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Posted: May 9, 2013 5:54 p.m.

Dupree, Graubart cook up another gem

Cook, author and TV personality Nathalie Dupree is long gone from these parts, having been carted away to endlessly charming Charleston by husband Jack Bass, chronicler of Southern history. Still, she retains devoted fans and many friends here since she ran "Nathalie’s at Mt. Pleasant Village" and lived in Social Circle.

Dupree and writing partner Cynthia Graubart’s "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking" — six years in the making and weighing 6 pounds — won Best American Cookbook at the James Beard Foundation Awards last Friday in New York City.

It was the third Beard award for Dupree, who had won for "Nathalie Dupree’s Southern Memories," photographed at many well-known Covington homes, and "Comfortable Entertaining." But it was the first major award for Graubart, author of two earlier cookbooks and producer of Dupree’s first three cooking series on Georgia Public Television. Graubart’s husband Cliff owned the cherished Old New York Book Shop in midtown Atlanta, the gathering place for Atlanta’s coterie of writers in the ’80s, including Pat Conroy, Terry Kay and Anne Rivers Siddons.

Dupree didn’t feel hopeful about winning this year. "I’d won before, I knew there were a few flaws in the book, and the competition was tough."

She also kept Graubart’s hopes down.

"Nathalie kept telling me we really didn’t have a chance," said Graubart. "She was negative the whole time, so I just decided to enjoy the evening as a celebration of what we’d accomplished."

"When our names were called, Nathalie and I just looked at each other, hugged and didn’t say a word until we went on stage to accept the award," she said.

"What I did was thank the two women responsible for my being there: Nathalie, of course, and my mother, who was a terrible cook and inspired me to learn to cook and to explore food."

Author Conroy, a close friend of both women, wrote the foreward for "Mastering …" and had this to say: "Cynthia Graubart and Nathalie Dupree have written their names in the history of Southern cooking in bold letters — and great recipes. This book will be forever."

Writer Kay, another in the duo’s close circle of friends, wrote the foreward for the Dupree/Graubart "Southern Biscuits" cookbook, published in 2011. "Nathalie and Cynthia are to Southern cooking what Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner are to Southern literature — the elite of the elite," he said.

The biscuit book was spun off from the enormous number of recipes and mountain of research Dupree had done while toiling over "Mastering …" for five years. It was the first decision Graubart made when Dupree asked her to partner with her to complete the book.

"She told me she had perhaps bitten off more than she could chew and was thinking about returning the publisher’s advance," Graubart said. "I told her no one is good at everything, so you just need someone to help you where you need help. First, we had to organize what she had done, then outline what we wanted to be in the book and what we’d like to see in the book."

Some 300 recipes had to be cut from a book that ended up being more than 700 pages.

Other challenges loomed.

"We had to find a way to define the South and get our arms around the rich history and vast store of classic recipes," Graubart said. The book’s emphasis was cooking techniques, and finding the right words to explain them was pivotal, especially for younger generations.

"For example, few people today know what it means to ‘cut in the fat’ in a biscuit recipe from long ago," she said.

In the process, Graubart "learned that we owe so much of our American cooking to the South — the foods that were indigenous here and the foods that were brought in through our port cities. The caricature of Southern cooking is that everything is deep-fried, but historically, that is simply not true."

Dupree won’t call "Mastering…" the culmination of her career because "there’s always so much more to learn." She’s working on her memoirs, plans to read books she’s not read for years and to subscribe to Netflix — if she can learn how to operate the DVD player.

Graubart’s next cookbook, "Slow Cooking for Two," is due out in August. She’s also in physical therapy for a frozen shoulder she developed doing book signings for the hefty tome, well-suited in weight, said Dupree, for a morning exercise routine.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

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