SOUTHERN FRIED CHARM
7 TANTALIZING QUESTIONS FOR TEXAS CHEF BLYTHE BECK
By JR Rosenthal, NT Food Editor
How do you go from following the straight-and-narrow path of Catholic School to becoming a Reality TV star on a show called “The Naughty Kitchen with Blythe Beck?” In search of the answer to this stumper, we journeyed to Texas equipped with nothing more than a Texas-sized appetite and a few bottles of hot sauce in the trunk of a 1965 pink Cadillac Fleetwood—just in case!
The color pink is an important talking point for Beck. Pink Magnolia, her relatively new restaurant venture in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, has quickly become one of the best Southern-Style restaurants in the USA. The food reflects a ‘naughty’ quality (such as creamed corn made with cream cheese) and the simple genius of braising mustard greens in Schlitz malt liquor.
Beck is no stranger to serving up finesse food that’s vibrating with texture and flavor. She has cooked at such Dallas-area hot spots as the Mansion on Turtle Creek, Hector’s on Henderson and Central 214 at the Hotel Palomar. In everything she cooks–in every possible way, she’s always able to demonstrate that rare blend of passion, fun and raw talent.
NATURAL TRAVELER: How would you describe your educational background? Did you go straight to cooking school out of high school?
BLYTHE BECK: It all began at an All-Girl Catholic college, where my primary concern was going to Mass and getting my academic work done. I didn’t have any cooking background, but I knew how to order food to bring back to campus for the girls. I was the queen of take-out; I always ordered the grilled chicken salad. I developed this special relationship with the woman who took my phone order; she was impressed with my polite, chatty personality and out of the blue she offered me a job. When she told me I’d make enough to pay for my beer I decided to give the restaurant business a try.
NT: Did you get to cook right away?
BECK: I had to talk my way into working in the kitchen because initially the idea was that I would only work in the front of the dining room as a hostess. But I was determined to cook and talked my way into the back where I knew I belonged.
NT: You didn’t really know how to cook exactly so what enabled you to wing it as a chef?
BECK: I had a decent instinct about making comfort food because my mom was an excellent chef, and I grew up around delicious, homemade food. One day I was learning how to make biscuits and I had this epiphany about my career path because I made the perfect biscuit. I knew I was finally great at doing something, that it was my calling, and that’s when I made a commitment to becoming a chef. That biscuit changed my life.
NT: You are one of the most successful alums from the University of North Texas. I am assuming that experience really helped you build a base of knowledge.
BECK: It was such a great program and I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to learn from and work with so many talented and inspiring people. My association with the school means so much to me. I’ve cooked with many talented chefs and a lot of great people but it all started at the University of North Texas.
NT: After working at so many cool restaurants, what’s your favorite thing to eat?
BECK: It’s a toss-up between my mom’s spaghetti with turkey meatballs and Asian Crawfish that’s cooked with lots of garlic and star anise. I could eat it every day and still love it.
NT: Is there a food you won’t eat?
BECK: Foie gras! I hate the look, the smell, the texture. I don’t like anything about it.
NT: You are regarded as one of the most gifted chefs in the world when it comes to Southern cooking. Since you are good at everything in this genre, could you say that you have a signature dish?
BECK: The Center-Cut Chicken Fried Ribeye with Beer Braised (made with Schlitz Malt Liquor) Mustard Greens, Naughty Creamed Corn (fresh corn cooked with butter, white wine, cream and cream cheese), and Bacon Red-Eye Gravy. I came up with this because I have always wanted to see what else I could fry! Texas is home to Chicken Fried Steak and I wanted to be a part of that legacy, so I created my own!
NT: Great flavor combinations seem to take your dishes to another level. How did you figure out the components of this dish?
BECK: When it came to the flavor combinations I went back to my roots. Our neighbor made greens all the time and I wanted to make them my own so I added the Schlitz. Ms. Dottie in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, taught me to make creamed corn and then I put my spin in it. And Red-Eye Gravy is a Cowboy tradition, and so why wouldn’t I put it on my baby! I guess the Chicken-Fried Ribeye is truly my love letter to the South.