Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill


Since opening their Durham, North Carolina, restaurant in 1986, chefs Ben and Karen Barker have been hailed as rising stars of the American culinary scene. Their award-winning Magnolia Grill has been featured in publications such as Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the New York Times, and Southern Living. With a menu that changes daily and draws inspiration from fresh, often locally produced ingredients, the restaurant is the ultimate showcase for the bold, imaginative cuisine that...

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Since opening their Durham, North Carolina, restaurant in 1986, chefs Ben and Karen Barker have been hailed as rising stars of the American culinary scene. Their award-winning Magnolia Grill has been featured in publications such as Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the New York Times, and Southern Living. With a menu that changes daily and draws inspiration from fresh, often locally produced ingredients, the restaurant is the ultimate showcase for the bold, imaginative cuisine that embodies the Barkers' motto, Not Afraid of Flavor.

From spectacular soups to inventive updates of classic American desserts, this beautifully illustrated book features more than 125 exciting recipes from Magnolia Grill. While not strictly Southern, many of the dishes display a Southern sensibility—making creative use of regional ingredients or offering a new twist on a familiar favorite. Clear, detailed directions encourage readers to try such "fearless" creations as okra rellenos, spicy green tomato soup with crab and country ham, pan-roasted duck breast with sun-dried cherry conserve, striped bass with oyster stew, wild mushroom bread pudding, brown sugar pear poundcake, and Jack Daniels vanilla ice cream.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
What the Barkers have been doing for the last decade is turning out rustic Southern fare--with notable refinements.-- Kansas City Star
United Airlines in-flight magazine
When local food cognoscenti speculate on the Triangle's top kitchen, the most frequently mentioned name is Magnolia Grill. No wonder. Chef/proprietor Ben Barker is a local treasure. . . . The bill of fare at this Durham institution evolves daily, in pursuit of the market's freshest offerings and Barker's inspiration.
Bon Appetit
It is a delicious relief to taste Karen Barker's sensational updated classic American desserts. . . . She has led the way in re-inventing home-style treats.
Raleigh News and Observer
Ben in the role of chef and Karen as pastry chef dance a pas de deux of flavors that never fails to entertain the palate, from the first crust of buttered batarde to the last morsel of night-black chocolate. . . . Magnolia Grill is the stage where Ben and Karen Barker perform, and their standing ovations can be measured in the tables that quickly fill up on weekends. Their restaurant is more popular than ever because they've worked hard to maintain consistency while keeping the performance exciting. . . . The result speaks for itself. All the diner can add is Bravo!.
USA Today
Working from a base of traditional Southern ingredients, Ben Barker constructs wondrously inventive dishes that never lose sight of the tenets of taste and texture.
Traditional Home
Not Afraid Of Flavor Is Perfect For Those Who Love Regional Food.
Emeril Lagasse
Ben and Karen Barker are the King and Queen of Flavor, which is truly the soul of Magnolia Grill.
Los Angeles Times
Handsomely bound, printed on art-quality heavy paper and liberally sprinkled with nicely photographed 'mood' pieces by Ann Hawthorne, this is as good a chef cookbook as has been published in the last several years, even in New York City.
Savannah Morning News
Unlike so many chefs' books, Not Afraid of Flavoris designed to really make their celebrated cooking accessible for home cooks. The recipes are clear, easy to follow and, more to the point—they work in a home kitchen.
Nashville Woman
A complex blend of nouvelle Southern enhanced with the freshest regional ingredients served up with fantastic layers of flavorings.
Our State
This beautiful collection of recipes and photographs is more than a cookbook; it's a love story that will inspire the creativity of any Southern cook.
The Magnolia Grill has been named one of the best places to dine in the US by Gourmet Magazine. Ben and Karen Barker, both James Beard Award-winning chefs, have compiled an intriguing array of outstanding recipes for this book, which reflects the wide variety of dishes featured at the restaurant. The recipes are complex in preparation but offer stellar results. The Magnolia Grill's menu emphasizes fresh ingredients. Clear, detailed directions will encourage readers to prepare: Striped Bass with Oyster Stew, New Orleans Red Bean Soup with Andouille and Rice, Our Thanksgiving Turkey with 140 Cloves of Garlic, School Kids' Flounder with Fish Camp Beurre Blanc, Slow-Cooked Southern Greens, Angel Biscuits, Chocolate Peanut Praline Tart, Deep-Dish Apple Cinnamon Crisp with Brandied Vanilla Ice Cream, and Watermelon Granita. Wonderful full-color photographs accompany many of the recipes, further enhancing their appeal. This is a beautiful book that will inspire the reader to reach new culinary heights. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2000, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 254p. illus. index., Ages 17 to adult.
—Shirley Reis
Library Journal
The Barkers' restaurant in Durham, NC (he's the chef, she's the pastry chef) is widely acknowledged as one of the best in the South. Magnolia Grill is known for its innovative, appetizing dishes, based on local ingredients and a unique take on Southern cooking--such as Ben's updated Pickled Shrimp, served with Smoked Tomato Remoulade, or Roasted Mint-&-Garlic-Rubbed Fresh Ham with Luxe Macaroni & Cheese. Karen's delectable desserts are somewhat more down-home but just as flavorful: Chocolate Peanut Praline Tart, for example, or her famous Jack Daniels Vanilla Ice Cream. Their attractively designed cookbook includes 100 photographs, many of them full page, half of them color. Highly recommended. [Good Cook selection.] Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
The author run the Magnolia Grill restaurant in North Carolina and here provides a cookbook of their dishes and Southern culinary traditions. The restaurant's favorites have been adjusted for the home cook and include fine innovations ranging form Salmon Choucroute in Creamy Mustard Sauce to Roasted Duck Breast with Sun-Dried Cherry Conserve. Color photos pepper and finish the presentation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807854983
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/29/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 828,751
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Ben Barker with his wife Karen Barker were the chef-owners of Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina. Ben was named Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2000.

