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Get Saucy, Not Salty With These Durham Chef Hacks

Estimated Read Time:
2 minutes

Just because you're home doesn't mean you're on your own. These James Beard Award nominees are bringing their expertise to your kitchen.

Posted By Ashley Strahm on May 01, 2020

Now more than ever, we've been left to our own devices in our homes as we attempt to feed ourselves and our families while social distancing. But delightful dishes aren't just reserved for the famous chefs among us — and we have many. Over the years, nine James Beard Award nominated chefs have called Durham home. The highest honor in the food industry, the James Beard Awards are often referred to as the "Oscars of Food," and we're honored to have these standout creators here.

We get it: not everyone is trying to make ceviche in their spare time. But some of our revered culinary masters have shared a few tips and tricks worth replicating as you embark on your own cooking adventures.

Saltbox Seafood Joint: Ricky Moore

Saltbox Seafood Joint Head Chef Ricky Moore was nominated for a James Beard award for best chef in the southeast. A U.S. Army veteran and author, Moore is now a first-time James Beard semifinalist. Saltbox has been a Durham favorite ever since the original outdoor-seating-only tiny shack opened on Mangum St in 2012. Lines formed down the block for an hour (or more!) wait for delicious fried catfish or their trademark Hush-Honeys®. His first venture was so popular that he opened a second location in Durham's Lakewood neighborhood. He's got a few tricks up his sleeve that are bound to make your next dish better than average:

  • Crack eggs on an even surface (like your kitchen counter or cutting board) instead of on the edge of a bowl.
  • Make perfectly shaped burger patties by forming a ball, throwing it against your cutting board to prevent air bubbles, then pressing a dimple into the center to keep them from puffing up doing the cooking process
  • For extra crispy fried chicken, fry it twice. Make sure that your seasoned battered chicken is at room temperature. First fry it at 325 for 15 minutes then take it out and let it rest for 15 minutes. When you fry for the second time, raise the temperature of the oil to 355 and fry for 5 minutes... your chicken will be CGBD = Crunchy, Golden Brown and Delicious!
  • For the best pancakes, regardless of what recipe you use, add a couple tablespoons of sour cream to the mix. They turn out to be tasty, fluffy and free of cracks.
  • For good smooth, sweet iced tea, add a pinch of baking soda during the steeping process.
  • For a Saltbox trick to prevent your fish from sticking to the grill, first make sure your grill is heated, and the grates are oiled and seasoned. Second (and I am referring to fish that is traditionally cooked without it's skin), after you season it, brush it with a thin layer of mayonnaise. It acts as a lubricant and buffer, and helps create a beautiful brown crust.

Completely enamored with his brilliant culinary advice? We thought you would be. Luckily, Moore returned to his coastal New Bern, NC roots with his first cookbook. The Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook tells the story of how he went from the fish markets of Singapore to a seafood truck and restaurant inspired by the shacks that dot the Carolina coast (along with 60 amazing recipes).

We interviewed Moore back in 2017. Check out his Q&A.

Hero image photo credit: Kim Lan Grout

The Durham Hotel: Andrea Reusing

Andrea Reusing is the executive chef of The Durham Hotel. She won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2011 and was nominated for the same category in 2017. Long before that, though, Reusing opened her own restaurant, Lantern in Chapel Hill in 2002. There, she combined North Carolina ingredients with Asian flavors, and earned top distinctions in Gourmet and Food & Wine.

Her decadent tips are as follows:

  • Support North Carolina producers and then don't overthink it.
  • The next few months in NC are among the best times to eat anywhere in the world, and one or two other ingredients are all you need.
  • Put out radishes, lettuces and baby turnips with a quick buttermilk dressing (buttermilk + black pepper + chives) for dipping.
  • Roast pasture-raised pork ribs in a hot oven rubbed with chiles and fennel.
  • Steam clams with scallions and a little white wine and a Loaf baguette.
  • Do your food shopping with producers like South Wind Produce, Chicken Bridge Bakery, Locals Seafood and Firsthand Foods. (And if you really want to cook like a restaurant chef, delegate planning, prep and clean up.)

