Celebrating Adventurous Culinary Traditions
Chef Todd Richards has racked up an impressive list of awards and accolades (including two James Beard Award nominations) for his cuisine, an impressive accomplishment considering that he’s a self-taught cook. His food has contributed to the success of many Atlanta restaurants, including Villa Christina and White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails. In 2016, he opened Richards’ Southern Fried in Krog Street Market. And now, Richards adds the title of author to his repertoire.
His debut cookbook, “SOUL: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in
150 Recipes,” will be released on May 22.
As is common with many chefs, Richards credits his love of food to his grandma’s and mom’s home cooking. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where he was raised in a large, loving family who regularly gathered for meals steeped in America’s soul food tradition. “My dad’s family is from New Orleans and mom’s is from the Carolinas,” he explains. “So we ate Creole-based food that was blended with soul-based food. We were adventurous eaters—my mom was the most adventurous of all,” he says. He recalls times when his mother would stop for Chinese takeout and bring home ramen broth. “She’d have a pot of collard greens on the stove and would add that to the ramen. Some call it fusion cuisine, but as a kid I just thought it was a mash-up of all different delicious things.” And he has built on that adventurous tradition, creating his own out-of-the-box version of soul cuisine.
He remembers Saturday mornings, when he and his cousins visited his grandma’s house and watched chefs on cooking shows, like Jacques Pépin or Martin Yan on “Yan Can Cook” on PBS as they waited for her to make breakfast. “There’s been a food culture in my family for a long time. But I look back and see a progression in my grandma’s cooking. It changed from rich, heavy food to lighter food with more nuanced flavors, influenced by those cooking shows.”
Now, in his own home in Grant Park, Richards enjoys sharing the kitchen with his wife, Melissa, whom he married in 2016. “It’s a great balance of cooking at home with her. All our meals showcase the ingredients and how fresh they are. We go to the farmers market or grow vegetables in our own garden. But if you ask me what I cook most, it’s on the smoker or the grill.”
“Melissa designed our kitchen,” he says proudly. “It’s one of the easiest kitchens to work in ever! Everything has its place. It’s important to plan how you’re going to clean up. We cook with cast-iron pans a lot. So there’s an island in front of the stove that has a deep double sink. We take the pan directly to the sink when we’re done. Cast iron isn’t the lightest thing in the world to carry around the kitchen, so that makes it simple.”
Mom’s Fried Catfish with Hot Sauce Recipe
My mom would make this on Fridays for my dad. When my grandpa came over for dinner, he would get the catfish tail—crispy like a potato chip. To me, that was the prized possession of this delicious catfish recipe. It takes me back home.”
Ingredients for Catfish
• 2 cups whole buttermilk
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tablespoon hot sauce (recipe right, plus more for serving)
• ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic
• ¼ teaspoon granulated onion
• 4 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 ½ pound catfish fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 2 cups yellow cornmeal
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 4 cups vegetable oil
Ingredients for Hot Sauce
• 2 teaspoons blended olive oil
• 3 stemmed, coarsely chopped red Fresno chiles
• 1 stemmed, coarsely chopped jalapeño chile
• ½ small yellow onion, diced
• 3 garlic cloves
• ½ cup apple cider vinegar
• ¼ cup red wine vinegar
• ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
Directions for Catfish
• Combine the first 5 ingredients with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in a Ziploc bag. Add catfish pieces, seal and refrigerate for 2 to 8 hours.
• Whisk cornmeal, cayenne, 3 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper in a pie pan.
• Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
• Remove catfish from buttermilk mixture, dredge in the cornmeal. Let stand 5 minutes.
• Fry catfish (large pieces first) in batches until golden brown—5 to 7 minutes per side. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
• Serve with hot sauce.
Directions for Hot Sauce
• Heat oil over medium heat. Add chiles, onion and garlic, stirring often until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
• Add vinegars and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.
• Add salt, remove from heat and let stand 20 minutes.
• Remove the center cap from the blender lid to prevent overflowing (be wary of inhaling vapors), process the mixture until smooth