The Lee brothers come to Oxford

Matt and Ted Lee

After a while, married couples reach the point where they can each finish the other’s sentences. As brothers, Matt and Ted Lee have a bond that is something to see. Ted is the more talkative brother. He is energetic, shifting from foot to foot and talking with his hands. Matt is quieter, but he punctuates Ted’s talking, dropping words right into the middle of Ted’s phrases.

Appearing at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, at a reception to celebrate the release of their award-winning cookbook, The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook, Matt and Ted talked of many things, including their recipes.

“Ambrosia is such an odd thing. It’s sweet like a dessert, but you eat it with dinner. It’s marshmallows and mandarin orange slices…”, Ted says.

“From a can”, Matt interjects.

“And coconut. It’s creamy and sweet. It has…”

“Contrasting textures.”

“We decided we wanted to do a savory version. We added avocados for creaminess and richness.”

When an audience member suggested that the brothers should work on a sweet version of ambrosia, the fun really began.

“We could do ambrosia ice cream”, Matt suggests.

“Ooh, ambrosia ice cream sandwiches!”, Ted replies.

One can only imagine the energy of their creative sessions in the kitchen.

The brothers also spoke about the interesting challenge of working with an editor who, while talented and experienced, had no experience with Southern food. Maria Guarnaschelli has edited books by Rick Bayless, Judy Rogers, and Patricia Wells. Still, she came into the project not knowing much about the South, but by the end, she was the belle of the ball when she visited Charleston. Ted says:

She would call us in the middle of the night. When we would send recipes to her, she would have friends over to try them out. After she got the dishes washed, she would call us at 10:30 at night to discuss things.

One night she called, “red velvet cake? Two bottles of food coloring? We don’t cook like this anymore.” She had never had red velvet cake! So we explained to her, and eventually she got it. She started to buy in to Southern food.

Finally, we were doing the photo shoot of the food for the book. She grabbed a piece of the red velvet cake and said, “I don’t know about this red velvet cake. You still need to work on this.” Throughout the shoot, she kept grabbing cake. No fork, just a pinch in her hand. She kept saying, “yes, this needs more work.” By the end of the shoot, there was no red velvet cake left. Just a cake plate and a few crumbs. And we thought, “sure, Maria, we’re gonna work on that cake.”

The brothers also talked a bit about their start in food and peoples’ reactions to their choices.

“One lady said, ‘I just love your concept.’ It was never a concept. It was, ‘what are we going to do now? Oh shit, how are we going to pay the rent next week?'”, Ted says.

Not everyone was enthralled by their idea though, as Ted explains:

“We both got degrees from expensive colleges. When you do that then start a business selling boiled peanuts, people don’t really understand your choice. ‘When are you going to grow up?'”

If growing up means being successful and happy about what you do, then the Lee brothers are all growed up. If it means being a fuddy-duddy and saying goodbye to fun, then the brothers will never grow up. And more power to them.

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