Karen Barker with her husband Ben Barker were the chef-owners of Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina. Karen is the 2003 winner of the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Pastry Chef Award and the 1999 winner of Bon Appetit's American Food and Entertaining Award for Best Pastry Chef.

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Read an Excerpt


There is very little pretense to Magnolia Grill. Housed in a flat-roofed brick building on the periphery of an old residential area in one direction and an active business district in the other, it most resembles a truck stop of a "certain" age. We have always loved the contrast in image this creates: relaxed, a bit offbeat, lacking in some of the accoutrements usually considered typical of fine dining establishments (crystal, silver, fine china). Designed on a shoestring budget, the interior of the Grill has not changed much over the years. While paint and new upholstery freshen things up periodically, we've maintained the simple feeling of a breezy, open veranda. We are a neighborhood bistro whose neighborhood has grown.

The history of our building has always been linked to food. Originally constructed as a small independent grocery store, it was utilized for that purpose for the bulk of its existence until it became our restaurant in 1986. That link has ultimately driven our approach to the food we prepare and the style of business we operate.

The Grill is a mom-and-pop operation; we continue to be very hands-on about running the restaurant. Over the years, our menu has grown in complexity, and we now serve more people in an evening then we once imagined possible. The restaurant continues to evolve, but our goal has remained constant--to feature food we love complemented by wonderful wine in a gracious and welcoming atmosphere. We've always been very fortunate in having an incredible staff that executes this vision. It takes a great deal of dedication, attention to detail, and hard work to achieve this. Distinctive restaurants have their own personalities, and we've always felt that the Magnolia "family" is the real soul of our restaurant.

People are always asking us to categorize our food. In response, we've found it difficult to reduce what we do to a three-word sound bite. We look for ingredients that are innately good and seek to present them in ways that accentuate their good qualities. Our presentations are generally straightforward, reveling in the look of the food itself and how it tastes. Our motto, "not afraid of flavor," is typified by dishes that are bold and exciting, often featuring layers of flavors, contrasts in temperature, and textural foils, with honest, gutsy appeal. If something is "not afraid," one can definitely taste all the advertised flavors, but the dish will taste balanced. It will remain interesting to eat from the first bite to the last. Our cooking has principally been based on regional ingredients of the best quality; while not always intrinsically Southern, our cuisine bespeaks a Southern sensibility. While we've never had "specials" or "signature dishes," thematic representations reappear as the seasonal ebb and flow dictates the evolution of our cooking.

