OXFORD, Miss. (AP) – Chef Kevin Mitchell hasn’t felt that kind of excitement since defending his master’s thesis at the University of Mississippi.

After months of research, writing, and editing — much of it during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — Mitchell finally got to see a finished copy of “Taste the State: South Carolina’s Signature Foods, Recipes, and Their Stories,” which Mitchell co-wrote with famed food scientist David Shields. The book was published late last fall by University of South Carolina Press.

“Finally holding the book in my hand was surreal,” he said. “After the time spent preparing the manuscript, taking photos, cooking and many other things during the pandemic, it was great to have the finished product in my hands.”

Mitchell, who earned a master’s degree in Southern Studies from UM in 2018, is a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston. While studying at Ole Miss, he was an SFA Nathalie Dupree Scholar and wrote his dissertation on “From Black Minions to White Mouths: The Freed and Enslaved Cooks of Charleston and Their Influence on Southern Food.”

Mitchell and Shields’ 230-page book is already in its second printing, and Forbes magazine has named it one of the best new cookbooks for travelers.


The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards also named “Taste the State” as the US winner and 2021 nominee for the Global Winner in the Tourism Food Book category in 2022. Gourmand selects one book per nation in each of its award categories; “Taste the State” was that book, and it will compete with all the other national winners for the global prize.

The book is more comprehensive than just a top 10 list and focuses on iconic South Carolina dishes. The idea was a deep dive into Palmetto State food, looking at historical recipes and providing a detailed timeline of when things are introduced. For example, 19th century root vegetables are not the same as 21st century ones.

“We tried to keep the focus on the mission of the book: to be entertaining and inspiring, to get people into the kitchen to try recipes, and not to be too academic,” said Mitchell, who was named Caroline’s Chef Ambassador. of the South in 2020.

They list 82 of the state’s most distinctive ingredients, such as Carolina Gold rice, Sea Island White Flint corn, and cone-shaped Charleston Wakefield cabbage, as well as signature dishes, such as shrimp and grits, chicken bog, okra soup, frogmore stew and crab. rice, offering stories of origin and tales of culinary creativity and agricultural innovation.

It was easy for Mitchell to work with Shields, Carolina Professor Emeritus of the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina and president of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation. Shields is the author of numerous books, including “Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine” and “The Culinarians: Lives and Careers from the First Age of American Fine Dining”, and is a recipient of the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame of the SFA. Award.

“David locates people who are reintroducing these ingredients to our world and then connects them to chefs like me,” Mitchell said. “As an instructor, it is important that my students understand how these relationships are formed.

“David sends me a box of peppers or California corn to play with, and it inspires me to bring it to my students and hopefully they bring it to the chefs they work for.”

According to the book’s preface, the publisher wanted “something that would be informative even for the most educated cooks and local historians, but also interesting for the visitor and general reader”.

Their research also involved combing through geneologybank.com, which contains newspaper archives, census records and historical books.

“The process was overwhelming at times, which was because many ingredients and dishes had so many log entries, so it was hard to decide which files were being used to write our entries,” he said. . “It was, however, a really interesting way to do research. I would definitely use this technique again.

“Taste the State” is written in dictionary form, in alphabetical order.

“We focused on three things: talking to people about ingredients that were overlooked, focusing on dishes synonymous with South Carolina, and including dishes that would surprise people, like asparagus or oranges,” Mitchell said. “When we returned the manuscript, we had a list of 100 dishes/ingredients and we realized we had gone too far.

“Our contract was 75,000 words and our first draft was 150,000 words, so we had to cut quite a bit.”

One of the things that had to be cut was Madeira, which Mitchell says is one of his biggest regrets.

“So many times when we talk about alcohol in the South, we go for bourbon,” he said. “It was great to see that South Carolina had this great Madeira-related history.”

While at UM, her thesis supervisor was Catarina Passidomo, associate professor of Southern Studies and Anthropology at the Southern Foodways Alliance. It’s exciting for her to see her former student flourish after graduation.

“Kevin is really keen to keep us up to date with his happenings, and they’re always impressive,” said Passidomo, who is also the graduate program coordinator for Southern Studies. “His book project with David Shields is a significant and novel contribution to Southern food research, and his perspective as a professional chef and curator of culinary tradition provides particularly interesting insights.”

Mitchell’s experiences at the center also taught him how to become a better instructor.

“I was able to use research and writing techniques to design a new course called Southern Cuisine and Culture,” he said. “I was able to add some of the readings from Dr. Passidomo’s foodservice course into the curriculum, not only teaching students about food, but also topics centered around Southern cuisine.”