Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ in New Orleans
The story begins with a bad sandwich. I grew up in rural Virginia, in the tiny town of Free Union. My formative food experiences were at shabby, family-run country stores—part gas station, part convenience mart, and part takeout counter. They sold beer and gas, lures and ammo, chili-cheese dogs and biscuits with white gravy. Some sold the delicacy that my mom calls “rat cheese,” a wheel of fake cheddar that sweats all day on the counter, typically unwrapped and unrefrigerated, to be purchased by the hunk and eaten with some saltines. It’s the dairy equivalent of a loosie cigarette.
Sometimes when we were hard up for lunch, we’d stop at one of these stores and my mom would grab us some bologna sandwiches. I hated those bologna sandwiches. I hated the texture of flabby off-brand cased meat. I hated the yellow mustard (which I couldn’t stomach unless, for some reason, it was on a McDonald’s burger). The only way I knew how to turn that sandwich into something worth eating was to load it with salt-and-vinegar potato chips. Never would’ve guessed that some twenty years later, my version of that bologna sandwich would be featured in magazines, on food TV shows, and, most important, in a mayonnaise commercial.
Mostly, though, I loved the food in those stores. There’s Wyant’s, in White Hall, Virginia, which has been run by the Wyant family since 1888 and where the sausage biscuit never fails to hit the spot. There’s Brownsville Market, in Crozet, which has a hot case stocked with broccoli-cheese casserole and fried chicken. And there’s Bellair Market, in Charlottesville, where every week for a decade, I ordered a sandwich called The Jefferson: turkey, cheddar, and cranberry relish on a French roll, slathered with an herb mayo that shows up in my dreams (and on this page).
The store that had the biggest influence on the way I cook today didn’t make food at all. Maupin Brothers Store was a few minutes by foot from our shabby A-frame in Free Union. We went every day, often several times a day. We were there so much that it became like an extension of our home. Della Maupin (we all called her “Miss Maupin”); her husband, Kemper; and their son Mike ran the store. They let my mom run a big tab. They ratted out my brother when he pulled my mom’s rusty GMC Suburban into their parking lot before he had his license. They were family.
The most memorable times were in the mornings. Mom had to get four kids ready for school, and when we missed the bus, which happened hilariously often, she would cram us in the GMC, spill coffee on herself, then make a beeline to Maupin’s. She’d let the truck idle in the lot and set us loose in the aisles. Some days, I’d grab a Jimmy Dean sausage biscuit or bean burrito plucked from the freezer case and thaw it to perfection in the microwave. Other days, I’d pop open a can of jalapeño-flavored Vienna sausage, because even as a young kid I had a very refined palate. Often, I opted for an ensemble breakfast: a bag of Doritos, a Snickers bar, and a can of Mr. Pibb. I always tried to make the food last the entire drive, and the ultimate was pulling up to school as I took my last bites—two Doritos at once followed by the center cut from the Snickers chased by the final sip of Pibb.
Junk food wasn’t my only muse. My fancy grandma, who asked us to call her Ann, was a badass cook: I’m talking game birds, duck fricassee, and snapper with herbed lemon butter. My mom still has Ann’s dictionary-thick recipe book, a hodgepodge of newspaper clippings and handwritten instructions. My mom also has her own mother’s recipe book. Her mom’s name is Anne, too, but she always went by Grandmommy. Grandmommy is as country as Ann was highfalutin. Her book is full of recipes, like cornpone, kraut dumplings, and hickory-nut loaf cake, written in her looped scrawl on paper that’s now yellowed and cracked. While Ann was making sure her table was set with the proper flatware, Grandmommy was rolling by the fridge to snack on raw hamburger meat sprinkled with salt and pepper.
