I have always believed that a big family was the greatest gift that anyone could have. When I was a little girl I would just beg and plead with my mama and daddy because I wished for more sisters and brothers. You may know that my wish didn’t come true back then—I lost both my parents when I was barely grown, and was left to finish raising my brother, Bubba. Now I thank my lucky stars to be blessed with a family that just keeps on growing. And when I talk about family, I’m thinking about all the people who are most precious to me, whether or not we’re actually related.
I have the privilege of working with people so special to me that they’ve become part of what I consider my extended family. So not only have I got my darling husband, Michael, wonderful sons and grandson, and beloved brother, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and children by marriage, I’ve also got my assistants, my publicist, and my dear agent, Barry, who makes me feel like I have a daddy again. All these people have become so important to me that I can’t imagine they won’t be a part of my life forever. One thing that’s become clearer and clearer over the years: Family is not about being blood-related, it’s simply about love.
And food! Many of the bonds my family has were forged over the dinner table and through the sharing of recipes. Cooking is the way we express our love for one another. We celebrate just about everything that happens to us down here with a meal. It’s a grand old Southern tradition! I remember as a young girl going to family reunions, and, oh my gosh, everybody would just try to outdo each other with their best dishes. It always felt like the good eating was lined up for blocks on those tables. To this day, bringing my family together means piling up a plate loaded with everybody’s favorite recipes.
Those family recipes are the very soul of everything I do. On my restaurant menu, you’ll find my Grandmama Paul’s fried chicken and collard greens; you’ll find Aunt Peggy’s meat loaf and her sweet potato soufflé. And if you’ve ever sent one of your family recipes to me or my Web site, it might just end up on TV, where I love to share all the tasty tricks I learn from the people around me and beyond. My life is my cooking, and none of it would be possible without my family, and yours, too.
Of course, I could never have started my restaurant without my aunts, uncles, cousins, and, most of all, my wonderful sons. Everyone really came together and pitched in from the very beginning, and they’ve been there for me ever since. My Aunt Peggy and Uncle George made my dream of owning a beautiful restaurant come true when I didn’t think I would be financially able to finish what I’d set out to create. My little brother, Bubba, helped handle business matters at The Lady & Sons before opening Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House.
Then there are Jamie and Bobby, who have been behind me all along. My boys were barely out of their teens when they started delivering lunches for The Bag Lady. And when we got our own restaurant, Jamie went right to work in the kitchen, and Bobby’s smile was out front, making guests feel welcome in the dining room. The smartest thing I ever did was add “& Sons” to the name of the restaurant. I wanted so badly to give those boys wings, to see that they had security and a future, and I feel I have done my best. I think so many of the people who eat at The Lady & Sons pick up on the love that’s at the heart of our restaurant.
I try to thank my beautiful family and acknowledge them every chance I have, but even if I do this every day for the rest of my life, it will never be enough. That’s why I decided that it was time to go ahead and dedicate a book to them. I just have to share with y’all the love and good times I have with my family. Not to mention all the stories—like the time Cousin George got behind the wheel of the family car at age eleven, or how Brooke went from being “the five o’clock girl” to being Jamie’s beautiful bride and mama to my grandson, baby Jack. I feel so lucky and blessed by the strong support and wonderful memories—and the incredible recipes—that my family has brought me. They are the heart and soul of this book.
I’m proud to share the recipes that I grew up on, like Aunt Peggy’s Old-Fashioned Meat Loaf and Our Favorite Hearty Oxtail Stew. And I just can’t keep to myself all the new ones that marriage has brought to our family table, like Michael’s Deluxe Twice-Baked Potatoes with Shrimp and Michelle’s Banana-Chocolate Gorilla Bread. Although I may be the one you’ve seen cooking on TV, there’s a whole family of great cooks behind every dish I make.
As you look through these pages, you’ll recognize some old-time down-home favorites as well as some more health-minded dishes. Those tend to be the ones that Michael and I enjoy a little more often these days to balance out all the pound cake and fried chicken! Eating a more moderate diet is something we all have to think about, especially as we get older. Making it all still taste delicious is a must for me—otherwise it’s right back to that fried chicken! I look to Bobby when I need inspiration for that kind of cooking. He’s so clever when it comes to cooking fish or coming up with healthy grilling recipes for a cookout. That’s where his cooking really shines.
I hope you’ll enjoy learning a little more about where all the great food in my life comes from, and I know you’ll love trying your hand at my family recipes— they’re all time-tested and Paula-approved, I guarantee!
I wish you best dishes, y’all—from my family to yours.
© 2009 Alan richardson