If there has been a single defining influence on our cooking, it has been the ingredients we use and our interaction with the network of growers from whom we get them. Our local farmers' market in Carrboro has been a wonderful source of inspiration, renewal, emphatic delineation of the seasonal cadence, and--not least--enduring friendships. Since its inception nearly twenty years ago, the market and the number of vendors selling there have grown; the requirement that all growers be from within a thirty-mile radius of the market and sell only what they themselves have produced gives it a distinct regional feel.

If you have a local farmers' market, use it to your advantage. Go early for the best selection. Make an initial walk-through to see what catches your eye, and then let the ingredients create your menu, in the most spontaneous sense. You'll find varieties of vegetables not available in a traditional supermarket, grown for their flavor and not for their ability to be shipped long distances. There is an extraordinary immediacy to food that is grown and picked for you, an opportunity to interact with the farmer that integrates you into the process of bringing the food to the table. Once you employ this approach in your shopping, you'll find you have greater command of your meal planning. Purchasing based on the quality and appeal of the ingredients will yield more gratifying end results and a more natural, satisfying style of cooking.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of using the finest ingredients available to you. Sometimes the difference between a home rendering of a restaurant's recipe and the professional's version is not in the skill of the cook but in the quality of the ingredients. We spend a great deal of time securing the food upon which our menu is based. Just as we have worked to develop ongoing relationships with all our suppliers, you should get to know your local butcher, wine purveyor, fishmonger, and cheese specialist as well. In restaurant lingo, if you are a regular customer, they will "hook you up"--meaning you'll be more likely to receive a superior product, good advice, and excellent service. OTHER CONTENT:A recipe from Chapter 6. Desserts®MDNM¯

The Chef's Favorite Lemon Tart
Makes 1 10 1/2-inch tart; serves 8 to 12

The chef's favorite lemon tart is a somewhat sophisticated take on Southern-style lemon chess pie. This simple tart really is one of Ben's favorite desserts and has been a standard in Karen's repertoire for close to 20 years.

We most often serve this with a mixture of seasonal berries and lightly whipped cream. You can substitute a simple raspberry sauce made from frozen raspberries if it is not fresh berry season.

Ingredients for the Tart Shell

1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons flour 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
1 egg white, lightly beaten, reserved for baking

Ingredients for the Filling

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon, grated
zest of 1 orange, grated
1/4 cup heavy cream

Ingredients for Service

fresh berries
whipped cream

Preparation for the Tart Shell
1. In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg yolk mixture and pulse just until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Flatten into a 6-inch disc, wrap in plastic, and chill several hours or overnight. Let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 13-inch round. Fit the dough into a 10 1/2-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the dough flush with the rim and freeze the tart shell until firm.

3. Line the shell with foil or parchment, and fill with pie weights, rice, or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes until set. Remove the foil and weights and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove the shell from the oven and immediately brush the hot pastry with the egg white.

Hint: When rolling tart pastry, always save all the dough scraps in case you need them to repair a crack in a partially baked shell. If the pastry "bubbles up" during the baking process, gently prick the pastry with a fork to release air bubbles. Check several times and repeat if necessary. The egg white serves to seal the pastry, which is especially helpful with a liquid filling such as this. It is essential that there be no cracks or holes visible in the partially baked shell. Make any necessary repairs prior to filling.

Preparation for the Tart
1. When the pastry is almost done baking, assemble the filling. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, lemon zest, and orange zest and cream till smooth. Transfer the tart shell to the oven. Place the filling in a pitcher and slowly pour into the shell as high as possible without overfilling. There might be a bit of filling left over.

2. Bake the tart for approximately 25 minutes, until the filling is barely set. Check the tart after 20 minutes and keep checking it every few minutes after that. It is crucial to not overbake this filling!

3. Cool to room temperature before serving with berries and whipped cream.

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Table of Contents

1. Tar Heel Tapas, Dixie Delights, and a Few Cocktails
2. Soups
3. Appetizers
4. Entrees
5. Side Dishes, Relishes, and Breads
6. Desserts
7. Pantry Basics

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2001

    Righteous cookbook!!!!!

    This Book tells it all! It's about time we got a chef who is not afraid to put '140' cloves of garlic in the turkey and baste that thing with duck fat. It's also time Ben won James Beard.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2000

    easy to follow good reading

    this book protrudes the essence of culinary ingeneosity. It also warms the heart with dishes like the grits casserole. Many people will enjoy this book and few will not. It a must owner for some parts of the culinary field.

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