Our Prince of Scribes Q&A: Food writers discuss Pat Conroy and Southern cooking

As a tribute to the great Southern writer, Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt compiled a collection of stories written by those who shared moments with Pat throughout his life. Our Prince of Scribes sheds light on a man who mostly known through his own writing. Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance named it one of their 2018 Summer Okra Picks, considering the book a must-read in Southern literature.

Seitz and Haupt_Our Prince of Scribes

The UGA Press sat down with some of the contributors to learn more about their relationship with Pat. This month, we’re talking with food writers.

In between the time Pat Conroy was crafting his newest novel, he was tasting food from all over the world and was a known foodie among his friends. From classic southern cooking to Italian delicacies, Pat loved them all and periodically traded his pen for a spatula so he could make his own versions of these plates. Pat believed that “A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal,” and we sat down with some of these recipes authors to discuss how a combined love for food and writing connected them with this revered southern author.

Debbi Covington is an award-winning South Carolinian caterer and food writer who found herself time and time again catering events during which Pat was speaking. The two formed a friendship through their shared love for cooking, and Covington went on to cater Pat’s funeral with a menu heavily inspired by his own cookbook.

Sallie Ann Robinson first met Pat as her grade school teacher on Daufuskie Island, where she remember him as an inspiring light in her education. She is now a chef, published cookbook author and championing voice for the culture of her beloved hometown island.

Q: How did cooking with Pat affect your relationship with him?

Covington: Pat and I never actually cooked together. Over the years, I catered quite a few events that he attended, mostly funeral receptions. We were an unlikely duo. Pat gave the eulogy, I did the food — more times than I can count. When I catered a private party in his honor, he spent most of the time hanging out in the kitchen with me. After that, I catered his 70th birthday celebration and finally his funeral reception. I do some catering now for the Pat Conroy Literary Center and am so happy to be able to honor Pat’s memory with my cooking.

Q: In what ways did food bring you and Pat together?

Covington:  I think it’s easy to make a friend when you both love the same things. We loved so many of the same people, our precious Beaufort, and all kinds of food. In the south, we’re taught from a very early age that “food fixes everything.” We send people food when they’re sad. We send people food when they’re celebrating. So much of our culture revolves around food.

Robinson: Southern food is comfort food and it makes you feel real good when you combine it with good company. Together we had a love for both.

Q: Why do you think Pat loved southern cooking so much?

Covington: Pat loved all kinds of food, not just southern. I believe that his love of southern cooking was based more on the people who cooked for him and taught him how to cook than the actual food. Food is kind of like music. The music we listen to when we’re 14 years old turns out to be the music that we listen to for the rest of our lives. When you grow up eating certain foods, they become your comfort foods, your go-to favorite foods. Pat and I were just lucky to grow up in the south, because all of the food down here is delicious!

Robinson: I believe when you grow up eating Southern food your heart, body and soul loves not only what you eat but all that surrounds you.

Our Prince of Scribes comes out on Sept. 18. Pre-order the book today for $29.95 in hardcover and e-book formats.

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