It's About Soul Chef Todd Richards

Chef Todd breaks down soul food in his new cook­book with us.

Athleisure - - Table Of Contents -

We're al­ways ex­cited to be in­tro­duced to a num­ber of cre­atives across ver­ti­cals here at Ath­leisure Mag. A few weeks ago, we got an advanced copy of Soul: A Chef's Culi­nary Evo­lu­tion in 150 Recipes and from the se­lected dishes, col­or­ful im­agery and the voice of Chef Todd Richards, we had to in­ter­view him for this month's is­sue. He brings to life what soul food means as a genre and how it can be in­ter­preted within its clas­sic dishes as well as be­ing uti­lized in other dishes that are not com­monly thought to align with this cat­e­gory. Chef Richards is self-taught, pas­sion­ate about ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers about the food and bring­ing the love and com­mu­nity that sur­rounds it.

ATH­LEISURE MAG: How did you know that you wanted to be a chef and what was your jour­ney to get­ting there?

TODD RICHARDS: I re­ally knew that I wanted to be a chef when my first job was be­ing a butcher at Kroger in Atlanta and peo­ple at the meat counter would ask me ques­tions about how to pre­pare things. I fig­ured that I needed to know how to pre­pare those items that I was serv­ing so I started study­ing and I thought, "this is re­ally cool." There was some­one across the street that needed some­one to grill so I thought, if I can cut the meat, then I should be able to grill. So I started work­ing there and then I never re­ally looked back. The cre­ative process of learn­ing how to butcher and pre­par­ing meat sat­is­fied that cre­ative need that I had.

AM: You've been on Iron Chef and have 2 James Beard Nom­i­na­tions for Best Chef in the South­east, what do these ac­co­lades mean to you and what was it like be­ing on the show and re­ceiv­ing these hon­ors?

TR: It's such a great honor to be on Iron Chef and to be a James Beard Award Nom­i­nee but it doesn't just stop there it re­ally fu­els me to be even bet­ter, and I think that that has al­ways been the cat­a­lyst that I got from my par­ents. ThaWhat hap­pens right now is great, but you al­ways have to keep striv­ing re­gard­less of how many awards that you may win.

AM: Tell us about Richards' South­ern Fried at Krog Street Mar­ket in Atlanta.

TR: Well Richards' South­ern Fried is a chicken walkup. I re­ally wanted to do Fried Chicken be­cause mainly at the Ritz Carl­ton, it was one of the most pop­u­lar dishes that we served - imag­ine that you're at the Ritz, one of the most lux­u­ri­ous ho­tels and that's what peo­ple are eat­ing! We put that on the menu and peo­ple went crazy!

We also en­tered that recipe into a cou­ple of Fried Chicken com­pe­ti­tions and we won those as well. I knew that we had some­thing re­ally good go­ing on, and it was like, we need to do this be­cause peo­ple al­ways ask about it. That's how South­ern Fried started.

AM: How do you de­fine Soul food and why is that an area you de­cided to fo­cus on as a chef?

TR: Well the first thing is that soul food is only de­fined by 1950's/1960's just in that genre of food. It was only in that time pe­riod that there was an African Amer­i­can con­tri­bu­tion in that area not be­fore and then not af­ter. Re­ally it's a mis­nomer of the tech­ni­cally driven cui­sine that soul food is. Most peo­ple do not un­der­stand it that way, but if you think about it, how in the hell do you make chitlins taste good - you have to have skill to make them good and to make some­thing like col­lard greens taste good. Those things are all tech­ni­cally skilled recipes and I believe that soul food has the same place as French cui­sine or Japanese cui­sine.

AM: With your cook­book be­ing avail­able, what was the thought be­hind cre­at­ing Soul?

