Lee Brothers help raise money for Food for Thought

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 21, 2018

By Deirdre Parker Smith


A celebration of Southern food was a delicious way to raise funds for Rowan Helping Ministries’ Food for Thought program Tuesday night at Morgan Ridge Vineyard.

The theme was Feed the Need, and table centerpieces featured sculpted heads filled with edible plants and vegetables.

The highlight of the evening was special guests Matt and Ted Lee, brothers, cookbook authors, foodies, lovers of Southern food ways.

Matt and Ted have been to Salisbury before, for signings of their cookbooks, and they love the small town. Matt calls it “the biggest little city I’ve ever seen.”

They love the history, the people and the culture of Salisbury. Matt continues to live in Charleston, married and with three children under 9. Ted lives in New York City with his wife, an artist.

They were having a good time, mingling and meeting, but, really, it was all about the food. The line for the luscious buffet didn’t slacken until well into the evening.

Morgan Ridge staff passed biscuits filled with Shrimp and Deviled Egg Salad and Ham and Rice Croquettes with Tomato Sauce.

Morgan Ridge Chef Jason Nain and his staff had been working long hours to prepare all the food for the hundreds of guests. It was set up buffet-style, with options galore.

Perhaps a bowl of Charleston Okra Soup with MRV Beef Shanks? That was one of the recipes Nain prepared when the Lee brothers invited him to put his own spin on their recipes. Many of the dishes were from their 2013 cookbook “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen.” Pre-signed copies of the book were available for purchase by patrons.

Along the table, guests could choose from breads with radish butter, a fall salad of arugula, slivered red onions, dried cranberries, spiced pecans and Morgan Ridge Chambourcin Raspberry dressing (Chef Nain aded feta cheese to the salad). For entrees, the choice was Cornmeal Crusted Mahi-Mahi with Artichoke Tartar Sauce or Pork Loin Chops with Mushroom Chutney.

The vegetables were really the stars, ranging from Skillet Asparagus with Grapefruit, Butterbeans with Mint and Lime, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, and Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow and Pimento Cheese Potato Gratin.

The asparagus and grapefruit was a favorite among diners, and Nain added purple limas to the green to make a beautiful and delicious dish.

Of course, there was beer and wine.

The Lee brothers said they could tell Nain had dug deep into their cookbooks to come up with the menu. The Lees said his interpretation was excellent. Nain had a couple of minutes to talk to Matt and Ted after the food was served. Nain, a true Cajun, also worked in Charleston, where Matt says “food gets into you.”

They traded stories of places they’d been and things they cooked.

Nain felt right at home with the Lees’ recipes, “It’s just good Southern food” he says, “with a little something extra here and there.”

Matt and Ted loved coming to Salisbury’s Literary Bookpost, visiting then-owner the late Deal Safrit. His daughter, Daphne, came to the event to see the brothers.

The Lees, Matt said, like to do things addressing food insecurity and food injustice, and make it a point to attend at least two charity events each year. Their office remains in Charleston. Ted calls their business as cookbook writers, commentators, food researchers and their own specialty food line a “chopped salad of businesses.”

Ted and Matt do a cookbook boot camp for other chefs to learn what it’s really like in a busy kitchen.

Their next book, though, is a departure for them. It will be their first straight non-fiction book about the unbelievable demands of the catering industry.

“Catering is wretched,” Ted says. He and Matt were embedded as $10 per hour chefs in a prep kitchen of one of the largest catering companies. They were able to interview many of the top catering professionals.

“Matt says it’s an expose, but we marinated in the catering culture, we went to one party rental warehouse” and discovered what a huge business story the catering industry is.

“We followed the personal narratives of the chefs working 80 hours or more a week, and the emigres working awful hours in the food world.”

Ted admires the “fearlessness and resourcefulness “ in the industry.

“It really is grace under pressure,” Matt says.

The level of triage and reprioritizing on a big catering job is extraordinary, Ted says. “It’s harrowing for mere mortals.”

The Lee brothers first came to Salisbury almost 20 years ago when they were asked to do a television show about food in the South and they did a documentary about Cheerwine.

Their first cookbook, “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners,” brought them back to Salisbury on their book tour, where they impressed patrons at Literary Bookpost with a sampling of their foods and their diverse personalities.

They remember meeting Linda Ketner, daughter of Food Lion founder Ralph Ketner, back in the 1990s. They were so impressed by her energy and her work helping others that they wanted to see Salisbury.

Matt says they met more people like Linda Ketner once in town, people who wanted to make changes and did the work.

Ted says a lot of people are food insecure, and a program like Food for Thought helps tremendously.

“Hungry kids can’t concentrate,” Matt says.

During their brief talk at the event, Matt thanked Nain for his hard work, happy “we didn’t have to chop any onions.”

Guests went gaga over the dessert, Pineapple Cornbread Pudding with a Whiskey Sauce.
Both brothers agreed to personalize the already-signed cookbooks and one of the first to ask was
Janice Hunt, who was helping Nain in the kitchen and at the buffet. She has studied at Livingstone College’s culinary arts program.

Kyna Grubb, executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries thanked Matthew Michael Brown, for bringing the Lee Brothers to the event. Food For Thought is a program for school children to ensure they have food on weekends. Chase Hicks is the coordinator.

For more on the Lee Brothers, from cookbooks to specialty foods, visit mattleeandtedlee.com