By Stephanie Burt of The Southern Fork
Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Ala., is a long way from a childhood on front porch stoops in Philly, but Chef Andrea Griffith has found a home at high end Southern resorts, first at Greenbrier in West Virginia, then at Primland in Virginia, before settling years ago in Alabama. In the kitchen at Pursell, she excels at cooking from the Southern seasonal bounty and making a name for herself hosting delicious culinary events. Often those events center around the Sea Island Forge installed at the resort, so it only seemed right to put her on the hotseat. With her usual charm and down-to-earth grace (and probably with a pair of tongs in one hand), she obliged.
- Do you have a grilling or campfire memory that started your love of outdoor cooking?
I grew up in downtown Philly, and we were never outdoor people. I mean steaks on the grill, sure, that sort of thing, but when I met my ex-husband, he took me camping, and yes, it was the most horrific experience of my whole life [laughs] but cooking over a campfire was awesome. I realized that there was nothing I couldn’t do. That wasn’t that bad.
- What’s one meal that really shines on your SIF?
People seem to flock to my play on Mexican street corn with a homemade ranch-style aioli.
- What is something you’ve cooked on the SIF that surprised you?
I’ll do a sourdough boule with pickled onions and goat cheese, or you know, pull out the double Griswold cast iron skillet and do fried chicken. The surprising thing is you can make about anything on a SIF.
- How would you describe your style of cooking?
I am a purist. I want to take an ingredient and make it taste like what it is. I’m modern American cuisine, then I pair with accentuating flavors. For instance, mushrooms are one of my favorite things. But I want them to taste like mushrooms, not covered up with other flavors. That’s just one example.
- What type of wood do you like for your SIF?
I like a hickory / cedar blend. Chestnut for smoking or grilling. And that hickory doesn’t put up as much black fumes.
- What’s something tricky about open fire that the average cook needs to know?
I teach guests in an open forum on the SIF, so I’m used to lots of questions. It’s really all about getting to know the kettle. With a gas grill, you set the temperature, and then it’s set, but here, you have to maintain it. A lot of people are afraid it’s too hot or not hot enough. But the more you work with it, the more you know what you need.
- What is your favorite element of the SIF?
The beauty of the grill grate arm. I can do a whole side of salmon, use the dome, producing steam, and I don’t have to flip. Finding the right place for the heat and then using that dome to not have to flip fish is a thing of beauty.
Summer South of the Border Grilled Sweet Corn
From Chef Andrea Griffith, Pursell Farms, Sylacauga, Ala
Serves 6 people
6-8 ears of fresh sweet corn with husks, washed and silks removed
1 c. Hellman’s mayonnaise
1 tbsp, dried dill (or 2 tbsp. fresh, finely chopped)
1 tbsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch cilantro, stalks removed, finely chopped
Hot sauce to taste
1 c. crumbled cojito cheese
- Fold husks around corn, twisting slightly at the end, then place on a medium hot grills, and roast corn in husk until almost cooked.
- While corn is roasting, in a bowl, mix mayonnaise, dill, garlic powder, and salt and pepper, and set aside.
- Remove corn from grill onto platter, then pull back husk of each cob (husk should all be at the stalk end but not removed) and brush each cob well with the mayo mixture.
- Return corn cobs to the grill, keeping kernels exposed, and grill until they begin to char.
- Remove from heat and immediately sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
- Drizzle with hot sauce as desired, top with crumbled cojito, and serve warm.