Here's a look at Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything, the second cookbook from New Orleans chef Donald Link and co-author Paula Disbrowe. The duo's first cookbook, Real Cajun won the Beard Award for Best American Cookbook in 2010. That book adhered to the traditions of rural Louisiana; with Down South, one gets the impression that Link has not only broadened his field of influence to include the whole of the South, but also given himself the freedom to share the food he actually cooks for himself. Tradition be damned.
At first glance, Down South is not unlike a lot of other modern Southern cookbooks. The South has been fruitful for publishers in recent years, and, without being too reductive, books like John Currence's Pickles, Pigs, and Whiskey, Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's Collards and Carbonara, Anne Quatrano's Summerland, Ed Lee's Smoke & Pickles, Hugh Acheson's A New Turn in the South, and others have popped up to share recipes of the region.
Similar ideas pop up in a lot of these books. In Down South, Link discusses the grains he favors (Anson Mills), music he likes (Kings of Leon, the Black Keys), ham he prefers (Benton's, among others), bourbon he drinks (Pappy Van Winkle, obviously, "from the bottle that his grandson and successor, Julian Van Winkle, carries in his back pocket"), and chefs he's friends with (Linton Hopkins, Sean Brock, the barbecue superfriends team called the Fatback Collective). It has all the trappings of your average Southern chef cookbook.
That's where the similarities end, though, because when you look at the actual recipes, they're not just the cornbread and gumbo you'd expect. Link welcomes what he calls a "new style of Southern cooking," which admits influences outside of the traditional. What that means is you'll find recipes for Braised and Crispy Goat with Yogurt Sauce, Fried Fish Collars with Chile Vinegar, Lamb Shoulder with Lemons and Olives, Uruguayan melted cheese spread. There are recipes for barbecue shrimp and banana pudding, too, but they seem fresh and modern when thrown into this mix. (NB: There are also a lot, a lot, a lot of meat recipes.)
So Down South both is and is not like other modern Southern cookbooks. The question is, does the world need yet another one? From the Beard Award-winning duo of Link and Disbrowe with their new spin on what "Southern" can mean, perhaps. I like this book a lot. But after this, do we need another book to sing the praises of Benton's ham and Julian Van Winkle's private stash? Hopefully cookbooks can find new territories to explore and circle back to this one in a few years when it feels fresh and new again.
Down South is out February 25 from Clarkson Potter (pre-order on Amazon). Check it out: