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Speaking with Chef Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill

Peanut Oil Man

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Editor's note: Writer D.R.E James has relocated from the Lowcountry back to his home state of North Carolina to pursue his writing career. We miss him already, but will continue to share his wisdom as often as possible. Here are some tidbits from a chat with one of James' many cheffy pals, another N.C. native:

What's the last thing you fried?

A bunch of chicken thighs to make Nashville style hot chicken for my disc golf team. A few years ago Mrs. Andre of Prince's Hot Chicken in Nashville was a guest of honor for a dinner at the Wine + Food Festival. She was gracious enough to give me a model of the real deal.

The Charleston Nasty Biscuit is the unabashed epitome of what's good, bad, and ugly of a Southern breakfast, how was it born?

It definitely hits all the notes. I'm into classic cars and I used to hang out at this garage in Hanahan. This one mechanic I befriended used to always stop at the local Hardee's in the morning and sweet talk the young ladies that worked there to start adding extra stuff to his biscuit: a fried chicken breast, sausage gravy, eggs, cheese. It started off on our brunch menu at Hominy Grill but its extreme popularity forced us to put it on the menu permanently. It was originally called the Big Nasty, but after a cease and desist letter from some folks in Chicago, we changed the name to the Charleston Nasty Biscuit.

Redeye gravy or sawmill gravy?

I'd have to go with sawmill gravy. From a restaurant point of view, redeye gravy is a big bust! Redeye gravy is legendary but the average diner doesn't realize exactly what it really is. I tried to sell it as coffee demi-glace as one point, but it never worked.

We're both North Carolinians, I'm from Southport, you're from Chapel Hill. Can you take time to tell me about the legendary Mama Dips?

Oh yes! I used to go there and get the salmon cakes for breakfast. You had to make it there by 11 a.m. I loved those salmon cakes so much I put them on the original Hominy Grill menu 23 years ago. I remember getting into an argument with a customer because I used canned salmon, but that's truly the best way to make it. Going to Mama Dips taught me the experience of breakfast and how enjoyable it can be in a restaurant setting.

Are you a lard man?

Not so much. I'm really a peanut oil man, but I stopped using it a decade ago when it started to become an allergy issue. I definitely put lard in the biscuits and pie crust, because there's really no substitute for it. I love using bacon fat as well, but that's become an issue for people. I had to realize that not everybody wants bacon fat in everything.

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