Brothers Matt and Ted Lee grew up in Charleston, moved to New York City and have made a career spreading the Southern food gospel around the country.
In 1994 they founded The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, a mail-order source for pantry staples geared to ex-pat Southerners. Their first cookbook, "The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook," received the James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year in 2007. (Paula Deen calls them the "modern-day Lewis and Clark of Southern cuisine.")
They will be in Columbia on Tuesday promoting their new book, "The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern." (Clarkson Potter, $35).
Is Southern cooking still getting a lot of attention around the country?
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Ted Lee: "What's exciting for us, it's been three years since the first book, and more and more people are understanding Southern food in a way that's more deep and more diverse. People understand Southern food isn't just one thing. It's regional cooking. As you travel from place to place in the South, you find differences in ingredients and techniques and preparation.
How did people figure that out? Did it all start with barbecue?
"The popularity of barbecue and the regional styles of barbecue . . . is the gateway to that sort of thinking. Now that people understand we eat different barbecue in eastern North Carolina than we do in South Carolina or Georgia, they're taking that understanding to other dishes . . . shrimp and grits and jambalaya and the kinds of dishes only cooked at home in Southern homes."
What are some of those dishes that were cooked mainly in homes?
"A lot of vegetables. Gingered beets. That seems like something you only really encountered in someone's house. In last few years it's been on menus. . . . We're having fun with Southern ingredients and being inspired by the past but not using cream of mushroom soup or Velveeta.
What about the recipes in the new book?
"(The recipes) appeal to Paula's Deen's fans and Alice Waters' fans. Ten years ago it would have been all about one style of Southern cooking. Now people realize there are more interpretations of it. . . .We learned how to cook Southern from so many different Southerners. . . . Everyone cooks so differently from house to house. The Southern kitchen really is a personal place. And Southern cooking is a living art."
What's your goal with the new book?
"We want to get people cooking Southern food tonight; that's the first goal. And teaching people about Southern food history is somewhere in there. Encouraging the use of interesting Southern vegetables is a priority. But above all, to get people cooking."
What are some of your favorite recipes in the new book?
Matt Lee: The pimento-cheese potato gratin. . . . We love pimento cheese, we love scalloped potatoes. You layer the potatoes and roasted peppers. . . . This could replace macaroni and cheese on a Thanksgiving menu."
"This time of year, I've been grooving on the cabbage salad (cabbage and lime salad with roasted peanuts). . . . It livens everything up. And people eat the tar out of it."