My mom cooked food that was somewhere in between. It wasn’t fancy, and it reflected the same sort of practical considerations that brought me to Maupin’s for breakfast. She made an amazing dish of chicken with evaporated milk and apple juice concentrate. She melted American cheese on broccoli to serve with frozen fish sticks, and used Rice Krispies as a crust for baked chicken thighs. She made a special-occasion chicken curry with peas that would rock me every time. Then there were burnt tomatoes: a kind of magical casserole made from sliced, flour-dredged, pan-fried tomatoes that are sprinkled with sugar and baked to hell. She still makes them for Thanksgiving every year, and even though her son, the chef, cooks the rest of the meal, her burnt tomatoes are always the best thing on the table.
Still, I definitely didn’t have designs on being a chef. Right after college, I moved down to New Orleans, which I knew practically on arrival would be my forever home, and realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be using my art history degree. My first job was as a door guy (think Swayze in Road House) at Fat Harry’s, a bar in Uptown. A few months later I became a cook there, and eventually a really crappy bartender—top of the totem pole, as far as the money was concerned.
That’s where I learned to cook—making burgers for the oddball regulars and cheese fries for the budding alcoholics at Tulane and Loyola. It was there, among the deep fryers and endless shots of Grand Marnier, where I became entranced by the alchemy of cooking, by how a little mustard wash, flour, and bird meat could enter a vat of bubbling oil and emerge as chicken fingers. When it was slow, the manager, Joey, would teach me all sorts of cool stuff that was definitely not on the menu, like how to fry soft-shell crabs and make barbecue-shrimp pistolettes. At some point I realized, cash tips be damned, I wanted to cook.
After a year at Fat Harry’s, I scored a job as a line cook at Coquette, a cool bistro in the Garden District that crushed at turning local meat and produce into inventive Southern food. I stuck around for six years. By the time I became Coquette’s chef de cuisine, I had learned to do some pretty neat chef shit, like taking modest stuff, like fried chicken or catfish, and dressing it up, and taking fancy-sounding stuff, like veal sweetbreads or beef tartare, and dressing it down.
Creative freedom and youthful enthusiasm kept me going despite years of eighty-hour work weeks peppered with hangovers, eating over trash cans, and broken cigarettes. Yet what actually got me through it was the people, the post-work revelry, the realization that we had all somehow found jobs that let us pay our rent without really growing up. I don’t remember, for instance, the choreography that allowed five grown adults in a tiny kitchen to put out hundreds of meticulous plates on busy nights. But I will never forget the fun: the time my fellow cook and close pal Richard Horner woke up after his first Mardi Gras with a mysterious pain in his shoulder, which turned out to be a tattoo that read “Kara Anderson is Hot Sauce”—even though he can’t remember ever meeting Kara. Still, she did friend him on Facebook months later. Needless to say, he was late to work that day. Or the time some silly goose sucked down a whippit from the iSi gun that we employed to make foamed horseradish cream, right before the Friday dinner rush, and brought the kitchen to its knees for a spell. (Again, I’m sorry to everyone who worked or waited too long for their food that night.) Or how every Sunday night, we’d meet at the bar down the street and stay for hours and hours after they locked the doors for last call, talking loud, ripping cigs, and dancing to Sugar Hill Gang, as if we hadn’t just put in fifteen hours on our feet. These were the same friends who joined me when I set out to open my own place, which we decided would be as much about serving good food as it was about bringing the party to work and figuring out how never to do another fifteen-hour day ever again.
Back in August 2016, I opened a restaurant called Turkey and the Wolf, a few blocks from that bar, in the Irish Channel. “Turkey” was what my old man called us kids when we were being little fuckers. “Wolf” came from the howls that went up from the kitchen at Coquette after we sent out the night’s final dish. I partnered up with Lauren Holton, my girlfriend at the time, whose name I have tattooed on my ass. We broke up, but don’t worry, my wife’s name is also Lauren and now my ass says “New Lauren.”
