Matthew Raiford’s Gullah Geechee Gospel

A new cookbook from the Georgia “chefarmer” celebrates his journey home

Photo: Siobhan Egan

Raiford making cast-iron honey cornbread in his home kitchen at Gilliard Farms.

Age: 53

Home Base: Brunswick, Georgia

Known For: A James Beard Award semifinalist at his former restaurant, the Farmer & the Larder, Raiford will release his first cookbook this May, Bress ’n’ Nyam, a chronicle of Gullah Geechee tradition and his family farm.

Farming’s in his blood: “My family’s farmland goes back to 1874, when Jupiter Gilliard, my great-great-great-grandfather, purchased 476 acres for nine dollars in taxes. We’re now farming cover crops like rye, red clover, hibiscus, sugarcane, rice, and Sea Island red field peas.”

Kitchen inspiration: “My father didn’t learn how to read and write until he was twenty-five. That didn’t stop him from being a baker by trade. He learned a very precise type of cooking through feel.”

Thank you for your service: “I served in the U.S. Army for ten years and left with the rank of sergeant. After, I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and graduated in 1998. I attended for two reasons: First, the CIA has always been considered the ‘Harvard of Culinary Arts.’ Second, it was created in 1946 for returning GIs from World War II. Since I was a veteran, what better place for me to go?”

Tour of duty…for his palate: “Having the chance to live in and visit countries like Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, France, and Spain allowed me to develop an appreciation for foods that I would never have tasted authentically by people from those places, like kimchi in Suwon, South Korea.”

The pull of home: “When I was eighteen, I swore off ever going back to the South. I remember being denied use of a bathroom in Brunswick when I was ten years old. Yet there were things inside me that I discovered when I started farming. Mother Nature has taught me that the more I think I know, the more I need to ask her to partner with me.”

His “show-off” dish: “A Double Oink—a berbere-spiced porterhouse pork chop wrapped in thick-cut bacon with candied yams and roasted brussels sprouts, washed down with a boilermaker that’s one shot Richland Rum with Silver Bluff Golden Ale. All local!”