To many, Andrea Reusing is known as the James Beard Award–winning chef who has skillfully fused Asian flavors with the produce that grows around her Chapel Hill, North Carolina restaurant Lantern. Reusing is also the author of Cooking in the Moment — a collection of pragmatic home-kitchen recipes (simple, accessible) that aim to eschew a recipe landscape that the author smartly describes as “complicated by foodie-ism.” You will know what we’re talking about the next time you are asked to forage to complete a recipe.
“Cooking with food grown near home — which was just called ‘cooking’ until recently — has come to signify something rigorous and philosophical,” she says. “The idea behind most recipes in my book is to show how seasonal, local food is the most efficient path to satisfying meals.” Both David Chang and John Grisham lovingly blurbed her book. We’d like to put those guys in a room with a bottle of Pappy 23.
But I know Reusing more as the wife Mac McCaughan, co-founder of Merge Records and frontman of DIY demi-gods Superchunk. I bow to his crazy eclectic roster of artists topping my iTunes Most Played list: Spoon, Oakley Hall, Stephin Merritt, Caribou, She & Him, Arcade Fire, on and on. When I recently found out that Mac had a wife running one of the best restaurants in the South, my mind was blown. I had to get to know her.
Wow, BIG congrats on your recent James Beard Award. How does your cooking represent what’s going on right now in the Southeast?
I’m not sure that there is one unified thing happening in the Southeast — and it’s one of the things that makes being here fun. Restaurants here are hard to characterize as part of a trend unless it’s broad. It’s food that is delicious but also very personal.
A few meals that I’ve had recently that come to mind are shad roe and grits at Hominy Grill, sweet corn with oyster mushrooms and sherry at Poole’s Diner, chicken liver in a jar with rhubarb at Abattoir, an unreal plate of smoked mussels with silky eggplant at Townhouse, the burgers at Holeman & Finch, raw oysters with pickled daikon at Cakes & Ale and amazing ice cream sandwiches at Miller Union.
What do you think of the explosion in popularity for Southern restaurants outside the South — cities like Boston and particularly NYC are seeing so many open each week. Isn’t it about time?
It’s definitely easier to find a biscuit in Brooklyn right now than in many parts of the South. But underlying the trend aspect of it is the sincere desire of chefs and eaters for real, direct flavors and foods that are tied to a specific history. Southern food is tangible way of escaping restaurant-y dishes and experiencing something that still registers as home cooking. And, of course, New Yorkers love what they can’t have. I used to have a classic southern New Year’s Day party in NYC every year — where I served hoppin’ john, ham and cornbread. People would still be eating at midnight.
What does cooking in the moment mean?
It’s about flavorful, fast — but smart — home cooking. Chefs are not the best models for how to eat well at home and cooking in general has been mystified and complicated by foodie-ism. I wrote the book somewhat as a reaction to friends who have started believing that making a simple dinner for friends requires some special skill that they don’t have.
In that same vein, there is a sort of fatigue that has settled in around the ubiquity of the words “local” and “organic.” For many home cooks, “farm-to-table” has nearly been weaponized. Cooking with food grown near home — which was just called “cooking” until recently — has come to signify something rigorous and philosophical. The idea behind most recipes in my book is to show how seasonal, local food is the most efficient path to satisfying meals.
What is in the moment in Chapel Hill right now?
It’s been very hot and dry here so tomatoes are super sweet and concentrated. They are all over the menu: roasted whole with marrow and sea salt alongside a porterhouse, in a chilled beefsteak tomato soup with fresh wasabi, in an heirloom tomato salad with shiso, in yellow tomato-chili jam with blue crab cakes.
The back of your cookbook features praised from David Chang and John Grisham. Those are two pretty particular dudes. How do you know each?
John Grisham has been a regular at Lantern for a while and I met Dave through my husband Mac.
Do you have a kinship with David Chang — you both embrace southern and Asian sensibilities with a strong sense of style…
It’s true — Asian and Southern cooking have so many things in common. Salty ham, a love of oysters, crispy chicken and respect for good greens.
Are you as obsessed with Benton’s ham as Chang?
I love Benton’s but maybe not quite as much as Dave.
What’s the next great food export or dish to travel from South to North?
Soft shell shrimp, lady cream peas, tomato pudding.
Who are the big eaters on the Merge roster? And the biggest food fans?
Cooking for musicians when they are on tour is fun. They are generally very hungry and willing to eat a lot more food than they really should. The biggest food people on Merge are probably Arcade Fire, She & Him and Wye Oak. When it works, we try to do the meal in two parts, some snacks and drinks early and then more of a real dinner after they play.
On your first date with your husband…was the vibe more food or music focused?
I think it was actually more beer focused.
And how excited are you about the Archers of Loaf reunion?
They were so good on Fallon. They’re one of my favorite bands to see live. I can’t wait.
Get Andrea Reusing’s mouth-watering recipe for fried chicken.