Inspired by travel, Memphis DJ cooks up big flavors
If you live in Memphis and listen to hip-hop and R & B music, then Sue Purnell, aka “Big Sue,” is likely a household name in your world. Sue has been DJing at K97 for nearly a decade. She’s also a huge foodie and adventurous eater. We visited Sue at her downtown condo and talked about her love for food, travel, family and cooking. We also got to try her signature spaghetti—Scratch Sketti.
Edible Memphis: How long have you lived downtown?
Sue Purnell: I’ve lived down here seven or eight years. I was in Uptown before buying this condo.
How long have you been a DJ at K97 FM and what’s your title?
SP: I have several titles. My official titles are program director for V101 FM, assistant program director for K97 FM. On air personality/DJ on K97 FM from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. I’m in other markets too—30 total in fact—including regional markets like Birmingham, Louisville, Lafayette and more. I’m also the voice of V103 FM Chicago, and I do voice-over work for the iHeartRadio brand. Other than that, I’m also a musician and a DJ.
What do you love about being in the kitchen?
SP: I love it all. It’s therapy for me.
I’m like a Google cook, which means I like to see what I can cook at home with what I have without having to go to the grocery store.
Hosting is great as well. I love Sunday dinners and sharing food with others.
What might you cook for a Sunday dinner?
SP: Sometimes I cook spaghetti with caprese salad and arancini. I might also make minestrone. Most of my meals are served with wine, particularly red wine. These days I’ve been enjoying Spanish red Rioja.
Judging by your social media output, you are a huge food connoisseur. When did you start sharing about your love for food?
SP: I aspire to be a foodie influencer. It all started on a trip to Europe in 2015 where my eyes were opened in extraordinary ways. For instance, when we were in “Meat City” in Copenhagen, we ate at this place called Gorilla. It was a chef’s tasting menu where we had the opportunity to try things like pigeon cracklings, ribs and other unique meats.
Everything I saw on my trip, I wanted to try at home.
Right when we landed, apparently we had to try this famous Copenhagen hot dog. It was a skinny dog in natural casing with remoulade and spicy mustard topped with the thinnest sliced cucumbers. It was the best thing ever!
How has Memphis changed as it relates to its food scene?
SP: It starts with the pride that Memphians have in their food. That could be wings, barbecue or whatever. Because we are close to other bigger cities, I’ve started noticing more food options being represented, which is cool.
What are your three go-to restaurants in Memphis? Say, where you might take a friend from out of town?
SP: This is really difficult to answer!
Gus’s, Felicia Suzanne’s, Cozy Corner and dim sum at Asian Palace.
[That’s four, but who’s counting?]
What’s in your fridge right now?
SP: My fridge is boring. My pride and joy is my spice cabinet where I have some olive oils from Spain. Literally everything tells a story. Like this curry powder from my friend from Trinidad who ended up staying in Memphis several months because he lost his passport. I’ve also inherited a lot of spices from friends and family along the way. One time in Barcelona, I purchased far too many spices and ended up getting stopped by airport security. What a food moment that was!
What’s the first thing you remember cooking?
I remember learning how to cook my dad’s breakfast.
My parents are from Mississippi, and I’m a daddy’s girl through and through. Dad would wake me up on Saturday morning and say: “Rise and shine, shine and rise, wash your face and cook me breakfast.” We’d cook bacon and eggs, toast and sausage. And make coffee. He still loves his eggs over medium, which is not easy to cook.
What is your “default” thing to cook when you’re hungry and need to make something fast?
SP: It has to be a boiled egg with ramen or tuna. Something with a bit of protein.
What are some ingredients that you couldn’t live without?
SP: Onion and garlic.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool or gadget, and why is it your favorite?
SP: Ice cream scooper for the meatballs for sure, and of course my cast iron skillet. I have so many utensils. I have a ton of utensils that are music themed, like the drumstick spoons. Oh, and check out this turntable cheese grater.
Do you ever watch cooking shows on TV? If so which ones?
SP: Before I cut the cord, my television stayed on the Food Network. I’m into Taco Chronicles on Netflix currently.
What’s your favorite place to shop locally for food?
SP: Ideally, the downtown farmers market when I can get my ass up. I love the International Farmer’s Market on Germantown Road and Dexter because it’s huge. Sprouts is cool too. I do it all, even the Kroger on Highland.
What’s the most embarrassing thing in the fridge?
SP: Not embarrassing really, but probably my big bottle of Sue beer made by Yazoo Brewing Company.
Will you share one of your recipes with us?
Sue’s Scratch Sketti Sauce
1 small white onion
4 smashed garlic cloves (or waaay more)
1 (14-ounce) can of whole tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes if you can find them)
1 (14-ounce) can of tomato sauce
Balsamic vinegar (optional)
A piece of prosciutto (optional)
A good punch of dried basil and oregano
In 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, sauté onions on medium-high heat until almost translucent. Add smashed garlic. (Be careful not to burn garlic.)
Add basil and oregano and sauté until fragrant, maybe a minute.
Add whole tomatoes and prosciutto. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Take prosciutto out and discard or eat.
Break up tomatoes.
Add sauce and simmer another 10 minutes.
Season to taste and toss with pasta.
To make a meat sauce, add meat (ground beef or sausage) after onions and garlic. Cook until almost done, and drain fat. Simmer with tomatoes and continue with recipe.
I have a habit of tossing a pinch of sugar in the sauce. It’s not to sweeten it—someone told me it keeps heartburn at bay, and I’m superstitious!
Jeff Hulett is married with two daughters and lives in Midtown. He plays lots of music and tells lots of dad jokes. @dad_onarrival
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. @chipchockley
Jeff Hulett is married with two daughters and lives in Midtown. He plays lots of music and tells lots of dad jokes.