Rediscovering the Lost Southern Chefs

The Forgotten Story of Southern Restaurants and Commercial Dining

By Robert F. Moss

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I’m very excited to announce that my latest book is now officially here, and this one dives deep into Southern culinary history. It’s entitled The Lost Southern Chefs: A History of Commercial Dining in the Nineteenth-Century South, and it was published by the University of Georgia Press on February 15, 2022.

The book is my attempt to tell the story of how commercial dining—restaurants, saloons, hotel dining rooms, coffeehouses, and banquet halls—evolved between 1800 and 1900. It’s not a subject that has received much attention from food writers and historians before. For decades, culinary histories have assumed that dining outside the home in the South was universally poor, but I argue that what we would today call “fine dining” flourished throughout the region as its towns and cities grew.

The book traces the economic forces and technological advances that revolutionized public dining, reshaped commercial pantries, and gave Southerners who loved to eat a wealth of new and surprisingly elaborate options. Most important, it tells the long-forgotten stories of the people who drove this culinary revolution.

These men and women fully embodied the title “chef,” for they were the chiefs of their kitchens, directing large staffs, staging elaborate events for hundreds of guests, and establishing supply chains for the very best ingredients from across the expanding nation. Many were African Americans or recent immigrants from Europe, and they achieved culinary success despite great barriers and social challenges—including some remarkable men and women who launched thriving restaurants and culinary businesses despite being enslaved.

After the Civil War, these chefs and entrepreneurs become embroiled in the pitched political battles of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Thanks to shifts in dining fashions and efforts in the early 20th century to recast and whitewash the South’s past through romantic myths, the names and accomplishments of these talented individuals ended up getting all but erased from history. The Lost Southern Chefs revives their stories and tells how they forged a now-forgotten mode of Southern fine dining—and one that is ripe for reclaiming.

The book is now available from the University of Georgia Press’s online store or from Amazon. You can also swing by Buxton Books on King Street in Charleston and pick up a signed copy!

About the Author

Robert F. Moss

Robert F. Moss is the Contributing Barbecue Editor for Southern Living magazine, Restaurant Critic for the Post & Courier, and the author of numerous books on Southern food and drink, including The Lost Southern Chefs, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Southern Spirits: 400 Years of Drinking in the American South, and Barbecue Lovers: The Carolinas. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.