A Roast Beef Sandwich to Remember
I get a ton of emails in my job as a publicist, but the one my friend Liz Lorber addressed to "fellow food aficionados" caught my eye. It was an update about our good friend, Chef Scott Peacock - one of my all-time favorite chefs and people. He opened the seminal Southern eatery, Watershed, where he ushered in the weekly Fried Chicken Night, which queued up crowds manic for a crisp bird that he made juicy and flavorful by brining it for three days.
Liz told me that Scott was now raising a very rare breed of cattle called Piney Woods, in his hometown of Alabama. Piney Woods cows were brought over by the Spaniards in the 16th Century and settled in the Southern states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. They were eventually surpassed by English and European breeds but about 600 of them still reside in the South. Scott was committed to bringing them back. He was coming to town to offer a CSA of the beef to "fellow food aficionados," but she had me at Scott Peacock.
Scott came to Atlanta to cook for Governor Joe Frank Harris, when Georgia was a blue state and Southern food was relegated to the South. He opened Horseradish Grill, in a space that remains the oldest operating eatery in Atlanta. It was once a gas station located along a dirt road across from a golf course that started serving food to hungry golfers. Decades later, the area became affluent, the street paved and - with Scott in the kitchen - an awakening of New Southern cuisine took root. Scott would go on to earn the coveted James Beard "Best Chef Southeast" award and write an amazing cookbook. To know Scott is to love him for for his mad skills in the kitchen, kind soul and infectious charm. But what cements him in my heart will always be his love affair with the late, great Edna Lewis.
I'm a sucker for a good love story. Especially theirs, which was completely unexpected. Scott was a shy, white, gay man. Edna a sassy, seasoned, black woman. Yet they adored each other, respected each other and were each other's teachers and students in the kitchen and in life. Edna was the doyenne of Southern cooking, achieving fame at the helm of Café Nicholson in Manhattan, which catered to bohemians and artists of the 1950s like William Faulkner, Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. She received countless lifetime achievement awards including the James Beard Foundation's first. When Edna died, I was given a list of people to call about the visitation. I dutifully dialed up everyone until the last person on the list pointed out that it would be an open casket. Cringe. But Scott was my friend and I would be there for him. What I found was possibly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Edna was as resplendent in death as she was in life. Scott had carefully curated her coffin with pale blue robin's eggs and the branches and leaves from trees that she looked out at every day from the window of their shared apartment.
If Scott was passionate about this beef, I wanted to try it and learn more. It's clear to me that mass producing beef breeds out the flavor of cow. But the Piney Woods cows had adapted to be able eat almost anything so their flavor is informed by consuming a range of grass, nuts and weeds and this rich and diverse diet makes them taste amazing. Plus, like he had done with Fried Chicken Night, by offering the meat to a few "fellow food aficionados," Scott made us want something that not everyone could have. Regardless, I pulled the roast beef out of the CSA box for a dinner with my girlfriends - all great cooks. What I created was a sandwich we fell in love with.
Preheat the oven to Broil
1 lb Piney Woods Roast Beef
1/2 C Mayonnaise (ideally homemade)
1 C Caramelized Onions
1 C Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
1/4 lb Gruyere Cheese, grated
Slice open the baguette and slather both sides with mayonnaise. Layer one side with roast beef slices, caramelized onion and cheese. Place cut side up in the broiler for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with roasted cheery tomatoes. Make the sandwich, slice in quarters and enjoy.