chef/owner of Seersucker in Carroll Gardens, will happily tell you that it’s the best culinary training life ever handed him. “My parents grew all sorts of vegetables,” Newton says. “They canned green beans … stuff like that. I look back now and realize that it was an awesome experience. At the time, I think I probably just thought, 'Damn, it’s hot out here.'"
These days, Newton is a long way from Arkansas, but in this Brooklyn zip code, he’s plating the flavors of his roots.
When did you decide you wanted to become a chef?
I got the idea in 1994. I went to culinary school at New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, and I realized in school that I had grown up with a family that cooked well and how important that was. My dad would make country ham and biscuits every Sunday. I understood how to make gravy. We had a garden, and my dad ground his own cornmeal. Stuff like that was inspiring. I was working as a private chef when I realized I really wanted to get back to that sort of cooking.
Tell us about Seersucker—where does the name come from?
I was wearing my seersucker suit driving a rental car to a wedding down South during this period when I was feeling disenfranchised with being a private chef. I wanted to build a community and my own kitchen…a place where I could express where I had come from through food. Good food can tell the story of your life – where you’re from and where you are going. And to wear seersucker in the South means you’re a headed to a special occasion. Any time you have it on, you are happy. And, more often than not, you have a glass of bourbon in your hand. It was the perfect name, because this is what the South means to me. I want to portray the finer side of the South that exists in every Southern town.
We know you serve a serious plate of fried chicken, but what else is on the menu?
It changes a lot—sometimes daily. I have favorites from season to season. Right now, it’s the vegetable fricassee. The main components in that come from the farmer’s market across the street. I have Kentucky soy sauce and North Carolina peanuts in there too. Then the local vegetables are fried shitake mushrooms, spring onions, snap peas, and shaved squash. I think the important part of the menu is that we want to change the notion that Southern food is only fried, super heavy, and very bad for you. I want to highlight the fresh, delicate beauty of this region. I could sell just chicken and biscuits and maybe make more money, but I won’t do that. I want to break boundaries, break the stereotype.
You have to head to Brooklyn to experience Newton’s soft shell crab, his shaved Edwards & Sons country ham, or his grilled North Carolina trout, but you can mix up a cocktail from his menu at home. This libation is a spicy ode to well-known Southern writer Truman Capote, who wrote In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s while living in Brooklyn Heights.
2 oz. Breuckelen gin
¼ oz. home-made Serrano pepper vinegar
½ oz. dry Vya vermouth
Rinse a coup glass with Herbsaint and shake out excess. Set aside. In a mixing tin, add gin, vinegar, and vermouth. Add ice. Stir and double strain it into the rinsed coup.
To make vinegar:
Puncture 3 or 4 medium-sized Serrano peppers. Submerge them in 1 quart of vinegar and seal for 2 weeks. Strain and reserve infused vinegar.