A Fridge Full of Rhythm and Blues

A Fridge Full of Rhythm and Blues

Boo and Yvonne Mitchell give us a peek

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 Photography by Chip Chockley

Photography by Chip Chockley

Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell’s work is a testament to the vitality of the Memphis music industry.

The Grammy winner and musician is the co-owner and audio engineer of Memphis’ beloved Royal Studios, where he has recently been working with Yebba Smith, who Boo describes as “like the Adele of the South.” Boo also has been mixing the new Black Oak Arkansas record and working with URiAHMitchell, Lil Al & G Reub and The Product on various projects while they all gear up to play together at MEMPHO Music Fest this October.

While Boo is busy in the studio, his Auntie Von has everyone covered in the kitchen.

Yvonne Mitchell, daughter of famed musician, producer and label owner Willie Mitchell, has been feeding musicians since she was in high school, and her cooking has recently fueled sessions for RZA and Bruno Mars, among others.

Yvonne is a total boss at all things delicious, so it is no surprise that she is starring in a YouTube-hosted cooking show called Quick Dishes for You Bitches. If you have wheat allergies, don’t fret—Yvonne assured me that she will include plenty of recipes “for you gluten free bitches,” too. The show will feature Memphis musicians and is being produced and directed by local rapper Al Kapone and Oona Mitchell, who’s Boo’s sister and Royal Studios co-owner.

Yvonne graciously invited us to the Mitchell house on East Mendenhall where she told stories and served the best bourbon pecan pie I’ve ever tasted (and let it be known that I have had some bourbon pecan pie in my life). We also had the pleasure of trying Yvonne’s famous chowchow—a sweet and spicy version, which is so loved by singer Melissa Etheridge that she requested that it be mailed to her every time Yvonne makes a batch. While we ate, Yvonne, Boo and Boo’s mother, Lorraine Mitchell, answered questions about the family’s relationship with food.


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EM: What is the first thing you remember cooking?

Yvonne: When I was about eight years old—it was spaghetti. All I know is I cooked it, and I thought it was starchy. I remember cooking for [The] Hi Rhythm [Section]. Teeny [Hodges], Leroy [Hodges] and my brothers used to get me up in the middle of the night and want me to cook them barbecue beans and pork chops. And I would get up and do it, and they would say, “We’ll take you to school.” (I was in high school.) So I said, “OK. That’ll work.” When Teeny and Leroy and them got out of high school, they lived in our house for about three or four years, and Daddy trained them.

Boo: For me it was an omelette. Eggs were the first thing I learned how to cook. So, once I cooked that first omelette, it was omelettes every day for about 10 years [laughs]. I was about nine, maybe 10 years old.

 

What was your first food-related job?

Yvonne: On Beale Street when we opened Willie Mitchell’s Rhythm and Blues Club. We were the bartenders, cooks and everything.

Boo: Yeah, I was a waiter at Willie Mitchell’s. I became a total vegetarian right when we opened the place, and there was nowhere I could eat in Memphis. I was cooking my own food all the time.

Are you a vegetarian now, Boo?

Boo: No, I tend to lean on the side of pescatarian mostly.

 

What is your “default” thing to cook when you’re hungry and need to make something fast?

Yvonne: Well, I usually cook—especially for Ethan [great nephew]—I’ll cook grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s the quickest thing cause most of my stuff takes a lot of time—because I cook from scratch. If they really want something, I’ll make them some chicken fried rice and shrimp fried rice. I let them pick and decide, and then I tell them to hurry up ’cause I have to get in the bed [laughs]. I have to get my rest.

Boo: Sweet potatoes. It’s not too quick, but it’s easy. I will just slather them in olive oil and throw them in the oven, and then go take my shower.

 

Name any ingredients that you couldn’t live without.

Yvonne: Onion and garlic! Sea salt, fresh black pepper and crushed red pepper! I can’t live without those.

 

Name your favorite indulgence (food/cooking/kitchen-wise).

Yvonne: Mine would be a Snickers bar.

Boo: Probably for me it would be Cool Ranch Doritos.

 

Name your favorite thing to do in the kitchen, or, your favorite part of the cooking process.

Yvonne: When it gets done, so I can go to bed [laughs]. When I finish—you know, and everybody comes and eats.

 

Name your least favorite thing to do in the kitchen, or, your least favorite part of the cooking process.

Yvonne: Washing pots and pans.

Boo: [laughs] Yeah, cleaning up.

 

Name your favorite kitchen tool(s) or gadget(s) and why it’s your favorite.

Yvonne: I cannot live without my KitchenAid mixer and my attachments with it. ’Cause I make homemade chow chow, and you know you need to grind everything.