Turkey and the Wolf is an enthusiastically casual spot. The food comes on vintage Disney, Power Rangers, and Ronald McDonald plates we found on eBay. People sit on chairs and at tables that my mom found at yard sales. We have only ten or so items on the menu at any given time. Most of them are sandwiches, and there is no governing principle other than we serve what we think tastes good: hog’s head cheese tacos with shredded iceberg and American cheese, a collard green sandwich that tastes like a Reuben, a bagel-inspired wedge salad, and an adorable fried chicken potpie that would fit in your pocket.
In our merry misfit kitchen crew was Colleen—master of dips, hater of olives, culinary school crusher with an awesome bandana collection destined for greatness. There was Nate—talks slow, thinks fast, and a while back moved from frying catfish to wood-firing prime meats for the wealthy and it almost killed him, though not for lack of talent. He recently started wearing a gold chain (it’s a good look). There was Scotty—prep wiz, former competitive bike messenger, infamous multitasker, and master of collard green cookery. There was Swade—a great dancer who started his culinary journey around the corner cooking shrimp po’boys at Parasol’s, barfed when I took him to Houston, and let the kitchen crew name his son. There was Migdalia—faster than the rest and a selfless goddess who might also threaten to break your twig legs if you get in her way, whose family owns pigs and who often reminds Nate he looks a bit like them. And there was Kate, who was briefly a boutique dog-clothing salesperson before managing restaurants and joined our team to do anything but manage and then became our general manager. We were all there from the start and we’re still together today.
Nowadays, we take a more direct route to deliciousness than we used to at our fine-dining jobs. Instead of toiling to make some braised short rib appetizer taste like someone turned a Slim Jim into a pig in a blanket, we’d probably just serve a fuckin’ Slim Jim pig in a blanket. The energy spared goes right into making that straightforward food even more fun. We still apply all the tools we once used to build and combine flavors but to create food that wouldn’t feel entirely out of place in one of those country stores I went to all the time as a kid.
Our hope when we opened was that some people would come by and try our food. Then they did and things got a bit out of hand. Before we hit the year mark, we were on a bunch of “Best of” lists and got so busy we were burning through the next day’s prep so fast we’d have to shut down early to avoid prepping late into the night. We had a good run as the world’s most overrated sandwich shop, before the mob turned back into a more manageable party. We still had a blast pretty much the entire time.
Now, I’ve got two restaurants, Turkey and the Wolf and a breakfast spot called Molly’s Rise and Shine, named after my sister. I love cooking for people and I love the friends I get to cook with. We all finish work by 4 or 5 p.m. but typically don’t stop hanging and occasionally causing mischief till 6 or 7. And we’ve been cranking out high times and fun food long enough that the big shots in New York gave us the green light for a cookbook. I’m excited that my mom can put this on her coffee table, where it’ll look real nice, since my brother took the photos. I’m happy I got to write this book with my pal JJ, who once ate so much at Turkey and the Wolf that he clogged our toilet and is only telling me this just now, three years after the plunging. And I’m grateful that when the opportunity came, the talented friends I met during a dozen years of working in kitchens together showed up to help me make the thing special.
I hope you like what we made, too. This book contains recipes for food I love that you can reasonably make at home or, in the case of one recipe that requires a pig’s head and a good sixteen hours of your time, that you should strongly consider making at home even if it almost takes you down. You’ll find a bunch of favorites from Turkey and the Wolf and Molly’s, and you’ll also find some of the best dishes we’ve ever made at the restaurant but never made it on the menu because they didn’t work logistically or didn’t fit even within the capacious contours of our operations. You’ll also find the kind of desserts I make at home, which require minimal baking because I don’t know shit about baking.
What they all have in common is that they max out flavor and fun and ditch unnecessary work. They show that you can cut corners and still be proud of what you created. At the restaurant, for example, we make our own ham by brining pork legs for eight days and smoking them for ten hours, and we buy that pork from farmer friends, and the pigs have names and hobbies and lead happy lives, at least until the day they start down the road to ham. One reason we make our own is because we like to, but it’s also cheaper than buying nice ham someone else made, and I’m trying to run a dang business. But you know who else has really good ham? The grocery store. You know what’s better than your homemade mayonnaise? Duke’s mayo. And anyway, the key to our kind of cooking isn’t the ham or the mayo, but the way we combine it with other tasty stuff to make something we like to eat.
