If you have time to read only one book about restaurants or chefs this summer, make it “Black, White, and The Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant” (Lorena Jones) by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano.
It’s not only a compelling memoir about a unique restaurant with a formidable sense of place, but it includes some delightful recipes, as well.
The Grey opened in December 2014 in Savannah, GA in what was once a segregated Greyhound bus depot. The restaurant is the vision of entrepreneur businessman Morisano, who had no previous restaurant experience whatsoever, and Bailey, who formerly cooked at Prune in New York, but had never opened her own restaurant before.
Morisano, who is white, and Baily, who is Black, formed a partnership to bring a new inclusivity to this once-divided symbol of the South, and in so doing, also elevated the region’s cuisine with fresh vitality. It proved a critical success, earning Executive Chef Bailey the James Beard Award for “Best Chef Southeast” in 2019.
For the two business partners, though, it was anything but a smooth road. That makes the book all the more commendable for its candid look at the sweat, tears and fortitude it took for them to understand and trust one another in this arduous project. With America’s reawakened reckoning with racism this past year, this book couldn’t be more timely. It touches on the here and the now, demonstrating how our present is vastly shaped by our past, much of it hard to forgive.
The book lets you inside their heads in an ingenious way: It offers up both voices, side by side, with Morisano’s text in regular type on the page, and Bailey’s in bold face. You’re presented with each point of view simultaneously, as if you were there in the room with them as it happened.
In short, it’s an honest, emotional read that you won’t be able to put down.
After the last page, do yourself a favor and head to the kitchen to cook Bailey’s “Braised Cabbage with Tomatoes and Fish Sauce.”
It’s a simple recipe inspired by trips to Comacchio, Italy that Bailey and Morisano made while researching cuisines as the restaurant was under construction. Only there, it’s traditionally a dish of braised cabbage and eel. Bailey cleverly substitutes the easier-to-find Colatura di Alici (Italian fish sauce) for the harder-to-source eel. I went one step further and used Vietnamese fish sauce instead, which worked just great.
Shredded Savoy cabbage is gently braised with garlic, onion, canned tomatoes, a generous amount of olive oil, a dash of smoked paprika, and the fish sauce until everything softens and melds together.
It becomes a deeply flavorful amalgamation that’s at once smoky, sweet, spicy and tangy. Honestly, the taste reminded me of a smoky version of tomato beef chow mein.
It’s great as a side dish to grilled fish, shrimp, chicken or pork. Or just spoon some over grilled artisan bread to enjoy. Or heap some in a bowl like ratatouille and top with a sunny side-up egg.
Much like the book, this dish nourishes both heart and soul.
Braised Cabbage with Tomatoes and Fish Sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 head Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup Colatura di Alici fish sauce (available online) or Vietnamese fish sauce
In a large saute pan , heat the olive oil over medium heat and then add the onion and garlic. Cook for 4 minutes.
Add the cabbage and tomatoes to the pan, crushing each tomato with your hand. Dump the tomato liquid from the can into the pan as well, season with salt and pepper, cover, and braise for 30 minutes.
Stir the paprika into the cabbage mixture. Remove from the heat and stir in the fish sauce. Transfer to a serving bowl and have at it.
Adapted from “Black, White, and The Grey” by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano
More Cabbage Recipes to Savor: Cider-Baked Pork, Red Cabbage, and Apples
And: Charred Cabbage with Miso and Lime
And: Roasted Savoy Cabbage Wedges — Caesar-Style