Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chef continues his legacy to Southern food with a film

  • ShareThis
  • Pr

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Scott Peacock met Edna Lewis when he finagled his way into an American Institute of Food & Wine cocktail party. It was the late ’80s, and the young chef, then the executive chef of the Georgia governor’s mansion, had heard of the graceful lady who had come to be known as the grand dame of Southern cooking. He wanted to meet her.

Louie Favorite, AJC file photo Under Scott Peacock's stewardship in the kitchen, Watershed became a treasure of Southern comfort and cooking, garnering national accolades including a James Beard Award for Peacock in 2007.

This deliberate encounter would dramatically change both their lives.

“We saw each other as who we really were,” Peacock said of the mentor he eventually co-wrote a cookbook with and cared for until her death in 2006. “She taught me to pay attention and listen to my heart.”

Words the former Watershed chef takes more seriously now than ever. He left the famed Decatur restaurant in February to pursue a film project that chronicles the lives of seniors from his home state of Alabama, focusing on what was most important to Lewis, and what’s now most important to him: their food memories.

Under his stewardship in the kitchen, Watershed became a treasure of Southern comfort and cooking, garnering national accolades including a James Beard Award for Peacock in 2007. He co-wrote “The Gift of Southern Cooking” (Knopf) with Edna Lewis in 2003.

The restaurant, co-owned by Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, is known for its classic approach to the cuisine of the South, including its famed Tuesday “fried chicken night” that heralds a recipe from the two chefs that is a two-day process ending with ham-laced lard for frying. Two of Peacock’s chefs de cuisine, Billy Allin and Steven Satterfield, have gone on to open acclaimed restaurants in the Atlanta area that focus on farm-to-table cooking, and it’s clear that Peacock and Lewis influenced their styles.

“I’m very proud of fried chicken night,” Peacock said, “and Miss Lewis loved it.”

Someone who obviously knew and respected Lewis for most of his adult life including being her caretaker for six years, the soft-spoken, affable Peacock always refers to her as "Miss Lewis."

His yet unnamed narrative film project is something he felt compelled to do. “It’s all Miss Lewis’ fault, actually,” Peacock laughs. “She is who taught me the importance of pathways and the connection we all have to food. It’s so important for us as Southerners to preserve our ways of cooking and eating – something we need to record for the generations to come. Our rituals and traditions are as important as technique and training.”

Watershed didn’t open originally as a restaurant, Peacock recalls, but more of a general store with food, similar to Sawicki’s, a gourmet food spot now just up the street from Watershed’s doors in Decatur. “People wanted to stay and eat, and eventually the concept painfully morphed into a restaurant,” Peacock said. Within the first year, it was obvious that the restaurant needed to be the focus.

Now that he's left, Peacock says he'll miss Watershed's kitchen, “but it’s the people I will miss the most – we had regulars who came in for fried chicken night every Tuesday. And it’s pretty cool when Yo-Yo Ma comes to Atlanta and wants to eat your food.”

But it’s the film that is his focus now – a legacy to honor a lady who helped shape his view of the world, and himself.

“Miss Lewis helped me understand that how you see yourself helps you understand how you see the world," he said. "Like her, this film helps me understand myself better.”