Everybody’s got one—a famous recipe. Whether presented at a dinner party, at a family supper, or as a holiday gift, it’s a formula that instantly makes folks feel at home, a recipe so close to the person who owns it—and sometimes so closely guarded—that it has become synonymous with its cook. Like Mom’s apple pie.
We wanted those secret recipes. For our first annual “Speciality of the House,” we solicited nominees—no professional chefs, caterers, or cooks—from all over the state. And with a little cajoling, we were able to pry entrées from architects, condiments from collectors, and pancakes from patrons of the arts. Our search turned up a selection of home cooks with recipes that range from haute cuisine to comfort food. Each of these individuals has at least one culinary star turn.
And each of the recipes has a bit of the creator’s personality shining through, from the simmering intensity of a blues musician’s chili to the elegantly sensible vegetable pie of an accomplished hostess. From first course tolast, these dishes are kitchen signatures.
Anthony Frederick’s Crawfish Etouffeé
You can always tell a real Cajun by the way he feels about food. Houston architect Anthony E. Frederick grew up in Abbeville, Louisiana, and his mother was, in his words, “a great country Cajun-style cook.” When he left home to study architecture (at the University of Houston and later at Rice University), he got by on frozen quantities of her gumbos and étouffées that he picked up on trips home. Eventually he learned to do for himself. Between designing houses and such projects as the Richmond gallery and furniture for the Menil Collection, Frederick has become more and more of a chef. Now he and his wife, Patty, cook together and entertain a great deal.
Frederick has recently turned his attention to the subtleties of Creole cuisine (the more refined and internationalized cooking of New Orleans), which he has come to prefer to the bayou rudiments of Cajun dishes. He says, “Creole cooking is spiced with more sophistication than Cajun cooking. And the great variety of seasonings and flavors is helpful to people who live away from the coast, because they can boost the taste of frozen seafood.” Frederick’s recipe for crawfish étouffée is an adaptation from what he calls “the best standard cookbook I’ve seen for classic Louisiana dishes,” The Plantation Cookbook, published by the Junior League of New Orleans. The original recipe is pretty darn good, but Frederick’s version, well, c’est-ci bon. Crawfish Etouffeé Recipe
Olive Hershey’s Peach Ice Cream
Peach ice cream is one of those dishes that resonates with Texan overtones. Even in the fall we remember all those bushels of fruit at summer roadside stands, and we think of cool, fresh peach ice cream. Writer Olive Hershey knows all that. In her own way, she is dedicated to preserving the Texas tradition of fresh peach ice cream. Born in Houston, Hershey has spent much of her life at her family’s ranch in Egypt, Texas. And it was there that the scoop was passed to Hershey by Nellie Moses, her grandmother’s cook. “She’s in her seventies now,” the writer says. “She went to work for my grandmother when she was twelve, and she knows how to cook the best of nearly everything except coq au vin.”
At the same time that Hershey was learning the secrets to silky, tasty ice cream, she was also pursuing her education ( a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin) and her career (teaching creative writing at the University of Houston and Rice University, publishing short stories and poems, and completing her first novel, Truck Dance, to be published by Harper and Row in January).
Both Hershey and Moses are traditionalists all the way when it comes to technique. If you’re going to make ice cream, you have to use an old hand-crank freezer. “Don’t put the finished ice cream in your electric freezer—it gets too hard,” Hershey says. “Just pack some ice around the ice-cream maker, and serve out of that—this stuff is best when it’s a little melty and gooey. You’ll eat it all by the end of the day anyway.” Peach Ice Cream Recipe
John Leeper’s Watermelon Pickle
John Palmer Leeper knows something about the finer things in life. For 35 years he has been the director of San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum; good taste has guided that institution. And among the finer things John Leeper has discovered are pickles. “There’s something enormously satisfying about preserving foods,” he says, “seeing the rows and rows of jars lined when you’re done.” A confident master of the Mason jar, Leeper puffs away at his cigar while the vegetables and melon rind cook and steep (“Ashes don’t hurt the pickles,” he claims). And he has even introduced pickles into the McNay’s trove of other treasures: One holiday season he gave every employee at a museum a jar from his special reserve.
The watermelon pickle recipe, which Leeper calls “wonderful, one of the best I’ve ever come across,” has a familial connection. It belonged to a great-aunt of his and was included years ago in a cookbook published in the Dallas Episcopal St. Monica Guild. Another favorite, for a mustard pickle, is less of an heirloom—it comes from an old edition of The Joy of Cooking. They are both masterpieces in Leeper’s gallery of jarred delicacies. Watermelon Pickle Recipe
Anne Gile’s Vegetable Pie
Anne Giles’s secrets for the perfect party are out. This Austin homemaker and mother of two (Jackson, 2; and Kathryn Estelle, 6) has long been known for her dinner parties. She and her husband, real estate developer Jackson Giles, have delighted crowds of guests with their easygoing but exquisitely detailed evenings at home. “I love to entertain,” she says, “but I really enjoy the organizing and the production part of it. By the time the party happens, I’ve done everything that needs to be done in advance.”
