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Basic to Brilliant, Y'All - Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company
(Ten Speed Press) ISBN 978-1607740094 1607740095

Virginia Willis combines Southern food and French cooking techniques to elevate basic Southern dishes into meals for company. Each Southern recipe yields two dishes: basic for everyday cooking and brilliant, with a few more ingredients and presentation ideas, for company meals.

Besides Southern cuisine, Basic to Brilliant, Y'All highlights Chef Willis's memories of growing up in Georgia and Louisiana, where she learned how to cook from her mother and grandmothers. She passes on their Southern cooking tips, as well as culinary lessons learned at L'Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine at La Varenne in Burgundy, France.

Southern food ingredients

The 277-page Southern cookbook is organized by meal course, from appetizers to desserts. In the introductions to the 150 recipes, Virginia Willis offers cooking tips (e.g., large okra pods can be tough and fibrous) and ingredient substitutions, such as using Walla Walla or Texas sweet onions instead of Vidalia onions.

She also describes Southern foods. What are benne? (Answer: sesame seeds.) What are scuppernongs? (Answer: wild grapes, grown in southeastern U.S. states.)

Southern cooking techniques

Chapter introductions provide information about Southern cuisine. E.g., What is gospel bird? (It is an old-fashioned name for fried chicken, traditionally served on Sundays.)

Sidebars provide additional Southern recipes, cooking tips and presentation ideas. One sidebar, for example, tells you how many shrimp are in a pound, based on size, e.g., 31 to 35 small shrimp per pound and 11 to 15 jumbo shrimp in a pound.

Delicious-looking Southern food photos by Helene Dujardin depict Basic to Brilliant, Y'All recipes, as well as cooking techniques, like using dough to seal a pot of beef daube provencal.

Comparison of corn grits and hominy grits

Brilliant short recipes help you make traditional Southern meals fancy, e.g., making crispy cornmeal serving cups for the ratatouille recipe. Other company recipes dress up Southern breakfasts, like country ham cheddar biscuits with honey bourbon butter.

Virginia Willis's cookbook also explains the differences between corn grits and hominy grits. (Corn grits are made from ground whole-grain dried corn kernels. Hominy grits are made from ground kernels without the corn bran and germ, resulting in a longer shelf life.)

Sample recipes for Southern cuisine

Curried chicken wings with peach dipping sauce. Black pepper cheese shortbread. Kale omelet in sourdough bowl. Vidalia onion and sweet pepper strata. Pan-seared Georgia trout with pecan brown butter. Oven-fried chicken stuffed with goat cheese and spinach. Crisp roasted duck with peach barbecue sauce. Spiced skirt steak with shallot marmalade. Sweet tea-brined pork blade steak. Spicy Carolina pork shoulder. Wild rice salad with dried fruit and nuts. Sweet potato grits. Okra cornmeal cakes. Winter greens and butternut squash gratin. Sauteed Brussels sprouts with apples and bacon. Brown butter pecan tea cakes. Coca-Cola cake. Chocolate dip nut brittle.

Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone


  • Introduction
  • Fundamental Recipes
  • Starters and Nibbles
  • Salads and Slaws
  • Eggs and Dairy
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Gospel Birds and Game Birds
  • Beef, Pork and Lamb
  • Rice, Grits and Potatoes
  • Vegetables
  • Soups and Stews
  • Daily Bread
  • Desserts
  • Index


Chef Virginia Willis is the author of the Bon Appetit, Y'All cookbook.

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