Like Moore, Reusing thought of you long before this social distancing season began. In 2011, Reusing published her first cookbook, "Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes," and the book was named one of the most notable cookbooks of the year by the New York Times. Well worth the read, we think.

Vin Rouge, Parizade, Local 22 and the Cafe at the Nasher: Giorgios Bakatsias

Giorgios learned to cook at the foot of his mother’s stove in the quiet village of Karista, Greece. He immigrated with his family to the United States at the age of 12. His parents’ small diner, above which the family lived, was his first introduction to Durham, and after learning in kitchens in New York, Paris, and the Mediterranean, he proceeded to acquire over 30 years of experience in restaurants, food venues and gourmet markets.


Giorgios Bakatsias is behind many of Durham's exceptional restaurants. Expect Mediterranean to Provencal French cuisine and any number of complex dishes at one of the 11 restaurants owned by the Giorgios Group. Bakatsias promises a variety of culinary samplings from every corner of the globe, with robust and powerful flavor while maintaining fresh and locally sourced ingredients. In 2014, he was nominated for the James Beard Award in the 'Outstanding Restaurateur' category.

From the simple to the slightly more technical, Giorgios has some great tips on how to make the most of your ingredients and produce so little to nothing goes to waste.

  • His best kept secret? Fresh herbs and lots of citrus make most any dish come to life! Dry out any excess fresh herbs and use them in your cooking at a later time.
  • Invest in a good zester and always use the zest from citrus before you use the fruit.
  • Use lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit zest in yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, honey, tea, marinades, flavored oils, atop salads … the list is endless.
  • Don’t even think about throwing away overripe tomatoes. Instead, make tomato paste or tomato sauce that’ll be better than any store bought options.
  • Sous vide — the process of vacuum-sealing food in a bag, then cooking it to a very precise temperature in a water bath — is your new best friend. French chefs have been using for over 50 years before it took on in home kitchens, enhancing the flavor and versatility of your favorites.

The whole, tasty story

When they're not whipping up incredible works of arts on the plate and in the glass, our chefs are racking up the nominations. Were you aware of how many stand-out restauranteurs call Durham home? Take a look back at the nominations and wins earned throughout the past several years:

The 2020 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists
Best Chef: Southeast - Ricky Moore, Saltbox Seafood Joint, Durham, NC

The 2019 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists
Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer - Sean Lilly Wilson, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, NC

The 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists

Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional - Sean Lilly Wilson, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, NC

The 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists

Outstanding Baker - Phoebe Lawless, Scratch, Durham, NC
Outstanding Chef - Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Matt Kelly, Mateo, Durham, NC

The 2016 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists

Outstanding Baker - Phoebe Lawless, Scratch Bakery, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Matt Kelly, Mateo, Durham, NC

The 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists

Outstanding Baker - Phoebe Lawless, Scratch Bakery, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Scott Howell, Nana's, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Matt Kelly, Mateo, Durham, NC

The 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists
Outstanding Pastry Chef - Phoebe Lawless, Scratch, Durham, NC
Outstanding Restaurateur - Giorgios Bakatsias, Giorgios Hospitality Group, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Scott Howell, Nana's, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Matt Kelly, Mateo, Durham, NC

The 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists

Outstanding Pastry Chef - Phoebe Lawless, Scratch, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Scott Howell, Nana's, Durham, NC

The 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists
Outstanding Restaurant - Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC
Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional - Sean Lilly Wilson, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Scott Howell, Nana's, Durham, NC

The 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists

Outstanding Chef - Ben Barker, Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC 
Outstanding Restaurant - Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Scott Howell, Nana's, Durham, NC
Best Chef: Southeast - Shane Ingram, Four Square, Durham, NC
WINNER Best Chef: Southeast – Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC

About the Author

Ashley Strahm

Jersey roots, Durham fruits. Lover of all things edible, egalitarian and true. Find me clad in Birkenstocks, seeking Bull City Beautiful stories by trail, wheel and spoke.



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