TR: I wanted read­ers to know that soul food is al­ways pro­gress­ing. Soul food, es­pe­cially in African Amer­i­can cul­ture,

is not just one straight so­ci­ety and there are a lot of dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions in our cul­ture and in our food that we're known for. If you take the ingredients and ex­plore them, in dif­fer­ent man­ners and in un­der­stand­ing the tech­nique, there are dif­fer­ent ways that we are talk­ing about in true Amer­i­can cui­sine that have tech­niques from all around the world, but is dis­tinctly, African Amer­i­can cook­ing in taste.

AM: When we flipped through your cook­book, we were struck with the Col­lard Green Pesto as we're fans of pesto - look­ing through the of­fered recipes there are clas­sics, twists on a clas­sic as it per­tains to soul food as well as tak­ing dishes that are not in this area of food and adding soul to it - how do you go about do­ing that?

TR: When you think about col­lard greens that our grand­moth­ers put on the stove the way that they ap­proached it with the onions and brais­ing the pork and things like that - it was al­ways a tech­ni­cal cui­sine. So when you look at other cuisines around the world, it's al­ways start­ing with the sim­plest of ingredients and how we just do them cor­rectly with­out de­stroy­ing the in­tegrity of them.

When you look at col­lard greens and why it makes sense for a pesto, it stands up well to oil, it loves vine­gar, creams and stuff like that. So it makes sense that as a leafy vegetable that it would work in a dish like that. AM: If you had to choose 3 meals that you would cook over a week­end, what would they be that are in your book?

TR: Well, for­tu­nately, we grow a lot of food in our home so right now we're grow­ing a lot of toma­toes - so def­i­nitely toma­toes! Sliced toma­toes with a little vinai­grette and all the flow­ers that we still have held over from the win­ter - like brus­sel sprout flow­ers. The next thing would be my mom's Fried Cat­fish be­cause I don't think that there is any­thing bet­ter than dip­ping it in your own hot sauce. The way that she al­ways pre­pared the cat­fish, it was crispy and you just dipped the cat­fish in the hot sauce and all this vine­gar, pep­per and us­ing gar­lic and onions in there as well which has re­ally great sen­si­bil­ity. And be­cause I love to have a cock­tail, straw­ber­ries are in sea­son right now - the Straw­berry Rum Cooler is a great way to use straw­ber­ries. Don't get those re­ally pretty ones, get the ugly ones that are kind of soft and when you bite into them the juice just runs down your chin. Those are the straw­ber­ries that you want for a Straw­berry Rum Cooler!

AM: What are your 3 fa­vorite meals that are in this book?

TR: It is so hard be­cause the book is di­vided by ingredients. In this pe­riod of time right now, onions, spring lamb is avail­able - I use that as a ref­er­ence be­cause my an­swers to­day will be dif­fer­ent then when it is in the fall when there are col­lard greens. Seafood is univer­sal so you can en­joy that any time. But just to un­der­stand that we are at the end of col­lard green sea­son so hav­ing the Col­lard Green Pesto with Poached Oys­ters might be at the end of that sea­son but pair­ing it with toma­toes - it will make it make more sense.

AM: What's on your playlist when you're cook­ing?

TR: The great thing is that in the back of the book, there ac­tu­ally is a playlist and on Spo­tify there is a soul food playlist

Soul food, es­pe­cially in African Amer­i­can cul­ture, is not just one straight so­ci­ety and there are a lot of dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions in our cul­ture and in our food that we are known for.

as well that we put up. And grow­ing up with my par­ents, we were the hospi­tal­ity cen­ter of our en­tire fam­ily - ev­ery birthday, hol­i­day, Christ­mas party - I think that we even had a bah mitz­vah at our house. It didn't mat­ter we loved any rea­son to cel­e­brate and food and mu­sic were in­ter­twined to­gether. They had the same ex­act place. When we were talk­ing about soul as a cultural ref­er­ence, that's one thing that African Amer­i­cans - that we do. We want ev­ery­thing to look good vis­ually, to taste good and to hear our pas­sion in cook­ing. That to me is why I put the sound­track in the back of the book.

