At sea with the new book from Crook's Corner's Bill Smith | Food Feature | Indy Week
Pin It

At sea with the new book from Crook's Corner's Bill Smith 

Chef Bill Smith

Photo by Alex Boerner

Chef Bill Smith

From my grandmother's house, we could walk to the river and often did," Bill Smith says. "We always had some family who lived down there. I can walk there from my mother's house today."

It is Labor Day, and Bill Smith is describing his hometown of New Bern while eyeing the action at the downtown Durham bar Alley Twenty Six. A collection of colleagues, some of the area's best chefs, prepare tastings of recipes taken from Smith's new book, Crabs & Oysters. Despite the hectic scene around him, Smith, 66, is calm, as it seems he always is. Maybe not when he's in the kitchen of his Chapel Hill institution, Crook's Corner, on a hot and busy night, but he even downplays that idea.

"You want people to have a good meal," he says, "but it's not a refugee crisis."

Smith speaks his mind in measured tones, punctuated by a laugh that comes from the gut. Get him going on politics, his travels or a favorite band (Smith co-founded the Cat's Cradle), and fury, joy and reverie come through—maybe not loud, but certainly clear.

This night, though, is all about the new book, his second, which is part of UNC Press' Savor the South series, a focused survey of southern cooking with titles like Shrimp, Okra and Sunday Dinners.

After you read Smith's contribution, it will be hard to imagine anyone else penning something called Crabs & Oysters. In his long career, first at La Residence and, since 1993, at Crook's Corner, his menus have almost always included one or the other. When crabs are in season, his social media feed (on Twitter, @Chulegre) essentially becomes a supply alert. And if you want to know exactly how a fried oyster should crunch, he's your guy. Smith is a two-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation's "Best Chef Southeast," a coveted culinary award. Crabs & Oysters, though, is a readable and intimate cookbook that doubles as memoir, as Smith draws inspiration from a childhood where both dishes were abundant.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner

"When we were growing up, crab was free food. You just went and caught them, and however many you had, that's how much you ate," he says. "If you got a lot, you made one thing; if you didn't, you made something else."

In New Bern, the waters once flowed much clearer, and the seafood was more essential to daily life. Today, the former colonial capital sprawls far beyond the confluence of the Trent and Neuse. The docks are full of sailboats and the occasional yacht. Tourists and the new convention center are the town's trade, while the recreational fishing fleet dwarfs what's left of the commercial boats.

This post-war transition had already started when William Bryan Smith Jr. was born into a family that called the river neighborhoods of New Bern home. Smith was the first of five siblings. He was named for his father, who was named for William Jennings Bryan, the firebrand populist and presidential candidate. The family was large and lively. In oyster season, they often gathered to feast.

"My father was a mailman, and he worked out of Pamlico County," Smith remembers. "People just gave him bushels of oysters all the time."

Smith grew up watching his mother, grandmother (a Cape Hatteras native) and aunts prepare meals. Blessed with an impeccable memory, especially when it involves food, he can recall events like his first oyster roast and meals from decades ago, right down to the ingredients. That includes his earliest adventure in cooking, a pineapple upside-down cake prepared over an open fire on a Boy Scout campout, and his first soft-shell crab, ordered by accident during an afternoon outing with family at a seafood spot in Sea Level in Carteret County.

"My Aunt Hi was sure I had meant deviled crabs, but I wouldn't change my order," he writes near the book's beginning. "To this day, soft-shell crabs are one of my favorite foods."

  • The chef talks about his love (and difficulty with) Crabs & Oysters

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Food Feature



Twitter Activity

Comments

The Refectory is no longer on the Duke Campus. Their new, permanent location is on Chapel Hill Blvd, and yes …

by Beth Owl's Daughter on The Refectory Cafe (Durham County)

Food was good. Service was extremely poor last night. Server had to be reminded too many times to bring a …

by robbo on Blu Seafood & Bar (Durham County)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

Jesus Vasquez - I don't want to speak for Monica Segovia-Welsh, featured in this story as one-half of the business, …

by victoria_foodeditor on Chicken Bridge Bakery Feeds Bodies and Minds with Baked-In Messages of Resistance and Solidarity (Food Feature)

As for the previous post, please explain the difference between "appropriating" and celebrating/appreciating different cultures.

by Barbara 2 on Chicken Bridge Bakery Feeds Bodies and Minds with Baked-In Messages of Resistance and Solidarity (Food Feature)

Another White boy appropriates Latino culture. But it's cool, cause he's against HB2, supports the protestors at Standing Rock, and …

by Jesus Vasquez on Chicken Bridge Bakery Feeds Bodies and Minds with Baked-In Messages of Resistance and Solidarity (Food Feature)

While I hate to see local/small farmers get hurt, the problem that could eliminate it would be to stop the …

by Barbara 2 on Trump’s New USDA Pick Is Making It Harder for N.C. Farmers to Survive (Food Feature)

WHY cut down those 50 ft. pine trees, dude??????

by Phyllis Nunn on Raleigh Artist David McConnell's Infinity Hundred Is a Biodiverse Alternative to Big Agriculture (Food Feature)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation