We caught up with chef Matthew Bell of South on Main in Little Rock, Arkansas, before his James Beard dinner next week to learn where he eats on every New York visit, who he wants to grab dinner with while he's in town, and what Southern food he thinks NYC needs.
Chef Matthew Bell.
Southern-inspired fare is all the rage in New York these days, but Matthew Bell, the chef at South on Main in Little Rock, Arkansas, is bringing his interpretation to a special dinner at the James Beard House (Monday, August 17 at 7 p.m.; $130 members, $170 nonmembers; tickets on jamesbeard.org).
While Bell plans to serve an authentic, sophisticated take on Southern cuisine, he shares with us what he loves to eat when visiting the city, which chef to keep an eye on, and much more.
What is your favorite place to eat in New York, and what do you order there? MATTHEW BELL: I only get to New York every so often from Little Rock so I always like to try new places—or classics I have never been to. The one place that seems to get me every time I am in town is Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint. It’s close to my sister-in-law’s apartment, and I just can’t resist the Hellboy [a pizza with fresh mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, Berkshire sopressata picante, parmigiano reggiano, and Mike's Hot Honey].
In your opinion, who is a rising-star chef to watch in New York? MB: I don’t think she is a rising star anymore, but I think everybody in America should know Patti Jackson of Delaware and Hudson. She has obviously received amazing recognition but her food just wows me. She is truly talented.
If you could have dinner with any New York chef, dead or alive, who would it be? MB: If I could have dinner with any New York chef I would have to choose a former chef. I would love to eat with Danny Meyer. Aside from the obvious, I am amazed by his dedication to groups like No Kid Hungry. I find him truly inspiring and supremely talented. We would also have a pretty great choice of restaurants to go to.
What New York City neighborhood do you think has the best food scene? MB: This question is incredibly tough. I am almost scared to pick one. If I am picking one, I think that Harlem is amazing. Of course, Marcus Samuelsson is killing it, but chef Joseph "JJ" Johnson is really doing exciting things with The Cecil and Minton’s.
What are you most looking forward to about the James Beard Foundation event? MB: The highlight of this trip for me is that the staff that will travel with us. Many events I get to attend don’t require my staff. They are the reason this opportunity has come about and it will be amazing to have them here.
What kind of food does New York need more of? MB: I don’t know if anywhere needs more cheese dip. Arkansas lays claim to inventing it and [they’ve] been interested to see it gain favor in New York. My sister-in-law, who lives in Williamsburg, is really happy to see it popping up.
RECIPE: Crab Salad With Fried Green Tomatoes and Celery
1 pound jumbo lump crab 4 whole green tomatoes 6 celery sticks shaved with a peeler and placed in ice water
To make the remoulade:
Start by making your remoulade. In the bowl of a food processor, add the egg, anchovy, capers, and garlic. Pulse these ingredients together until combined. Next, add your vinegar and blend until frothy. While the machine is running, slowly begin to drizzle the oil into the mixture; stopping three times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. When all the oil is added, scrape the finished remoulade into a bowl and stir in the herbs and, if needed, season with salt and black pepper. Set aside in the fridge and begin on the fried green tomatoes.
To make the tomatoes:
First, using a small paring knife, core the green tomatoes. Next slice 1/4-inch slices from the tomatoes and lay them flat on some paper towels. Season both sides of the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Take three pie pans and fill one with flour, one with buttermilk, and one with a mixture of cornmeal and flour. Starting with the flour, coat each tomato in the flour, next dip them into the buttermilk, then finally coat them in the flour/cornmeal mix. As each one is coated, set them on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan.
Begin to fry the tomatoes by taking a large cast iron skillet and placing it over medium heat. Add about a 1/2 inch of canola oil to the pan. When the oil is hot and appears to shimmer, carefully add the tomatoes. Go slow and fry four to five at a time. When they begin to brown, flip with a spatula and cook on the other side until golden brown. After they are cooked place them onto fresh paper towels to drain while you assemble the salad.
To make the salad:
In a large bowl, combine the crab with some of the remoulade until it is creamy to your liking. Divide the fried green tomatoes between four plates. Top with a generous amount of the crab salad. Drain the celery from the ice water and pat dry. Finish with a pinch of the celery and drizzle around the salad with more remoulade.