AM: We love the trend where cook­books have tran­scended to be­ing life­style cook­books. It feels like we're lit­er­ally hear­ing you share your per­sonal life as you talk about men­tors and your method - was that a con­scious choice?

TR: As a chef who prob­a­bly has hun­dreds of cook­books - I know where they all are. I still read Larousse Gas­tronomique - one of the bibles of cook­books that has over 10,000 recipes. But for a con­sumer, we have to make cook­books rel­e­vant so that peo­ple can con­tinue cook­ing and do it with their kids. To­day they are so phone sensitive and are con­nected to their de­vices. I wanted to make sure that peo­ple can al­ways con­nect to the cook­book. It's as easy as when you put that song on and some­one says, "man re­mem­ber when you came to the house and we started smok­ing some ribs and we played that song from the book," or vis­ually, you see some ugly toma­toes at the store and ev­ery­one is walk­ing past and I know that I can make the best dish with those toma­toes. Those are the rea­sons why I wanted to put all those things in the book.

This is the gift that my par­ents gave me - be­ing pride­ful and our cul­ture which is the other sense that they gave me. Read­ing is so im­por­tant to un­der­stand­ing us as a peo­ple and we have to pro­duce things that peo­ple vis­ually want to un­der­stand so that they can get out of their own stereo­typ­i­cal kind of minds and to just in­dulge them­selves into de­li­cious food.

AM: When you're not cook­ing in Atlanta, where can we find you grab­bing drinks/din­ner, where do you shop and what do you do in your per­sonal time?

TR: Peo­ple ask me that ques­tion all the time and it is a re­ally dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer in the sense that I work so damn much - I like to go home! But there are a lot of good chefs that I just grav­i­tate to and a num­ber of them are good friends of mine. In Athens, Jerry Slater just opened The Ex­pat. Jerry and I have had a long his­tory in work­ing to­gether off and on. I look at Guy Wong who's an­other great friend of mine who has Ton Ton and Miso Iza­kaya. I look at Hec­tor San­ti­ago with El Su­per Pan. Anne Qu­a­trano who is the ma­tri­arch of Atlanta din­ing scene. Ev­ery time I go to Bac­cha­na­lia I'm blown away and I feel like I just sat in my own liv­ing room hav­ing the most de­li­cious

meal. Then I go to the god­fa­ther of fine din­ing in Atlanta with Gerry Klaskala's Aria who ev­ery­time I see him he gives me the big­gest damn hug ever! And he's only like 5'2" haha.

AM: Are you in­volved in any char­i­ties or how do you give of your time?

TR: Yes I am on the board of Whole­some Wave which is re­ally im­por­tant to me be­cause we sup­port Snap Ben­e­fits which means that dol­lar for dol­lar we match with EBT so peo­ple can go to Farmer's Mar­kets and to get fresh food. That one is al­ways dear to me and Lu­pus Foun­da­tion. Lu­pus af­fects African Amer­i­cans es­pe­cially African Amer­i­can women more then any other peo­ple in the coun­try. It is an un­der served dis­ease that af­fects a lot of peo­ple.

AM: Is there any­thing that you want to share with our read­ers that we can keep an eye out for?

TR: Well, the Soul Tour is trave­ing from NYC to the West Coast with many stops in be­tween. Over the next month we will hit Nashville, Chicago, New Orleans, Char­lotte and then back to NYC and of course many many places in Atlanta. Any­one can find me on So­cial Me­dia - if you're in Atlanta, I want to know where you are and if you buy the book, I'm glad that peo­ple are post­ing but I want used cook­book posted - get into the kitchen and uti­lize it. I want to see wine stains, hot sauce stain - some boil that popped over on the book! It's great to be on the cof­fee table, but it's bet­ter to be in the kitchen!

PHOTO COUR­TESY | Ex­cerpted from Soul by Todd Richards. Copy­right © 2018 Ox­moor House. Reprinted with per­mis­sion from Time Inc. Books, a divi­sion of Mered­ith Cor­po­ra­tion. New York, NY. All rights re­served.

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