So as much as this book is about good food, it’s about giving you permission to relax a little. You’re allowed to make your own hot sauce by mixing together other hot sauces. You’re allowed to doctor leftover Popeyes, hit the drive-thru for hash browns and then put stuff on them, or combine canned and jarred stuff to re-create the pleasures of the pop-top bean dip you used to get at the gas station. You shouldn’t make an ingredient from scratch if a great version already exists unless making it sounds fun. Fun is the most important thing.
1 | A Month of Sundays
Colleen’s Bagel Bites
Collards and Grits with Salsa Macha
Don’t Sleep on the Carrot Yogurt
Grand Slam McMuffin
Meatloaf: The Bagel, Not the Musician
2 | The Salad Ranch
Buffalo Waldorf Salad
The Cabbage Patch
Leftover Fried Chicken Salad
Sunday Morning Coming-Down Potato Salad
Lamb, Peas, Mint, and Cereal Salad
3 | Big Hat, No Cattle
Sweet Potato Burrito
Roasted Sunchoke and White Truffle Dunkaroos
White Bean Hummus with Chile-Crunch Peas
Visualize Whirled Peas on Toast
4 | Delta Folly
Crab Cake Muffs
Roe a la Jiffy
Shrimp with Grapes and Nuts
5 | ENJOY EVERY SANDWICH
The Bellair (The Reason We Make Sandwiches)
The Collard Melt
The 86’d Chicken-Fried Steak
The Softshell Crab
Meatloaf: The Sandwich, Not the Musician
6 | Shake Hands with Beef
DISHES FOR MEAT LOVERS
Chicken Potpies That Fit in Your Pocket
Corner-Store Pork Rind Tacos
Fried Chicken Skins and Deviled Eggs
Spicy Fried Chicken Salad on Roti Paratha
Slow-Cooked Lamb Necks with Fixings on Roti Paratha
Hog’s Head Cheese
Hog’s Head Cheese Rice
Hog’s Head Cheese Tacos
Hog’s Head Cheese Collards
Grocery-Store Tonnato Sauce
7 | Side Hustle
Mom’s Famous Burnt Tomatoes
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
My Best Attempt at Anne Hereford’s Apple Fritters
Mason’s Danksgiving Day Puree
Used to Call It Stuffing, Now I Call It Dressing
Scotty’s Good-with-Everything Collard Greens
There Should Probably Be a Salad (Caesar)
8 | Mama Tried
The Mama Tried Burger
Dan Stein as a Hot Dog
Via’s Corn Dogs with Her Mom’s Mustard
Not Yo Mama’s Peanut Butter–Bacon Burger
Spicy Chicken Thigh Roaster Sandwich
9 | Just Liquor & Dessert from Here on Out
No-Churn Ice Cream Sundae
Beet Butter and Tahini on Ice Cream
Magic Shell and Potato Stix on Ice Cream
Crunk Chunks on Ice Cream
Candied Peanuts, Nutter Butters, and Toasted Coconut on Ice Cream
Cheez-Its and Peanuts on Ice Cream
10 | When I Dip, You Dip, We Dip
DIPS, SPREADS & OTHER STUFF
Verdant Blender Sauce
Bellair-Style Herb Mayo
Peanut Butter Salsa Macha
Halfway-Homemade Hot Sauce
Pizza Cream Cheese
Anchovy Crème Fraîche
Spicy Russian Dressing
Big Zesty Buttermilk Dressing
Gas-Station Bean Dip
My Best Try at Colleen’s Onion Dip
Nate’s Spicy Chicken Spices
About the Authors
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|Epub||June 23, 2022|
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