By Madison Malo
Susan Puckett, an Ole Miss alumna and accomplished food writer who spent 18 years at “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution”, draws her inspiration from the unique ways that food connects people and culture.
Puckett, a Jackson, Mississippi, native and UM School of Journalism and New Media graduate, specializes in finding and telling authentic stories through the lens of food, and helps chefs and others in food-related industries reach new audiences and by writing books.
Puckett’s website says “If you want to get people to open up, turn the conversation to food. It is one of the rare topics we all have something to say about.”
The book she wrote with Eddie Hernandez, called “Turnips, Greens and Tortillas,” is an example of the blending of people and cultures. Puckett said she was previously familiar with Hernandez’s food and some of his stories from Monterey, Mexico, and had edited many reviews about his South-meets Mexico restaurants.
“I thought then that there was probably a book-worthy story to be told about how Eddie’s cooking style evolved, and many years later asked him if he’d ever thought of writing a book,” Puckett said.
The process Puckett takes in helping chefs write their books begins with a number of lengthy interviews. Her interviews with Hernandez always began with his “cooking some dishes and then…explaining how he made them and their origins.” Puckett and Hernandez would meet at her condo, which was right next to one of his restaurants, and they would make tortillas and a variety of other cultural foods while she took notes for the book.
The most recent book Puckett co-wrote was with retired New Orleans-based chef, Tenney Flynn. It is focused on seafood dishes and how Flynn started his career in cooking, but also about his knowledge of sustainable seafood so people would feel more comfortable about cooking seafood at home.
After securing Flynn’s book deal with a publisher, Puckett spent the next year emailing and talking to him, as well as making a few trips to New Orleans to hang out with him at his restaurant, GW Fins, and watch him break down a whole and cook them.
Flynn’s book, “The Deep End of Flavor,” shares his passion and recipes for Gulf Coast seafood sustainability, and as part of Puckett’s research, she tested all of the recipes herself by making them at her home.
“Translating restaurant dishes into recipes that regular cooks can make at home is a challenging skill in itself, and one that requires more reporting than you may think,” she said.
Puckett, who wrote her first cookbook at the age of 23, said she loves helping people tell their stories about food. She’s often asked if she ever gets sick of writing about food, and her response is simply “You must be kidding!”