Scott Peacock, native of Hartford, Alabama, was in his late twenties when he met the legendary, late Edna Lewis, considered to be the “Grand Dame” of Southern cuisine. At the time, Scott was chef for the governor of Georgia, and he and Miss Lewis were assigned to cook together for a fundraiser—though neither of them realized that they were also beginning an extraordinary relationship that would last until the last days of her life. After years of working together—with Miss Lewis acting as both muse and endless source of knowledge, and Peacock serving as faithful collaborator and eventual caretaker—the two partnered to write what is now considered a modern classic Southern cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great Southern Cooks.
But in the years leading up to that partnership, Scott was finding his place in the culinary world. He began his career as a pastry chef at Tallahassee, Florida’s The Golden Pheasant before transitioning into his position in the governor’s mansion for two terms—cooking primarily French-inspired dishes. After some time, with the encouragement of his father and Miss Lewis, Scott embarked upon a new path and earned acclaim at Atlanta’s Horseradish Grill before moving to Watershed restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. She encouraged him to embrace his Southern roots and to cook food that was true to their Southern experiences, rather than focus solely on what might be considered caricatures of traditional dishes. While Scott eventually became quite well-known for his fried chicken recipe, he also knows how to coax the best flavors from collard greens, okra, seasonal vegetables, and fish. Scott makes no secret of the impact that Miss Lewis had upon his life and his approach to cooking—and to living. The two became family and their bond lasted until the end of her life; she spent her final years at his Decatur, Georgia, home. As he told the St. Petersburg Times, “She’s my best friend. The least of what I’ve learned from her has to do with cooking.”
Alongside Miss Lewis, Scott co-founded The Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, a precursor to the Southern Foodways Alliance. Scott has been nominated for six James Beard awards, and in 2007 was awarded the prize for Best Chef: Southeast for his work at Watershed. His recipes have appeared in a number of publications, including Southern Living, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and Gourmet, among many others. He has also made frequent appearances on the Today Show, Good Morning America, Martha Stewart’s talk show, “Martha” and is a contributor to Better Homes and Gardens. Additionally, Scott has dedicated years to documenting the stories and food memories of Alabama’s oldest residents.
His longstanding mission has been to celebrate the true nature of Southern food and the community-related approach that surrounds the Southern table. He once told us, “Pure, wholesome food—should be democratic and available to everyone. At my mother’s and grandmothers’ tables, there was a strong awareness of where our food came from that made it distinct. Comparisons were made between vegetables we grew, those grown by friends and neighbors, and those that came from Mr. Spear’s Market or the Piggly Wiggly. Within the community, individuals were distinguished by who grew the best corn or made the best pound cake… People in Hartford had certain ways of cooking peas that were different from the way peas were cooked in Slocomb, 6 miles away, or where my father’s mother lived, way in the country. There was a uniqueness that set us apart and also bound us together.”
“But even then, I realized that it’s a very different experience to cook or eat food grown by someone or from somewhere you know.” He explained, “To me, food is all about relationships. To have a relationship with your farmer, with your community, with the people who prepare your food, with yourself, and even with the ingredients themselves is so important. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m there because I’ve been inspired—by people, by stories, by my surroundings. The dinner is being served family-style, so that people will interact with one another, serve food to one another, and hopefully, build relationships—with each other and the food.”
These days the renowned chef, oral historian, and storyteller has taken a sabbatical from the kitchen and is dedicating his time to living in and growing in The Black Belt of Alabama—specifically focusing on natural dyestuffs, indigo, and rare antique wheats. His commitment to thorough research and practical experimentation is as comprehensive as his work exploring Southern food histories and traditions. Even so, we have somehow managed to coax Scott out of his temporary retirement to host our upcoming Friends of the Café Dinner, benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance. This is an extraordinary opportunity to share food, fellowship, and stories with one of our most celebrated and knowledgeable food historians in America.