Cowboys (and cowgirls) come in all different shapes and sizes, but two things are certain: Life on the range stirs up a big appetite and breakfast is serious business. Cowboy chef Grady Spears and cowgirl chef Paula Disbrowe explain cowboy cooking and what a cowboy breakfast means to them.
Q. What does cowboy cuisine mean to you?
A. Cowboy Grady: Cowboy cooking is honest, straightforward, hearty comfort food. Its approachable but simple and filling.
At Gradys, my restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, I use a lot of quail and goat (cabrito) because thats whats indigenous to the area. Meat, like rib-eye steaks, beef tenderloin and pork chops, is a big part of the cuisine. They dont call Fort Worth Cowtown for nothing.
A. Cowgirl Paula: To me, cowboy cuisine is the cuisine of a certain place. Its cooking with gusto, big, bold flavors and rustic techniques, food with a strong personality. I have a passion for fresh herbs, chiles and lots of vegetables, so many of my dishes tend to be lighter than more traditional cowboy fare. I think thats my feminine side coming out. Much of my cowboy cooking also has Mediterranean influences from my experience in Europe, but it uses Texas ingredients and a Texas cooking style.
Q. What is your favorite cowboy breakfast?
A. Cowboy Grady: Chicken-fried steak with cream gravy, buttermilk biscuits, a couple of fried eggs, pinto beans with pico de gallo (tomato and roasted garlic salsa) and good, strong black coffee with a little sugar.
A. Cowgirl Paula: Eggs scrambled with some scallions and cilantro or any fresh herb I can get my hands on and some pepper Jack cheese all rolled in a nicely charred flour tortilla with salsa, either a tomatillo or a tomato one, and hot sauce.
Q. How did you become a cowboy chef?
A. Cowboy Grady: Living in Texas, I always dreamed of being a cowboy, ever since I was a little boy. But roping cattle didnt pay enough, so I took a job as a restaurant manager at the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. When the chef walked out in the middle of dinner service on a busy night, I started cooking. I had to, and from then on, I never stopped.
A. Cowgirl Paula: I didnt plan on living on a ranch or being a cowgirl chef, but when the opportunity arose, I took it. Before that, I was a city girl. I lived and worked in New York City for 10 years as a food and travel writer, so I spent most of my time behind a laptopnot a range. Prior to that, I spent two years living and cooking mostly at a chateau in the south of France and a farmhouse bed and breakfast in Tuscany. When I got to Texas, I melded my passion for all things Mediterranean with fresh local fare and the cooking traditions of south-central Texas. Now cowboy cooking just feels natural to me.
Q. What are you doing now? And whats coming down the pike?
A. Cowboy Grady: Last October, I released my sixth cookbook, Cooking the Cowboy Way, highlighting ranches I visited across the country and in Canada, and the simple, hardy, regional recipes they serve. In early January 2009, I opened Gradys restaurant, featuring upscale Texas cuisine like beer-battered chicken-fried steak and herb-crusted rack of lamb. Im working on a childrens cowboy book, and I hope to launch a Web-based TV cooking show, where I travel across the country cooking the cowboy way. It should be really exciting.
A. Cowgirl Paula: Since writing my book, Cowgirl Cuisine, Ive begun yet another chapter. Now Im mostly an urban dweller in Austin, Texas, and a busy working mother of two. But my husband and I are still very passionate about promoting a simple, cowboy-inspired life by managing Feather Down Farms, a European farm-stay company starting up here in the States. Feather Down Farms (www.featherdown.com) offers family vacations to people who want to experience simple, rural farm life, which includes sleeping under the stars, cooking outdoors, eating fresh farm-grown food and connecting with nature. Its all about slowing down from the frenetic pace of modern society and reconnecting with nature, your food sources and each other without ever disconnecting from essential comforts. The tents are awesome! I think theres nothing more luxurious than having nature as your living room.