From the outside looking in, it might seem as though every Southerner is simply born with a certain set of kitchen skills, trained since childhood in the ways of pimento cheese and fluffy, buttery biscuits. Suzanne Vizethann, the chef behind Atlanta’s Buttermilk Kitchen, is here to tell you that’s not necessarily true. “I was born and raised in the South,” she says, and her Italian-American heritage was an early influence in the kitchen. “But I didn’t have the traditional story: the grandmother that taught me biscuits.”
So in her new cookbook, Welcome to Buttermilk Kitchen, Vizethann set out to make Southern staples feel approachable for new home cooks—and succeeds spectacularly. Recipes for her restaurant’s specialties, such as red pepper jelly and blueberry-basil jam, boast short, simple ingredient lists and straightforward prep instructions. For her drop biscuits, for instance, she skips the rolling and folding you’ll find in other biscuit recipes. The cookbook’s entries also come with down-to-earth advice on the best ingredients (aim for locally sourced, full-fat buttermilks when possible), how to store them before you cook (for biscuits, always freeze the butter), and ways to repurpose your scraps (Cornbread croutons! Biscuit crackers! Spiced bacon fat!). In short, Vizethann sets the foundation (and the table) for a flawless at-home brunch—one you can easily attempt yourself with these five tips.
Start with the best ingredients you can find.
“I always say that a chef is only as good as their ingredients,” Vizethann says. For her signature breakfast dishes, like biscuits or pancakes, that means European butter—a variety with a fat content of 83 percent or more—and local, full-fat buttermilk. “The butter really yields a nice flavor and a richness in your biscuits, and quality buttermilk, full-fat, lends a lot of good moisture,” she says. “People always think we’re doing something extra special [at Buttermilk Kitchen], but using high-quality ingredients is the main secret.”
Experiment a little.
“Recipes are just guidelines. Don’t get so hung up on exactly what everything says,” Vizethann says. Switching between fresh and frozen produce or eyeballing measurements can turn out perfectly fine, so don’t let fear or an out-of-stock ingredient get in the way of trying a new dish. “Taste your food,” she says. “You may need to add a little bit more salt or more mayonnaise or whatever, but when you like it, that’s when you stop.”
Make something from scratch.
Whether it’s house pickles or homemade mayo, a certain sense of accomplishment comes with learning to make an item you might normally buy at the store. In fact, with a mason jar, sour cream, cold water, and heavy cream, you can even make your own butter. “It’s a really fun thing to do with kids,” Vizethann says. “It’s pretty amazing to hold a piece of fresh butter. That taste, that quality, is the difference between catching a fish out of the water and eating it, versus it spending a week on a truck. It’s just going to have a different flavor.”
Embrace your leftovers.
“Bacon reheated is really good—crisp it up a little bit, crumble it,” Vizethann says. “Sometimes I’ll make a wilted spinach salad for breakfast with a fried egg on top, with leftover bacon.” In Welcome to Buttermilk Kitchen, Vizethann provides plenty of ways to repurpose yesterday’s brunch, including grit cakes and chicken salad fritters, but last night’s dinner makes for great breakfast inspiration, too. “A scramble can be a really easy way to add in everything but the kitchen sink,” she says. At home, she’ll slice scraps from a steak dinner for a hash, or fold roasted vegetables into creamy grits. And as you would expect, most leftovers taste just as good (or better) on a biscuit.
“When I opened Buttermilk, the intention was never to be known for the biscuits or pancakes, but just relatable, American breakfast,” Vizethann says. “It wasn’t a recipe I learned growing up or anything like that—we just used really great ingredients, and the customers chose that as our signature thing.” Try a new recipe, mix two flavors you might not expect, or pull something together with what you have on hand. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish. “I’ve found that sometimes, the best things are the ones that you don’t plan for.”