History professor, hip-hop promoter and community warrior Garrad Lee was once a chef, cooking in restaurants in Jackson and Starkville. These days, cooking is a passion he shares with his wife and friends. On Saturday, May 11, friends – and total strangers – will be well fed with The Legend of Breakfast, a pop up event at Sneaky Beans Coffee Shop in Fondren. We sat down with Lee on the front porch at Sneaky Beans last night and talked jazz, potholes, the Bermuda Triangle. Oh, and breakfast…
The Legend of Breakfast: who comes up with these themes?
Ian Hanson who did the poster. Jesse had a Star Wars theme (with last weekend’s wildly popular “May The 4thBe With You” Star Wars themed breakfast). Ian asked “What’s your theme?” I tell you, at one point, Byron was like “Hey, Jesse and them are doing a Star Wars theme…you guys maybe want to do a movie theme? How about Raiders of the Lost Ark?” I was like “Dude, shut up!” I told Nate that and that we should do Monkey Brains Benedict or something like that. I sent Ian the menu by email and he drew that character. It’s like part pig-part chicken-part cow. I’m not even going to try and combine it into one word. He sent me the flyer and said “Here’s this animal and we’ll call it the Legend of the Breakfast. I said “Cool.” I let the artistic guys handle that. So, really, I have no idea why he thought of that. I think he thought the character he drew was legendary, which it kind of is.
And you’re doing this weekend with Nate Ballard? Who is Nate?
In a previous life, I cooked in restaurants for 15 years or so. Nate and I cooked together for ten of those. Nate’s actually my all-time best friend. He’s considered one of the other brothers in my family. His twins are our God kids. We worked a little here, a little in Oxford. But it’s been over three years since we cooked together. He works now at Old Capitol Inn. He’s been there probably three years. The last time we worked together was at The Auditorium (Nathan Glenn’s former restaurant at Duling School). When I was in grad school the first year, I worked there and baked all the bread. I’d come in at 7 a.m. in the morning and bake. That reunited us working together. We did Bon Ami together for three years and several other places.
This menu looks amazingly good. What’s on tap for Saturday?
We have three hot items and two baked items. Oh, I have to mention my wife, Catherine. She’s in this this weekend, too. She is doing a coffee cake and lemon thyme scones.
Then there’s a taco: it’s a corn tortilla, chorizo, bell peppers and onions, scrambled eggs, queso fresco, roasted tomatilla and jalapeno salsa, and a lemon cilantro crema.
We’ve got cathead biscuits. Nate calls them “big as a cat head” biscuits. (Lee stretches his hands apart to demonstrate the size of the biscuit) That’ll be cut in half and we have pork loin medallions (fried, then smothered in onions and bell peppers with a creole brown gravy), then a scoop of homemade smoked Gouda pimento cheese. The side will be smoked Gouda pimento cheese grits.
Also, we’ve got whole wheat cottage cheese pancakes, homemade granola, Greek yogurt, sorghum and Louisiana strawberry vanilla compote.
How do you come up with this stuff?
Catherine and I cook at home. Most of that is just talking it out, planning meals for the week. She reads a lot of food blogs and we have a shelf full of cookbooks like Southern Living from the 70′s all the way up to the new Jamie Oliver books. We never cook from a recipe. We freestyle everything. Like the green chilies we did last time: I made a few notes while I did it, but I make my stuff different every time. I like to think of cooking like jazz. Not to sound pretentious of anything, but I try to make it different every time. It’s just ideas. Doing a menu for something like this; things just start coming together. I see it.
When Nate and I decided to do this, he came over one night and I was pumped. We hadn’t sat around and planned anything in a long time. We used to plan menus and specials. When we cooked together and lived together, we constantly had cookbooks in our laps, taking notes. Knowing he was coming over to plan this menu was exciting. We knew we were going to sit and drink beer for a few hours and plan this menu and it was going to be killer. And we did. We both spouted out ideas, cooked pieces of each and assembled them together. Everything is very simple. We have a great presentation, but it’s just good stuff.
These pop up events have been a huge success. I guess this is something that just keeps going?
The last one (Mom, My Breakfast Don’t Look Like It Used To)… that would have been at the end of January: we did it the first time as kind of an experiment, something Ian and I had been tossing around. It was our baby. He named it “Mom, My Breakfast Don’t Look Like It Used To.” We see this as the second installment of that. Byron loves it because it was an experiment that gave him great weekends. For this one, I wouldn’t have thought about it again for six months. Then Jesse came to Byron. It was actually built around that. Byron said, “Let’s use this as an opportunity to tag two more on that.” We had Nathan Glenn in mind (for May 18′s 5th Floor Breakfast with Matt Jeffries) and knew Nate (Ballard) and I were going to do one together. I would imagine every few months or so, Byron’s going to want to do it. Especially after last weekend. This weekend won’t be big as last weekend (because, mainly, I’m not trying to cook that much food!). Definitely, thanks to him. This will be multiple, weird little things that we’ve come up with and he’s allowed us to do here. He’s always great about that. That’s why we keep doing stuff here. It’s not the greatest kitchen to cook in, but it’s worth it.
It’s a lot of work to put these on. This must be a labor of love for you?
We don’t make any money on this – the cooks don’t. We do it because it’s fun for us. At the end of the day, if it makes Byron whatever it makes him, that’s worth it to me. I can’t spend as much here as I made him. But it feels good to help him out. That’s what makes me happiest. And Ian, you’ve seen his posters? They’re amazing. He’s right up there with the top artists in Jackson. He does all that stuff for us for free. It’s a labor of love for him. It’s all about the love of it.
What makes Sneaky Beans such a special place to do this? Is it the center of the universe?
I tell people the Bermuda triangle of the Fondren underground is like here to Fondren Corner with Rooster’s and Chane to Morningbell. It forms this little triangle where the Jackson underground exists if there is an underground. It’s in a quirky neighborhood in this little quirky subsection hanging out in this general area. Ten years ago, you couldn’t go to a punk rock show, a folk show and go to the skateboard shop all within a couple blocks of each other. You can get coffee and tacos in between. That’s what us cool kids want: tacos, beer and hip hop. And coffee. And we get to do cool things here.
That’s the beauty of Jackson. The stuff we’re doing makes Jackson great. There are no potholes in community here. It’s solid. This stuff never happened before. We’re all making it happen. It’s cool to be part of it. I’m going to spend ten hours over the next two or three nights, getting up at 5am, frying pork at Old Capitol Inn. There’s definitely a part of me in it.