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Y&H has been a fan of the Lee Bros. ever since 2006, when I got my hands on their first cookbook, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, a hefty tome that was six years in the making. Well, almost from the day I got my hands on their cookbook.
Four years ago, I didn’t know much about the brothers, but something about the cookbook’s cover photo — the brothers’ wiry, nerdy physiques standing on some classic Charleston piazza — didn’t scream “Southern” to me, even with their gingham dress shirts and casual khaki pants. It screamed “poser.”
I obviously had a lot to learn about the Lee Bros.
The more I read, the more I liked ’em. No, they weren’t Southerners by birth, but by parental fiat: Their parents moved to Charleston when they were young boys. But Matt and Ted Lee didn’t sulk about being dragged out of God’s gift to urbanites, otherwise known as New York City. They took to Charleston culture like, to use a Southern phrase, water off a duck’s back.
In fact, the brothers became so fond of their adopted hometown that in 1994, when they were back in New York and struggling with their post-collegiate careers in a cramped apartment, they got a hankering for boiled peanuts. They, of course, couldn’t find any in the Big Apple, so they secured a 50-pound bag of raw peanuts from a Bronx wholesaler and starting a-boilin’. Check out their remembrance of that day from Southern Cookbook:
Within minutes of our return, the apartment began to fill with steam that smelled like hay, sweet potatoes, and tea; about eight hours later, we were cracking the peanut shells, with brine running over our hands, and slurping the nuts down. Their earthy, beanlike flavor, in that cramped room overlooking the heroin dealers and hipsters on Ludlow Street, conjured up the creek banks and marshes south of Charleston. The feeling of having cheated geography through food was exhilarating.
The brothers would soon find themselves in the unlikely position of being a two-man distribution company, bringing boiled peanuts, sorghum syrup, and other Lowcountry staples to lonely Southern transplants around the world. That business would lead to another unforseen career choice: food writing, which, as you can tell from the passage above, the brothers do extremely well.
Their Southern Cookbook is a delight to read, not just cook from. There are personal memories, historical anecdotes, and exacting recipes. There is also a basic understanding that most people are bipolar about food: Sometimes they want indulgence, sometimes they just want good food fast. The brothers give it to you both ways.
I haven’t got my hands on their latest cookbook, The Lee Bros. Simple, Fresh, Southern, but I will soon. (You can learn more about the cookbook in the video above.) Perhaps I’ll pick one up on Tuesday, April 6, when the brothers host a Smithsonian Associates program at S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW.
If Young & Hungry readers would like to attend, Smithsonian Associates is offering a $10 discount. Go to the Lee Bros. program page and buy your tickets. You’ll need to create a login account, if you don’t have one already. When you do, punch in this promotional code: 182291. It’ll automatically give you the discount.
See you there!