Cutting Up with Chef Duane Nutter

Whether he’s talking calamari or collards, chef and comedian Duane Nutter can always find something funny about food

Photo: Melissa Golden

Duane Nutter may be the only chef in culinary history to appear on both Food Network’s Iron Chef and Comedy Central’s Laugh Riots (he was a semifinalist). But, then again, the man known in stand-up comedy circles as the Mad Chef is full of surprises, including pioneering the idea of haute cuisine in an airport as the chef of Atlanta’s One Flew South. These days you’ll find Nutter behind the pass at Southern National, the acclaimed restaurant in Mobile he cofounded in 2017. Here he riffs on a few tasty subjects.

Coke-O What?

“In culinary school, when my instructor explained how to make coq au vin, a classic French dish, I was at the edge of my seat, soaking in every word: I’m going to learn how to cook that fancy stuff that’s hard to pronounce! Later that night, I’m looking at my notes, studying the ingredients and technique. A rooster, bacon, ham, red wine, stock, butter…wait a second. You’re telling me this is gourmet? Strip out the fancy French name, and you’ve got what we call in the South smothered chicken! No wonder it’s considered peasant food in France.”

Hold the Tentacles

“At dinner with a friend, I ordered paella. He gives me a look that says, You chefs will eat anything. Wait, what? We ate jambalaya two nights ago—this is the same thing, with some saffron, and cooked in a different pan. ‘So what don’t you like about the paella?’ I asked. He said it was the way the calamari tentacles were waving at him, and the name didn’t sound good. So let me get this straight: You’re all right with your beloved fried bologna coming from ground-up meat from a pig’s head, but a calamari tentacle is too much? Oookay.”

Greens with Envy

“Kale has gone from a garnish on fruit trays to the hip center of the plate—I thought you could get no higher praise as a leafy green. But, nooooo! You remember two years ago when Neiman Marcus decided to sell sixty-six-dollar collard greens in their Christmas catalogue? Kale was in first class looking back at all the other leafy greens in coach. And then out of nowhere, collard greens go and get on a private jet. I can hear my grandmother now: ‘Those greens better clean themselves, cook themselves, and put the dishes away
before I spend that kind of money.’”