Cooking on television has come of age. Chefs now belong to a hallowed profession and the great ones enjoy well-earned celebrity status. Atlanta headquartered Turner South, one member of the vast Turner empire that spawned CNN and the Superstation, made the momentous decision to offer in its fall menu a regular food show and call it “Home Plate.” It debuts this month and features one of the hottest Chefs today, Marvin Woods, the renowned cookbook author who has a culinary career second to none.


The show, headed by esteemed Turner South Executive Producer Mike Thomas supported by his talented Turner crew, was constructed for the premiere slots during seven steamy days at Viking Culinary Institute on Atlanta’s fabled Peachtree Street. Chef Woods’ youthful appearance and good-naturedness somehow masks 20 years of gourmet food preparation at some of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants including The Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center, Café Beulah in New York and Savannah and a stint at The National Hotel in South Beach. Throughout each experience, his reputation for infusing international flair and new flavors to traditional Southern dishes broadened his already huge fan base.


The studio stage for “Home Plate” showcases Marvin Woods before the kitchen counter, along with state of the art implements and accessories, plus fresh ingredients to prepare his to-die-for signature dishes: Southern-Exposed Fried Chicken—it’s marinated in buttermilk, fried after battering in a spiced up flour mixture, then baked for a crispy, greaseless result. Then there’s his light and satisfying Gumbo, Bourbon-Soaked Pork Chops, Barbequed Short Ribs and SoutherSummer Ratatouille. Each dish is expertly presented through the artistic genius of renowned food stylist Virginia Willis and her talented staff.

Are you hungry?

Marvin Woods is an effective ambassador for the flavor filled world called the Low Country, an eighty square mile area surrounding Charleston and Savannah. He has become the unofficial and universally respected spokesperson for the essentially African cooking styles, which include influences from Spain, France and the Caribbean. These combine to make up one of the most intriguing regional cuisines which Chef Woods has brilliantly synthesized in his recipes and cooking demonstrations. With such originality,” Home Plate” is a sure bet to become a winner.


Magnifying Woods' entertaining stage presence, “Home Plate” features a guest alongside the Chef during each show. Usually they are restaurant owners, cookbook authors, or, in my case, food and wine writers who know the terrain, accents and palates where Marvin Woods gleaned the foundation for his recipes. I did two joyous September shows with Chef Woods and spent studio time chatting with his wife, Petra and young Chris, a precocious fourth grader. They are the kind of folks you want as next-door neighbors.


“New Low Country Cooking,” (William Morrow/Harper Collins) contains 125 of Chef Woods’ recipes for Southern Cooking, and is much more than another great cookbook. “We are good story tellers here in the South,” the Chef told his television audience one afternoon in Atlanta, “and there’s drama in the origin of things like okra and how slaves got it into the south.” Woods shares many historical tidbits on the origin of dishes and the naming of ingredients. He emphasizes the importance of African-American cooks in Southern life and heritage. His eloquence assured the success of the cookbook, and took Chef Woods on a yearlong national tour.

Marvin Woods also knows the history of rice, the omnipresent ingredient in Low-Country cooking. “Rice,” he observed, “has been grown in Africa for centuries and slaves introduced it into the coastal South. It was so lucrative that it was called ‘Carolina Gold.’” He added that one of his goals through the television show forum is “to bring a fresh approach to old favorites as well as creating new ones.”


“Home Plate” by presenting Chef Woods’ fresh approach to one of America’s finest cuisines, is already receiving critical acclaim. I asked what more does a young man, who, in addition to his television fame, has twice been a featured Chef at The James Beard House, plan for the future? “I’m going to open my restaurant soon,” he revealed. Diners will be excited.


I’ll be there often, particularly when I crave some Crab and Shrimp Pilau and Five-Greens Rice, finished with Praline Bread Pudding. Marvin Woods is my kind of chef.

 

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