 

Do you watch cooking shows on TV? If so, which ones?

Yvonne: I do all the time! I like Chopped—and I don’t see how they can do it with all the different ingredients. Oh God, I couldn’t do it! And I love Gordon Ramsey. He reminds me of me because of, you know, the cussing and stuff [laughs].

Boo: My favorite is Fuck, That’s Delicious. It’s on Viceland.

 

Favorite place to shop locally for food?

Lorraine: Do you really want to know? Want me to tell you ’cause I have to go with her [laughs]?

Yvonne: I go to Aldi, Kroger, Cash Saver, Superlo, Sam’s [Club] and the farmers market. I have to go to all of them because I have different things that I have to buy.

Boo: Sprouts, I do a lot of shopping there. That Fresh Market, they’ve got octopus heads. The Chinese market on White Station Road [and Summer Avenue].

 

What condiments are in your fridge right now?

Yvonne: Dressings, Greek vinaigrette, raspberry vinaigrette, apple butter—and my chowchow that I make. It’s a 150-year-old recipe. My great-great-grandma made it. I have to grind up all the stuff.

Lorraine: Yeah, our dad’s dad’s mama had it. Grandma Mitchell, that’s her recipe.

Boo: For real? I didn’t know that.

Yvonne: And I have to make fresh tea every day, because at the end of the night it’s not going to be there.

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Fruits and vegetables in your fridge right now?

Yvonne: Oh, I cook so much. I have radishes, cabbage, onions, lettuce, parsley, green onions, celery, cucumber—I got the whole thing. And Boo just brought me some okra from the South Memphis Farmers Market. But I have to have celery, onion, garlic, bell pepper and carrots all the time. And I have to always have lemons and limes because I make so many pound cakes. And then I make so many margaritas [laughs].

Boo: I have cabbage, sweet potatoes, multi-colored bell peppers all time. I always have bananas and grapes. I try to keep a lot of blueberries.

 

Most embarrassing thing in the fridge?

Yvonne: Right now, nothing. You should’ve been here earlier [laughs]. What I hate is I’ll cook, and after three days it’s still there and they [nephews and grandchildren] won’t eat it and I have to take it out and throw it away. After five to seven days you have to throw that away. [Lorraine] and I will eat it, but they won’t.

 

What’s in the freezer right now?

Yvonne: Pecans from our tree, seasoned fries, strawberries, peppers, ’cause I’m getting ready to make chow chow, shrimp. I put up a lot of stuff when I go to the market. I cut corn off the cob and pack it in the freezer, so when I get ready to cook it, it’s ready to go. I love a market. My sister hates a market.

Boo: At least I don’t have to shell the freaking peas.

Lorraine: Oh lord, I hate shelling peas. You shelled some peas one year, Boo!

Boo: Yeah, Granny said to go get some peas. I knew that wasn’t a good idea, I was like, “Don’t they sell these naked?” [Laughs.]

 

Favorite thing your mom/grandmother/aunt/neighbor cooked when you were a kid?

Lorraine: Take the mom out—I don’t cook.

Boo: Mom would be coconut cake. I started eating soul food when I was, like, 17. When I started to spend the weekends at Auntie Von’s house, I was a snob. I was a little shit when I was a kid. You know, I would go to Red Lobster all the time. I remember being hungover—sorry [laughs]—on the couch at Auntie Von’s house and waking up, and being like, “What the hell is that?” Then having Cornish hen and black-eyed peas for the first time, and then my grandmother’s spaghetti was the best. I would eat it, like, three times a day.

Lorraine: Yeah, it took her, like, three days to make.

 

Yvonne, will you share the bourbon pecan pie recipe with us?


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Yvonne Mitchell’s Bourbon Pecan Pie

Ingredients:

Makes 1 Pie

- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ounce Four Roses Bourbon (single barrel)
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 9” deep dish pie shell
- 1/2 cup pecan halves

Directions:

1. Whisk first 6 ingredients in large mixing bowl.

2. Whisk Four Roses into the mixture.

3. Add chopped pecans and stir.

4. Pour into 9” deep dish pie shell.

5. Place pecan halves flat on top of the pie.

6. Bake 1 hour in 325° oven.

7. Let stand for 30 minutes or until cool.


*You can look for Quick Dishes for You Bitches on YouTube this fall.

Jayne Ellen White has worked in the Memphis tourism industry for 11 years. She is a Memphis music history enthusiast and an adventurous home cook. She works at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais and his wife and kids.

Jayne Ellen White has worked in the Memphis tourism industry for 11 years. She is a Memphis music history enthusiast and an adventurous home cook. She works at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.