Holly Chute, personal Chef to the State of Georgia’s Governor, Nathan Deal and his wife Sandra, found herself cooking for some 400 Montrealers in the celebration of America’s Independence. On the fourth of July, she was catering in the hopes of sharing Georgian cuisine, bringing new ideas from one food place to another. You may […]
Holly Chute, personal Chef to the State of Georgia’s Governor, Nathan Deal and his wife Sandra, found herself cooking for some 400 Montrealers in the celebration of America’s Independence. On the fourth of July, she was catering in the hopes of sharing Georgian cuisine, bringing new ideas from one food place to another. You may find it odd to hear Georgia referred to as a food place, but incidentally, Atlanta has become one. A Taste of Atlanta, an event akin to Montréal Highlights is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Food is an integral part of the Georgian experience and always has been. Barbecue may be king, but agriculture is queen, accounting for one in six jobs and offering fresh fruit and vegetables not only to Georgians, but to surrounding states as well. Health and refinement have become new players in Georgian cuisine: the prince and princess of this cultural staple.
For the Governor of Georgia and his wife, health is a requirement of service to their state, so the cholesterol has to be low. For the gluten intolerant First Lady Sandra Deal, the biscuit and fried chicken have had to be modified. Sandra Deal confessed that she always felt better when she wasn’t eating bread, but she says, in that sugar-cane southern drawl of hers, that “[she,] like the other ladies, I knew that was the way to keep the pounds off.” Her father’s unbearable abdominal pain in winter when they ate flour biscuits, she now realizes may also have been due to celiac or gluten-intolerance. Cornmeal breaded fish or chicken and corn bread are succeeding wheat flour in the First House. Pan-searing and baking have replaced frying, and fresh salsa is putting pressure on the sweet preserves. All of Georgia’s treasures such as greens, okra, corn and peaches are finding their place in the spotlight under Chef Holly’s watchful eyes. Chute is also one of four Chefs chosen to promote and represent Georgian agriculture through a program called Georgia Grown and is looking for ways to help children eat more vegetables through the understanding of their cultivation.
Who is Chef Holly really? Her promotion of terroir and her health sensibilities scream “imposter from the north”, but this Vermont/New York State woman is starting a revolution in the South and marrying two worlds in perfect harmony. Despite her Northern roots, Jeff Foxworthy said “You might be a redneck if you bring a doggy bag from the Governor’s mansion,” and proclaimed that Chef Holly’s fried chicken was the best he’d ever had.
Nathan Deal is the sixth Governor that Holly has cooked for since she began at the First House in 1981. She has more than earned her place. She has witnessed the need for meat and starch be replaced with a need for health, longevity and freshness. She has replaced the mammy cook (after first getting the biscuit recipe of course). She has also seen rigidity, formality and her place behind the scenes replaced by familiarity, casualness and an elevation in the status of “Chef.” She is among the increasing number of women that have stepped into the ranks of the cooking elite.
I had the privilege of guiding Chef Holly through the open-air Jean-Talon Market so that she could become acquainted with some of Montreal’s local products. We happened upon Arik De Vienne at Olives et Épices and he showed us sapote – a fruit with a flavour of wild sweet almond. Sandra Deal reminisced about the days when sweet almonds were used to perfume drawers in the south and the almond kernel oil that made the best body creams. Smells have a way of awakening memories.
Marché des Saveurs spoiled us with La Rhubarbelle, a non-alcoholic rhubarb rosée, Neige ice cider and Pied de Vent apple washed cheese of the Madeleine Islands. Sublime! This time Holly reminisced about Vermont’s Terroir.
Conrad at Racine let us sample the three strawberry varieties of the moment and the ensuing discussion went as follows:
Holly: “They’re good”
Conrad: “I know”
“Modèste.” Holly replied with the sweetest French accent.
We made our way to the beautiful Appetite for Books in Westmount where Holly cooked lunch in their gorgeous kitchen. She made flattened chicken breasts, lightly seasoned and pan-seared with a fresh peach salsa and a salad of greens from Birri with olive oil and lemon. The meal was finished with Quebec strawberries and wild blueberries, crème fraîche, mint and maple syrup. The food was light, refreshing, delicious, healthy and married well with the heat of the day and what was available locally. Isn’t that the way it should be? Holly Chute makes it happen from Montreal to Atlanta.
Chef Holly Chute’s Watermelon Lemonade
8 cups of watermelon chunks
½ cup of sugar
1 cup of water
½ cup of fresh lemon juice
Dissolve the sugar in water over low heat. Set aside to cool.
In a blender, combine watermelon and lemon juice. Purée until smooth. Add cooled sugar mixture and pulse to combine.
Serve chilled with a sprig of rosemary or mint.
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