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

2011 Texas Book Festival cookbook reviews

Chews Wisely

Basic to Brillant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways To Dress Them Up for Company

by Virginia Willis
Ten Speed Press, 288 pp., $35

I've admired Virginia Willis and followed her career since meeting her at the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers in 1995. The Georgia native is a proud descendant of great Southern home cooks who learned her Southern food repertoire at her grandmother's right hand and acquired her solid foundation in French technique studying at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, Md., and Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Burgundy, France. Willis has spent most of her professional career as a television producer, working with such culinary luminaries as Nathalie Dupree, Anne Willan, Bobby Flay, Shirley Corriher, and Martha Stewart. They all sing her praises, and justifiably so – her first book, Bon Appétit, Y'all, was an award winner; the watermelon ball salad with vodka and cassis alone was worth the price of that book. Willis' newest work, Basic to Brilliant, Y'all, presents classic, authentic Southern recipes with additional "brilliant" recipe modifications and presentation techniques that can be used to dress them up for company. The results are very appealing.

  For example, a rustic sweet-potato grits dish becomes a delicate, soufflé-like spoon bread with the addition of egg yolks and beaten egg whites, while four rounds cut from a skillet of Parmesan potatoes become pithiviers savoyarde when wrapped and baked in puff pastry. Using a brilliant technique, simple curried chicken wings are transformed into sophisticated, Jacques Pépin-inspired chicken lollipops. Tarragon egg salad becomes a component of a brilliant egg salad and smoked salmon canapé, and the addition to fried benne shrimp is a delicious celery slaw. Soul-satisfying okra cornmeal cakes get a brilliant presentation when sandwiched with creamy goat cheese or seasoned ricotta, while classic Charleston she-crab soup sports a sophisticated Sherry gelée rather than the regular soupçon of Sherry. Willis obviously reveres her Southern culinary heritage, and she deftly uses classic French techniques to enhance it. She's just a brilliant cook, y'all.

Virginia Willis will appear at 2:30pm Saturday in the Cooking Tent.

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From Brilliant to BasicY'all, From Brilliant to Basic, Y'all, Virginia Willis, Texas Book Festival

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