High school sweethearts who reunited at their 10-year reunion, Pat and Gina Neely co-own two Neely's Bar-B-Que restaurants in Memphis and one in Nashville, and star in Down Home with the Neelys on the Food Network. Knopf published their first book, Down Home with the Neelys: A Southern Family Cookbook. They stopped in New York on their 13-city tour, and while they didn’t have much time to sample the city’s barbecue, they squeezed in a few minutes to talk to PW about how far they’ve come. They also offered a few tips for summertime grilling: have fun and don’t forget the cocktails.
PW: The folks at Knopf describe you as undiscovered talents. How does it feel to have worked so hard for so many years at your restaurant business and finally get national attention?
GN: I always felt like we led a really good life. Our restaurants were successful, and I had my life with my girls [the Neelys have two daughters]. So this sort of feels like gravy. We had success before—not at this level, but at the end of the day it’s still a great blessing. We just roll with it.
PN: It’s been a very exciting ride. Four years ago we were just working in the restaurant every day and raising our girls. Lo and behold Food Network came knocking on the door, and we’re very proud of our success.
PW: What do you hope to achieve with your book?
PN: You’re seeing the true Pat and Gina Neely. We’re the same people, whether there are cameras shooting the show or we’re just in our home. The recipes are just an extension of our show. You’re going to find the same type of food. For instance, one recipe is Cheesy Corkscrews with Crunchy Bacon Topping. It’s a very rich mac and cheese casserole, topped off with bacon and potato chips crumbled on the top. Ain’t that how the Neelys do it?
GN: That recipe’s what we call—
PN: Remix! We wanted to put our own twist on [the traditional mac and cheese] to make it ours. We've also got grilling methods and techniques, and a section where we teach people our way of grilling spare ribs. And there’s a wonderful section on cocktails, which Gina is known for.
GN: Don’t make me sound like the alcoholic!
PN: Well, they’re great drinks.
PW: Since we’re entering barbeque season, what advice do you have for people who are going to spend the summer outdoors with their grills?
GN: Slow and low and don’t forget the cocktails. I do make great ones!
PN: Don’t be intimidated. Go out there, have fun. Enjoy the outdoors cookin’ and grillin’. If you make a mistake you can always make it better next time. Make your patio and backyard comfortable.
GN: And marinate your meat the night before. It’s all about you enjoying yourself when the company gets there.
PN: If the company’s coming at 5:00, I try to fire my grill up at 3:00, so I can cross my legs and we can enjoy the meal.