A new food experience, led by a team of culinary entertainment and Food Network veterans, plans to showcase America’s 50 most iconic foods, bringing the dishes—and the acclaimed chef from each state who prepares it best—together under one roof in St. Louis at the end of this month. We caught up with four of the chefs who will participate in the Flavored Nation event, October 25 through 27, to talk about their iconic dishes.
Chicken Fried Steak
Grady Spears, Chef
Horseshoe Hill Ft. Worth, Texas
History: There is no chicken. For this iconic chuck wagon dish, it’s all about the technique of preparing a flattened steak in the same manner of fried chicken. But make no mistake: It is a cherished Texas tradition, so much so that you’ll find a page dedicated to the dish on the website of the Texas State Historical Association.
Today: It starts with a marinade of Shiner Bock beer and buttermilk, to help tenderize the top sirloin steaks before they are battered and pan-fried. Spears, who dishes up to 800 chicken fried steaks a day at his restaurant, says, “It’s all about the bumpy irregularity of the coating.” He uses a special machine to roll out, flatten, and tenderize the steak.
Chicken & Andouille “Ya Ya” Gumbo
Dickie Brennan Jr., Owner
Palace Café New Orleans
History: This legendary restaurant has earned praise, in part, for its Ya Ya Gumbo, developed by celebrated Chef Paul Prudhomme in the 1970s and aptly named for the exclamation one might shout out because it’s so good.
Today: It still starts with a slow-simmering blend of dark brown roux with extra pounds of chicken thighs, Andouille sausage, onion, celery, green and red bell peppers, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, seasonings, a rich chicken stock, and Filé powder—that classic Creole dose of umami. Thickened after two hours, it’s served with popcorn rice and chopped green onion. You might also see gumbo made with Gulf shrimp, crayfish, and okra.
The Inside Out Hot Brown
Ouita Michel, Chef/Owner
Holy Hill Inn, Midway, Kentucky
History: Created in 1923 by Chef Fred Schmidt as a late-night supper at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. The hotel reportedly attracted more than 1,200 guests nightly for its dinner dance and served the open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and a Mornay sauce.
Today: “The original Hot Brown had to be eaten with a knife and fork, while ours can be eaten as a sandwich,” says Chef Michel, who pairs cheddar Mornay sauce with local Stone Cross Farm bacon and house-baked bread from her Midway Bakery.
Southern Peach Cobbler
Damiano de Nicolo, Chef
Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Dining Room, Atlanta
History: Cobbler easily dates to the pre-Civil War era in the Deep South, and it was originally a dish of convenience, combining ingredients on hand, like leftover biscuit dough, with fruits of the season. Settlers and soldiers alike were known to toss it all in a cast iron skillet and cook over an open fire.
Today: “It’s so representative of summer in Georgia,” says Chef de Nicolo, who blends sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, minced ginger, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of cornstarch to flavor the dish’s 2 1/2 pounds of peaches. “I use freestone peaches,” she adds, “which arrive later in the season.”