Wednesday, April 17

Nicole Taylor: When Southerners Go South (WAY South)

A "class picture" of the Rockwell and Sons staff, via their Facebook page. Casey Wall is front and center in an LA Dodgers hat and NY Jets jersey.
SFA guest blogger Nicole Taylor is Brooklyn-based writer and radio host with Georgia roots.

Last month, I attended the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival and learned that the spirit of the American South is alive in that city.

I consider myself a magician of sorts. Not like David Blaine, but similar to your aunt with the knee ache prior to a spring downpour. Spotting a Southerner in the “land down under” was pretty easy—we have this way.

After watching Charleston chef Sean Brock conduct a master class, I struck up a conversation with a bearded guy wearing khaki shorts and a super-soft-from-too many-washes T-shirt. He turned out to be Casey Wall, a North Carolina native who owns an American restaurant called Rockwell and Sons in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood. If you ever find yourself Down Under, craving a hushpuppy, head straight to Rockwell and Sons.

Here’s a bit about Casey and Rockwell and Sons, in his own words:

North Carolina
I'm from Arcadia, a small town between Lexington and Winston-Salem.

Landing in Australia
One of my best friends, Luke Morrison (a filmmaker in Melbourne), studied abroad at the university I attended and we became friends, travel buddies, and global troublemakers. He came over one summer before heading to Canada for a couple of weeks, and it ended up just being a couple of months he spent on my couch. My initial trip to Australia was his payback to me. But I found an awesome job and fell in love with an Australian, so here we are.

On Educating Aussies about Southern Food
Hushpuppies require the most explanation. The hushpuppies will be coming back in the next week, as the kitchen is cool enough now to hold our maple butter without splitting it. We preserve our own vegetables, make our own hot sauce, use chow-chow in so many dishes—just as a finishing touch, for brightness. We make biscuits using this beautiful raw buttermilk and cultured butter we get made for us. Pimento cheese holds a special place in my heart, as my family were dairy farmers. I eat pimento cheese on anything. I'll spare you the details. 

Clearly, the boy can make a biscuit. Photo courtesy Rockwell and Sons.

Fried Chicken
I love our fried chicken. I really do. It is an involved process that requires 3 brines over 3 days. Then it's dredged in a slightly spicy, herb-heavy flour that just pops in your mouth. We use the same amazing buttermilk we use in our biscuits as one of our brines. We have fallen in love with this Saudi Arabian hot sauce that mimics some of the great Southern hot sauces. I love Texas Pete, but we can't get it in here. Between our in-house hot sauce production and imported selections like Rana (Saudi Arabia), Louisiana, and Kaitaia Fire (New Zealand), we have a steady source of incredible hot sauces. One of these hot sauces finds it way into our chicken.

Celebrating Foodways of the American South
I love the South—I love the passion for food, I love that we actually have a food culture. The best thing about that is that there are so many unique subcultures under the larger umbrella of Southern food. Creole, Cajun, Appalachian, Lowcountry, etc. This is what a lot of people misunderstand about Southern food in Australia. We deal with people who claim to be 'experts in Southern food' after a few trips to the South, but it offends me so badly when someone pontificates about the foodways of the South after only eating out in one city.  I suppose that happens everywhere, but it irks me. We had a lady get verbally abusive with me on the phone because I didn't make gumbo. I just said, "ma'am, Louisiana is about 800 miles from where I grew up, and it is just a completely different culture to what I know." I miss the South every single day. I miss the weather, the smell of hickory or oak burning, the sweet tea, the biscuits, college basketball, my grandparents' fruit trees, my grandmother's food. But I've made a decision to live in Australia, so I take what is in my blood and mix it with my new surroundings and hopefully we nail something fun and tasty to eat.