‘Remembering Bill Neal’ -- again

Nov. 09, 2013 @ 11:58 AM

Why, this week, would Chapel Hill be remembering Bill Neal, the noted chef and author who died in 1991?
One reason is that UNC-TV is re-airing on its UNC-MX cable channel a program featuring Moreton Neal, Bill Neal’s former wife and the author of a 2004 memoir, “Remembering Bill Neal: Favorite Recipes from a Life in Cooking.”
Another and more important reason is a responsibility to celebrate the people who made our town such a wonderful place to live.
R.W. Apple, writing in The New York Times about the year 1985 when “keen young cooks in cities all across the country were reviving and rejuvenating American regional cooking,” said, “In Chapel Hill, N.C., a cosmopolitan if out-of-the-way corner of the New South, Bill Neal, a self-taught, 34-year-old graduate of Duke University, was plowing the same furrow at a restaurant called Crook's Corner. He won regional renown for dishes like boned quail and shrimp with grits. He wrote a highly influential book called ‘Southern Cooking.’ Craig Claiborne of The New York Times came to visit and to praise -- a sure sign, in that era, that a chef had arrived.”
Twenty-two years after Neal’s death, Crook’s Corner is a living, breathing, smelling, tasting monument to the revolution in Southern food that he helped lead.
Apple quoted John Edge, food writer and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, who said Neal was the “first Southerner who applied an academic rigor to cooking. We were not very proud, back then, of ourselves or our cuisine. He rekindled our respect for the cooking of our own forebears.”
“When Bill Neal died in 1991,” Moreton Neal wrote in the introduction to her book, “he was just hitting his stride as a food writer. The success of his first two cookbooks allowed him to retire from the grueling job of running a restaurant kitchen, and by 1988 he was devoting most of his time to writing. Bill's flair for the written word, his passion for history, and his genius for cooking and gardening promised so much more for his readers. His untimely death surely deprived us of many volumes.”
Moreton Neal’s book is both a memoir and a collection of recipes from their time at their La Residence restaurant, his time at Crook’s Corner, and their family’s favorite dishes cooked at home. She says, “Because this book is meant to be a ‘best of Bill’ collection, I have included hoppin' John, shrimp and grits, chocolate chess pie, and many more classics from ‘Bill Neal's Southern Cooking,” ‘Biscuits, Spoonbread,’ and ‘Sweet Potato Pie, and Good Old Grits.’”
Just reading that list of dishes and titles of Bill Neal’s books will make our mouths water, prompt us to say thank you to Bill Neal and Moreton Neal for enriching our lives, and remind us to find a television set connected to cable channel #172 (or #4.4) Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. to watch Moreton Neal talk about “Remembering Bill Neal.”
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.