel Hill is a university town so although it isn’t a large city, it has sophistication. People tend to be progressive in thought and less judgemental than in other places. It is very pretty and is halfway between the beaches of North Carolina and the Smoky Mountains. Because it is so attractive, intersting people choose to live here.
You invest a lot of energy in cooking, escpecially when it comes to Southern dishes, can you tell something about it?

Cooking, or things associated with cooking, take up almost all of my time. Our menu can change every day if I choose for it to. It varies with the season. We are lucky to have a large community of farmers and artisans who cater to the food community here. This makes a seasonal menu easy. This restaurant was Southern before I came to work here, but since I was born in the South I already understood what was expected of me. I actually don’t think about “Southern” so much. It just happens.

Your book speaks to the imagination,  the recipes,  certainly with me. How do you do that?

Every recipe has a story, whether the person who is cooking it knows it or not. I had some sort of history with most of the things in my book. And, I see the dinner table as a lot more than just a place to eat. People who might disagree about religion or politics are liable to come together around food.

My parents were/are very French food oriented. The last two decades there has been a shift from French to a more international cuisine, certainly in my generation. Do you notice that too?

My first serious cooking job was in a French restaurant so my technique is certainly oriented in that direction. I still cook the way I learned to there. In this country from the end of World War II to maybe the mid 1980s, French food and style was seen as the most sophisticated. In recent years people have become able to see the whole world with ease so naturally France has had to share the stage with other cuisines. Still, when I have a wonderful meal in a French restaurant or taste a classic French vintage, I feel an affection and respect for that country.

What  would  you miss from the USA when you would live abroad ?

Foodwise, probably fried chicken. Culturally, there is a kind of self confidence that we seem to have here that I find appealing

Culinary speaking, you are very experienced in cooking, which one is your favorite recipe?

I have a lot of favorites and they seem to follow the season. By August each year, I have grown tired of dishes with fresh tomatoes. Yesterday at the market I found five different kinds of winter greens so I made gumbo z’herbes for dinner. It’s a Lenten stew from Louisiana, so today that is my favorite recipe.

Do you like wine and if you do can you tell me about your favorites?
I do like wine and I like many kinds. Champagne is always a favorite. I like the European classics like Bordeaux, Riojas, and such. I also like Vinho Verdes from Portugal, reds from Chile, whites from Austria and New Zealand.

Maybe you van tell a thing or two on North Carolina?  I have never been there but it is often portrayed a wonderful state. So different.

North Carolina is lucky in that it has a strong working class and middle class tradition. There is wealth of course as well. There is a tradition of caution and moderation in it’s politics, although there are the ocasional glaring exceptions to this. We were lucky in the second half of the last century to have had a series of forward looking leaders. The weather is mild, there are many medium sized cities rather a few large ones and the are scattered across the state. Much of North Carolina is still rural.

You learned to cook form your Grandmother and grand mère, can you explain some more on this subject?

I grew up in a time when women for the most part remained in the home rather than worked. My great grandmother, grandmothers and aunts were all good cooks and cooking was an important part of their lives. I grew up with the expectation of good food. I was expected to eat everything that was put before me. All this is a good professional foundation for me.

If you were to start all over in the Netherlands, what would you want to teach us? I know this is a though question.

I have never been to your country so I’m not sure what you do or don’t already know there. I suppose I would choose some traditional East North Carolina recipes, cook them and tell you the stories that come with them.

Last but not least, do you want to share anything else in my blog? Please be welcome
Recently it has occurred to me that while most of my friends are retiring, I am busier than ever. I have asked myself why. This is a hard job for someone of my age. I have decided that as long as it remains interesting, I’ll continue doing it.

 picture:  Book from Bill’s  cooking

The Recipe

Having read all the answers of Bill Smith, I tought let’s go to the Deep South of the Netherlands, the region of Southern Limburg, where there are still many old recipes to be found. Bill does not know our country nor the traditions, so I chose for “Knien in ’t soer” or Rabbit cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. One of the main ingredients is apple syrup from the orchards of this province. People from the South are often called Burgundian, because of their attitude to food and drink. I hope Bill likes this all time traditional. The wine I suggest is a a crisp young white wine from the Mâconnais (southern Burgundy) to match the sweet and sour taste of this dish.

Ingredients for 4 persons:

1 rabbit cut in parts (about 3 lbs)
1 red onion
1 big carrot
1/2 celeriac
6 stems of parsley
2 bay leaves
3 cloves
10 juniper berries
1 1/2 cup of white wine vinager
1 cup of water
2 tbs of apple syrup
2 tbs flour
pepper and salt


Cut the rabbit in pieces. Chop the onion in rings, cut the celeriac and and carrot in cubes. Chop four of the parsley stems very finely. Put the vegetables and rabbit in a bowl. Add the parsley, juniper berries, cloves and bayleaves. Pour a mixture of water and vinager on top, stir and leave to marinate four about 12 hours in the fridge.
Pat the pieces of rabbit dry and season them with pepper and salt. Heat some butter in a frying pan and fry the rabbit parts golden brown. Get the meat out and cover for a while. Add some flour to the butter and stir. Gently pour in the vegetables and juices from the marinade. Put to a boil, get the rabbit parts back in and leave to simmer for about one and a half hours.
When the rabbit is done, put it an a big plate. Mix the apple syrup through the sauce and stir. Maybe some extra seasoning is necessary. Put the sauce and the cooked vegetables over the rabbit meat. Garnish with some parsley. This dish can be served with either cooked potatoes or mashed ones.

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