Keep it Southern

BY Dorothy Rankin

Whoever wrote “a man cannot serve two masters ” never met Keith Rhodes. Executive chef of the fashionable Deluxe restaurant he opened the popular breakfast and lunch spot Catch in 2006. If this affable man remains calm despite a grueling schedule perhaps it’s because he’s at home — both in the kitchen and on the North Carolina coast.

Originally from Ohio Rhodes moved to Porters Neck as a child and attended Laney High School. His early work experience included a stint at the Surf Club in Wrightsville Beach but he says “Most of my training has really been hands-on.”

Rhodes grew up cooking and the creativity of the kitchen appealed to him but it was a former executive chef at Deluxe who made the difference in his work. “I was a little ‘wild-hair’ early on in my teenage years and he had a sense of calmness about him that began to tame the wildness in me. It made me focus in a little more on the craft of cooking ” Rhodes says.

His skill is supplemented by a clear artistic vision. He’s dedicated to local suppliers regional products seasonal foods and good agricultural practices — from organically grown produce to sustainably farmed catfish.

He also focuses on community and he believes his regular customers appreciate that. “They know that when they’re supporting this place (Catch) or Deluxe they’re supporting local people ” says Rhodes. The popularity of Rhodes’ food seems to bear this out. People have really responded to what he’s doing at both Deluxe and at Catch.

Rhodes’ reputation is spreading. He recently won the “Best Dish” contest sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. While most chefs submitted particular dishes Rhodes entered his entire menu — from both restaurants — and asked the judges to evaluate his approach to cooking. The strategy succeeded. Twice! Catch took first place in the “Casual Dining” category and Deluxe won the identical prize in “Fine Dining.”

When asked to advise home cooks on preparing holiday meals Rhodes responds that planning is the key. “A lot of the old is being lost ” he says. “Don’t try to go too modern too fancy.” The holidays also offer the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the bounty of ingredients offered by this area. “We are here. We are on the coast ” Rhodes says. “Incorporate that into the menu. Keep it light and don’t do the same old hams. Keep it exciting.” The essence of his advice? Keep it simple. Keep it southern.

Christmas Brunch for Twelve

Warm Russian tea  (a wonderful memory from Keith’s childhood)

Baked Florida grapefruit topped with a spiced cane sugar brulée

Smithfield ham and hoop cheddar biscuits with honey Dijon
Littleneck clam fritters with horseradish ketchup
Wild salmon-spinach-Jack cheese pie
Sneads Ferry omelet

Sweet potato muffins

Wild salmon-spinach-Jack cheese pie

(24 slices)

1 pound cooked salmon filet (boiled baked poached or grilled)
1 pound drained frozen spinach
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese shredded
2 10-inch pie crusts
4 cups heavy cream
6 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

With a fork prick the base and sides of the pie crusts. Mix the cream and the eggs with salt pepper and nutmeg. Put ½ pound of the spinach and ½ pound of the salmon in each pie shell. Pour ½ of the egg mixture into each pie shell filling them until ¾ full. Sprinkle the cheese on both pies. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Sweet potato muffins

(Makes 24 two-inch muffins)

1 ¾ cup sifted all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter
¾ cup milk
1 cup of cooked mashed sweet potatoes

Sift together the flour salt sugar and baking powder. In a separate bowl mix the eggs butter milk and sweet potatoes. Gently mix the wet and dry ingredients (Keith’s tip: Minimal mixing is best). Fill well-greased muffin tins 2/3 full with the muffin batter and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Smithfield ham and cheddar biscuits

(Yields 24)

6 full slices of deli-cut Smithfield country ham
¾ cup shredded hoop cheddar cheese
1 ¾ cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup lard
1 bottle of Maille honey Dijon mustard

Sift together the flour salt baking powder and baking soda. Cut in the lard and slowly add the buttermilk until dough forms. Add the cheddar cheese. Knead the dough for 1 minute. Pat the dough into ¼ inch thickness and cut into 24 biscuit rounds. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Let cool then cut biscuits in half. Add ½ slice of country ham and a dab of mustard to each biscuit.

Sneads Ferry omelet

12 eggs
2 cups of half and half
¾ cup of clarified butter
2 pounds local peeled cleaned deveined and blanched large/jumbo shrimp
1 ½ Vidalia onion julienned
2 10-ounce packages of pre-cooked bacon cut into 1-inch pieces
24 ounces soft goat cheese

Mix the eggs and the half and half. Heat a nonstick 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add ¼ ounce of the clarified butter. Add 4 ounces of the egg mixture and swirl lightly. Add an appropriate amount of the other ingredients and cook approximately 30 seconds. Flip carefully cook for an additional 30 seconds and serve.

Russian tea

(Makes 12 cups)

1 18-ounce jar of Tang (or equivalent orange drink mix)
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup of lemon iced tea mix
1 ¼ cups of sugar

Combine all of the ingredients (makes 4 cups of mix). Store in an airtight container for up to one week. Stir 2 ¼ cups of mix into 3 quarts of hot water to make 12 one-cup servings.

Baked grapefruit

6 ruby red grapefruits
1 ¼ cups of brown Florida sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut each grapefruit in half. Segment the sections but leave them in the grapefruit. Combine the sugar nutmeg and cinnamon. Sprinkle the sugar-nutmeg-cinnamon mix over the grapefruit halves. Place the spiced grapefruit halves on a foil-lined baking sheet and put under the broiler until lightly browned. Remove from oven. Let cool and serve.

Littleneck clam fritters

5 pounds of littleneck clams cleaned steamed and removed from the shell
3 eggs
3 tablespoons self-rising flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup scallions
1 tablespoon canola oil

Mix all the ingredients. Hand form the mixture into 2-ounce pancakes. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook the pancakes approximately 2-3 minutes then flip and cook approximately one more minute until golden brown. Serve with horseradish ketchup on the side.

Horseradish ketchup

5 cups ketchup
2 tablespoons horseradish
Juice of one lemon
Thoroughly mix all of the ingredients and chill.