cover image Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress them Up for Company

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress them Up for Company

Virginia Willis. Ten Speed, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-60774-009-4

As Willis demonstrates with this vibrant, informative guide to Southern cuisine, great cookbooks can offer a window into their author's life. As with her first book, Bon Appetite, Y'all, Willis uniquely applies her French culinary training to the down-home repertoire she inherited growing up in Georgia. Here, though, the emphasis is on elevating homey weeknight dishes into chef-inspired creations intended for company, and this collection does double duty. Her "basic" Southern ratatouille, for instance, gets "brilliant" when stuffed into crispy cornmeal cups for a vegetarian hors d'oeuvre. Mama's macaroni salad can go upscale with the potential addition of jumbo lump crabmeat, while Dede's burnt caramel cake might be dressed up with an optional apple hazelnut compote. A former kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living Television, Willis is well versed in the importance of presentation and the added flair of the unexpected, so even green beans with buttery peaches can be transformed with an almond toffee nougatine. For those without classic French training, Willis has helpfully supplied the basics, which include stocks, mayonnaise, and cr%C3%A8me fra%C3%AEche. In this deceptive slim volume, Willis also manages to weave in personal recollections of family time in the kitchen along with a cultural tour through the South, explaining the history of the African foodways preserved by the Gullah people, the influence of sugar cane production on the Southern sweet tooth, and the meaning of the term "gospel bird." By turns inspiring and appetizing, this work is a valuable resource for anyone interested in regional American cooking. Photos. (Sept.)