Anne Giles doesn’t mind leaking that kind of information. But the recipe for her vegetable pie, the rich, earthy, pizzalike concoction featured here (try it with a simple green salad for a quick, satisfying meal), has her worried—it’s a victim of poor security in the kitchen. “One friend kept bugging me for the recipe,” Giles says. “She even chased my husband down in the airport to ask him for it. So finally I broke down and gave it to her. But she fixed it for her bridge club, and now it’s all over Austin.” With culinary secrets this good, who can blame friends for a little espionage? Vegetable Pie Recipe
The Whistlers’ Orange Pancakes
The American family at breakfast time. It’s the standard morning scenario for every sitcom family from Donna Reed’s to Bill Cosby’s, but for the Barry Whistler family, that big breakfast happens just on Sunday. The rest of the week Dad is busy at his namesake gallery in Dallas’ Deep Ellum, representing such artists as Clyde Connell, Danny Williams, Ann Stautberg, and Jack Mims. “The gallery is still in the growing stage,” Barry says, “so it’s not like I can leave and let the place run itself.” Mom Christy and son Marley are busy five days a week as the fashion coordinator for display at the downtown Neiman Marcus and as a second-grade student at St. John’s Episcopal School, respectively.
Most days start with cereal and toast ASAP; then it’s off to school, the store, and the gallery. But the seventh day is the Whistlers’ day of rest. They spend it together simply, starting with the family favorite, Christy’s orange pancakes, served with plenty of real maple syrup. (Christy also recommends such variations as chopped nuts in the batter and a topping of strawberry preserves or honey with sour cream). Barry helps set the table and pours the milk and juice. “I don’t really do much of the cooking at all,” he confesses. Marley, who wants to be a comedian when he grows up, breaks from the comics to break the eggs. Orange Pancakes Recipe
Robert Tabak’s Smoked and Grilled Shrimp
Robert Tabak smokes food the way most of us heat up leftovers—a lot. “I’ll prepare two or three things,” he says, “like grilled and smoked swordfish and shrimp on the side. And I love to grill vegetables—onions, peppers, and new potatoes.” A Dallas native, the 33-year-old architect (he designed the Las Colinas restaurant complex) says barbecue is a lifelong passion that kicked into high gear when he was an undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin. “I lived with two guys from Memphis, Tennessee, the home of hickory-smoked cooking,” Tabak says. “They taught me a lot. I called it Barbecue 101.”
With his trusty Ranchwood smoker, Tabak has created a number of adventurous recipes. His smoked sugar-cured salmon has taken months to test and develop, and his smoked-tuna salad leaves the familiar, bland sandwich stuffing light-years behind. But his crowning achievement is this spicy recipe for smoked and grilled shrimp. “The secret is cooking the shrimp slowly,” he says, pointing out the advantage of a steady, low, smoky fire that infuses food with flavor rather than incinerating it. Smoked and Grilled Shrimp Recipe
Garry Olah’s Clay-Pot Orange Duckling
“The Italians have always liked Texas, and we talked them into going into Houston,” says Garry Olah, the 26-year-old business man who brought a little electricity to Houston retail last year with the opening of the first Fiorucci Italian boutique in Texas. For this fashion ambassador—first-generation American of Italian-Hungarian parentage—cooking is of preserving his ethnic heritage. And the kitchen is a good place to meet up with his wife, Kari, a fashion model, after a long day of setting trends. “We’re so busy now, eating in is more special than it used to be,” he says. “Ninety-eight percent of what we cook at home is Italian. We’ve got a baby on the way, and we don’t want our child to lose that culture.”
Of course, clay-pot orange duckling is not exactly Italian. But it was handed down by Garry’s Hungarian grandmother, Louise, and italianized a little by Garry. “I’m betraying my Italian ancestry with this recipe,” Garry admits, “but the Italians do use clay pots. And it’s so simple, we make it all the time. You just throw it together, put it in the oven, and walk away. It’s perfect for an intimate dinner.” Clay-Pot Orange Duckling Recipe
Chris “Whip” Layton’s Two-tone Chili
In the kitchen Chris Layton’s blues turn red-hot. The drummer for Austin-based Double Trouble (the band fronted by guitar samurai Stevie Ray Vaughan), Layton has been a professional musician for twelve years. But he actually has a longer career as an amateur chef and recipe inventor. “I read recipes,” he says, “but I never use them whole. I’ll just take a bit here and a bit there. This chili, for example, was an idea that came from reading another chili recipe. Every time I make it I start messing with it.” Kitchen creativity is Layton’s respite from the cares of the road and the studio: “It’s kind of therapeutic—it’s what I do when I’m home to relax. I’ll be chopping onions, and I can think about the band, the tour, the album, financing, merchandising. I work on new bits for the drums—you hear little rhythms in all that chopping.
“I can’t remember how I got started making chili, but I do remember cooking as early as sixth grade. I made a pizza for the teacher.” Not as convenient as an apple, maybe, but if that pizza was as good as this volcanic magma of a chili, Layton got a lot of extra credit. Two-tone Chili Recipe