Chef’s South: Todd Richards

Chef Todd Richards’ fond memories of a family favorite

By: Chef Todd Richards

That morning we laughed. My mom and I standing at the open refrigerator, spoons in hand, eating Dad’s red beans. Yes, they were cold. But they weren’t the type of cold (like a glass of OJ or mug of beer left in the freezer a little too long) where ice chips would form. The brown stainless-steel pot, with lid always inverted, kept the beans at a temperature similar to a spoon of chocolate pudding. It was that temperature of food that makes you feel guilty for eating something so good because of its luxurious texture.

We laughed because I startled her. I caught the adult kid with her hand in the cookie jar. Could you imagine the fury of the reverse? “Todd, what are you doing?” she would say. “You know better than that!” Even so, being sent to my room would have been a small price to pay for even just a teaspoonful of those delicious red beans. Compared to the spoon I caught her using—a serving spoon, no less—a teaspoon would have been a very dainty approach.

But this wasn’t just a snack. This was about reclaiming the childhood that those delicious flavors brought her back to. She turned around and looked at me, held her head down with a small smile, knowing she was caught. As guilty as she was, the natural instinct of denial was dismissed. It seemed like the euphoria of returning to childhood released a deep understanding of self—she saw herself through my eyes.

Not saying a word, my mom walked to the second drawer from the fridge. I hated that drawer: it always stuck. Then if you pulled it too much, the whole drawer would fall out, and only Dad could put it back in correctly. On this occasion, though, the final outcome didn’t matter. It only mattered to my mom that I share in her guilty pleasure. She shook the drawer up and down until it pulled open. She grabbed what was my favorite spoon (a slightly bent one from the Signature Room at the 95th in Chicago) and held it out in my direction. It was an odd shape, but for a kid, it was magical simply because the omelet station chef had given it to me.

Then she pulled back the lid and allowed me to eat Dad’s cold red beans. Oh man, were they good. It was the perfect meld of creaminess, chunks of smoked turkey, and red pepper flakes. The blessing of Dad’s food was not how good it was the first day, but the second. It was even more delicious and soul-fulfilling by the time the pot had chilled down, and the magical concoction within had cooled. But in this moment of joint mischief, that drawer doomed us both.

Backing up in a dance of joy, I bumped it and sent silverware flying. My dad came into the kitchen and, as he was helping put the drawer in, took a look into the pot. After he fixed the drawer, he turned and looked at my mom and me. Without a word, he grabbed the pot off the counter and placed it on the stove over low heat. After he walked away, once again, we just laughed.

Todd Richards is a James Beard award-nominated chef and cookbook author residing in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the Culinary Director of Jackmont Hospitality where he oversees restaurants One Flew South and Chicken + Beer, both located in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He is also the chef and owner of Richards’ Southern Fried located inside Atlanta’s Krog Street Market. 

Get the recipe for Dad’s Red Beans & Rice. 

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