Chef Lisa Brooks
by Asha Ellison
One of the most intimate things you can do is feed someone, and Charlotte’s own Chef Lisa Brooks does it with heart and soul — which is also the name of her personal chef service. Wilder to some, she cooks for strangers in her own home through her Mattie’s Front Porch dinner series.
The author, caterer, mentor, mother and Food Network Chopped finalist is all about nourishing bellies and fostering community through wholesome Southern hospitality, the kind that brings diverse people to the dining table to authentically connect with each other. Named in honor of her grandmother Mattie, the dinner series provides a space — and a place — where folks may arrive as strangers but leave as friends.
“It’s where my love for food and cooking for people came together,” Brooks says. “My mom would throw these amazing dinner parties when I was growing up, and my grandmother would feed the extended family on Sundays,” she adds.
As with preparing any good gumbo, dinner at Chef Lisa’s house forces guests to slow down and enjoy the moment. It takes time. While she and her team of culinary mentees tango around the kitchen — chopping, stirring, frying and plating an array of themed or exquisite multicourse meals — Brooks hopes her party guests get to know each other better. Sounds of deep laughter, stories shared, and a beautiful display of culminating worlds, cultures and personalities are all part of the experience. Brooks also hopes guests feel a few things through her cooking.
“It’s a way to express love and give you a sense of home, abundance and security,” she says.
And there’s nothing warmer, more comforting or soul-soothing than a hearty bowl of Chef Lisa’s duck and sausage gumbo, a recipe she chose to share for its intentionality. According to Brooks, an exemplary gumbo requires care and patience.
“[Gumbo is] one of those dishes that can’t be rushed,” she says. “It embodies everything I love about real Southern cooking. The duck and sausage gumbo is unique because it has no seafood, and the richness of the shredded, roasted duck is simply decadent.” Surely, this is the flavor of love.
Duck & Sausage Gumbo
2 cups flour
2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup diced white onions
½ cup diced celery
1 cup diced green bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 pound andouille sausage
2 quarts chicken stock
1 pound shredded roast duck
½ tsp filé powder
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Fried okra for garnish
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine flour with vegetable oil to make a roux. Stir continuously to make sure the mixture does not scorch until a dark brown color with a nutty aroma is achieved. This cannot be rushed — gumbo takes patience!
In a heavy stock pot, sauté onions, celery, peppers and garlic in peanut oil until vegetables are soft, approximately 15 minutes.
Add spices, duck, sausage and chicken stock. Mix to combine.
Slowly add 2/3 to 1 cup of roux, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Once it reaches the proper thickness, add filé and stir.
Lower heat and simmer for another half hour before serving. SP
Portrait by James Ward; food photograph by Amanda Richardson