TUPELO – Richard Barkley grew up in New Albany and spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his grandmother, who lived in Cotton Plant.
“Basically, it was maters, taters, beans and bread. If you didn’t grow it, you didn’t eat it,” said the 39-year-old. “But Granny always had a smile on her face when she was in the kitchen. That’s the way she showed her love for her family. When she would have family dinners, she was fanatical about fixing everybody’s favorite. That’s when I learned how food can affect emotions.”
As a young man, Barkley began dating his future bride, Heather. Her family had two restaurants in Jackson, Burwell’s Deli and Sister’s restaurant.
“I learned about a whole different culture of food than what we got in Cotton Plant,” he said. “I was exposed to a lot of foods I didn’t know or couldn’t pronounce. I learned to eat or go hungry. And I discovered how delicious different foods could be.”
Today, Barkley, the information services department leader for Dodge’s stores, still turns out old Southern favorites in his kitchen in Tupelo. But you’re more likely to find him experimenting with shrimp and grits or braised short ribs or chocolate cheesecakes, to name a few of his specialties.
“I probably never make the same thing twice the same way,” said the father of two boys, Chance and Tanner. “Right now, I’m looking for a fish taco recipe that’s as good as the one I had in Dallas. So, we’ve been having a lot of fish tacos at our house lately and will until I find a recipe I like.”
Cookbook and blog
The more the Barkleys tried new and interesting dishes for family, friends and co-workers, the more their guinea pigs wanted their recipes. So last Christmas, the couple took their 100 favorite recipes and put them into a cookbook to give as Christmas gifts.
But they didn’t stop there.
They’ve also created a food blog (rhctbarkley.blogspot.com) where they offer recipes and step-by-step instructions, complete with photos.
“How many recipes do we have out there? I don’t know, maybe three kajillion,” he joked. “No really, it’s probably about 50. It takes a lot of time, but people kept asking for them so we just started recording them.”
Barkley said there’s no real trick to knowing what flavors will pair well. It just takes practice and knowing your own palate.
“As long as you think about what goes together and how different flavors complement each other, you’re probably not going to have a disaster,” he said. “I mean, I’m not going to put ketchup on my cheesecake. And if a recipe calls for putting ketchup on my cheesecake, then I’m going to skip that step because I know that would be a disaster. But you have to be willing to experiment. Minds are like parachutes. They’re best when they’re open.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or e-mail them to email@example.com.
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal