Hugh on the Bear Brawl

Hugh would cure what ails with bourbon, chips, and ice cream, but he's glad Art and Kevin chose more noble Southern dishes.

This duel pits Art Smith vs. Kevin Gillespie. It's a Southern brawl weighing in at a combined 500 pounds with medical assistance from the cast of Grey’s Anatomy.

They draw knives and Kevin gets to decide how to throw big Art under the bus. Pork it is, but it's a half hog extravaganza. Two part challenge: Break down the beast and then cook a dish with it. I think Art is getting scared of losing those nice manicured digits of his, bedazzled by Oprah. And he should be worried, because the last time he used a saw, Art was three years old cutting down a pecan tree in his Spiderman Underoos.

Ham, head, trotter. . .Kevin throws out that he can do this in eight minutes. Art counters with an IRS audit and his resume of cooking for billionaires. Evidently billionaires only hire chefs who have no idea how to butcher anything other than a boneless chicken breast. I would not know. I cook in Athens, GA, a place that billionaires fly over at 36,000 feet murmuring about the plebeians below.

Thirty minutes to butcher the pig and then a cook time to create a dish. Parts to be purloined: Head, butt, picnic ham, loin, belly, tenderloin, ham, and trotters. For this task you really don't need a saw, but there is a wood saw around for those not great at butchery. It is the worst saw for the job though and the culinary department has greatly increased the chance that Art will lose his hitchhiking thumb.

Kevin's upbringing has been in a very classic Southern way: nothing went to waste and his family has an affinity for Lynard Skynard, moonshine, and the writings of ______. His is done before Art can get a trotter removed. Onto his shaking pork cookery.

I hate the term New South, but the way Kevin defines it is very much in my mindset. We agree on this and many things: our food in the South is ever changing and is now inclusive of many food cultures and the embrace of that is key to our food.

Kevin has finished his Shaking Pork and reminds us that he has just written a book on pork. Art finishes some smothered pork chops, which exemplify his very homey style to a tee. Gail, Curtis, and I walk on in for eating time.

Kevin's pork is a little chewy, a little on the pinker side, but the flavor was great. Art has made us a bear hug of Southern classicism. Good food both of them, but Art nailed why we love Southern food. Sadly my amigos of food judgery do not have Southern sensibility to them and they vote for Kevin. Kevin is 10K wealthier.

On to the critter fry. Art wants us to fry roadkill, turning any progress in Southern food back by 40 years. Art is making rabbit and Kevin is making quail.

Art's finished dish is fried rabbit, tomato, cucumber, and hoecakes dressed with a little buttermilk dressing. We like it overall, but the Aussie finds it a little dry. Gail thinks that it is fine, setting back diplomatic relations between Australia and Canada by 40 years as well.

Kevin has a Chicken 'n' Waffles variation in his Fried Quail with pancakes, sweet syrup, and corn flakes. My breast was a little over and the rib cage was a little unwieldy but really the dish was pretty special. Kevin wins my vote but the other two go for Art. I am always a dissenter. Dissent keeps democracy lively.

So they are tied and we bring in a medical drama cast to wrap this up. The Duel is going to be including that Wolfgang Puck guy and the cast of Grey's Anatomy. First course must be soothing, the second a dish to cure homesickness, and finally a dish to mend a broken heart. I would make a bottle of bourbon, a bag of chips, and some ice cream. I am but a simple man.

Their sous chefs waltz in: Joey Ward for Kevin and Keoko turner for Art. Kevin and Joey plan the menu with some chemical truisms of food while Art's Southern food science has him automatically going to chicken and dumplings. Kevin talks about his missed opportunities in nuclear science, a career path he gave up for the very relaxed world of chefdom. In reality, being a chef has been proven to be amongst the most stressful occupations in the world, and Kevin frantically searches his pockets for that MIT scholarship offer. Art went to Oprah University and got a degree in hiding prizes under chairs.

(Total aside: As I write this on a plane in the middle of a very busy week, Outkast's Andre 3000 is behind me on my flight. He sleeps with a Delta blanket over his head, cause that's what Hendrix would do. "I am for rea. . . I never meant to make your mama cry, I apologize a million times." #ATLiensforever)

Kevin's "Unilateral" salmon with asparagus and orange is up against Art's chicken and dumplings. Dr. Kevin talks science to people who play doctors on TV. Art heeds Mama's advice for keeping your chin up, tucking your napkin into your shirt, and slurping up some soup. They get back to the kitchen.

Observations: Art's food was timelessly warming to the soul, Kevin's was a more of an ode to California than Georgia, Curtis loves a ginger with a Scottish accent, and he is also a HUGE fan of sexy medical dramas.

Second course comes through with Kevin's pork plate and Art's fried chicken. Art reminds us that Oprah knighted his fried fowl with the "best in the world" title. This course has both chefs bringing us the A game and it is a hard one to judge. On one hand you have a really great fried chicken and spoonbread, homey and spot on in execution, and on the other you have a modernist plate of pork with black eyed peas, cornbread and a potlikker broth, that is nothing modern at all when you get it on your palate. It is home when you eat it. It just tastes right.

Wolfgang Puck knows NOTHING about biscuits.

Desserts are Art's cake and Kevin' banana pudding, and both are tethered to the heartstrings of their souls. Kevin cries, which means he can't lose. Art feels the need to catch up emotionally and starts rubbing chiles into his eyes.

The hot doctors leave us to make a decision. We go for Kevin. Well-deserved and well-earned ticket to the Grand Finale.

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Hugh Acheson

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