Anatomy of a Classic

A Surprising Spin on Chicken and Waffles

Atlanta’s Deborah VanTrece puts a globally inspired spin on a soul-food favorite

photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry


Learning to cook came naturally for Deborah VanTrece. The owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta with her wife, Lorraine, and daughter, Kursten, she spent childhood afternoons watching her grandmother at the stove. There was the aunt who made perfect neck bones, and another who had macaroni and cheese down to a science. Her dad was often at the grill, and her mother would head right to the kitchen after work. “I liked to eat, they cooked well, and I paid attention,” she says.

VanTrece left home to become a flight attendant, eventually moving to Atlanta to get married. She had always loved to cook, so when flight attendants went on strike in 1993, it seemed like the obvious answer. After culinary school, she worked as the executive chef for a catering company during the Olympic Games in Atlanta. That led to more jobs cooking for dignitaries and international customers, and she expanded her repertoire to the cuisine that has made Twisted Soul a favorite: dishes rooted in the soul food she grew up eating married with comfort food from around the globe.

photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

One of her favorite jobs came in the late 1990s, when she cooked for the German consul in Atlanta. He and his wife liked a mix of cuisines, but they always appreciated a good Schweineschnitzel, made by pounding cuts of pork loin thin, coating them in bread crumbs, and quickly frying the cutlets until crisp. “To me, it was the equivalent of country-fried steak in the South,” VanTrece says. And it became her inspiration for a sophisticated but simple take on chicken and waffles that stars pounded duck breast on top of a sweet potato waffle scented with vanilla and cardamom.

She came up with the idea while working on her first cookbook, The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food with Global Flavors, out this March. She knew that a duck breast would take well to the schnitzel treatment, and because duck pairs nicely with something earthy and sweet, sweet potatoes were a natural building block for the waffles.

For cooks new to pounding out duck breast, she advises a light hand. It takes less pressure to flatten duck breast than it does chicken. After the breasts sit in the refrigerator in a generous sprinkle of seasonings, cooking takes only a few minutes. “You’re almost just putting some color on them,” she says. For the waffle batter, she bakes and mashes the sweet potato, leaving a little texture so the waffles have a bit more structure. (She even uses canned sweet potatoes if she’s short on time.) To finish, she suggests drizzling a little maple syrup or adding a dollop of peach jam. Some orange marmalade thinned out with water and heated until syrupy also brings some fruity sweetness to the party.

photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

The dish is exactly what VanTrece hopes to achieve when she cooks: recipes that draw on the best of tradition while offering something new. “I’m always picking up ideas,” she says. “And schnitzel is one of those things that just stays in your mind.”  



Ingredients

  • Duck Schnitzel and Sweet Potato Waffles (Yield: 4 servings)

  • For the Duck:

    • 2 large duck breasts, split in half, skin removed

    • 1½ tsp. Lawry’s seasoned salt

    • 1½ tsp. onion powder

    • 1½ tsp. garlic powder

    • 1½ tsp. pepper

    • ¼ cup all-purpose flour

    • 2 eggs, beaten

    • ¾ cup panko bread crumbs

    • 1½ tsp. herbes de Provence

    • ½ tsp. kosher salt

    • Vegetable oil for frying

  • For the waffles:

    • 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (about 1 large sweet potato, baked)

    • ½ cup milk

    • 1 egg yolk

    • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

    • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar

    • ¼ tsp. ground cardamom

    • ¼ tsp. vanilla extract

    • 1 cup all-purpose flour

    • 1½ tsp. baking powder

    • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

    • ½ tsp. salt

    • 3 egg whites


Preparation

  1. For the duck: Place each duck breast between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, gently pound each breast until it’s about ¼ inch thick.

  2. In a small bowl, combine the Lawry’s, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Sprinkle this seasoning on both sides of duck breasts, place them in a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

  3. While duck is in the fridge, make the waffle batter (recipe follows).

  4. When you’re ready to cook the duck, add the flour to a shallow bowl. Place the beaten egg in a separate bowl. In a third bowl, combine bread crumbs, herbes de Provence, and kosher salt.

  5. Dredge each duck breast in flour, dip in the egg, and then dredge in the bread crumbs. Using your fingers, press the bread crumbs lightly into the breast to coat completely. Transfer the breast to a platter.

  6. In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Place no more than 3 breasts at a time in the hot oil. Cook the breasts 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Transfer the cooked schnitzel to a paper-towel-lined tray to drain.

  7. For the waffles: Preheat an 8-inch-diameter waffle iron (the goal is to make 4 waffles, but the recipe can be adjusted for different-sized waffle irons).

  8. In a bowl, combine sweet potatoes, milk, egg yolk, melted butter, brown sugar, cardamom, and vanilla extract. Whisk together until well blended.

  9. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the sweet potato mixture to the flour mixture and blend well.

  10. In another bowl, use a stand or hand mixer to beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. In 3 parts, fold the egg whites into the batter and gently mix until well blended.

  11. If your waffle iron is prone to sticking, spray it with nonstick cooking spray or wipe it lightly with butter. Working quickly, pour batter onto the waffle iron and spread it with a spatula. The mixture will be thick, so spread evenly. Close the waffle iron and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until the waffle is golden and crisp and separates easily from the iron.

  12. To serve, place 1 duck schnitzel atop each waffle and drizzle with your favorite jam or syrup.

Meet the Chef: Deborah VanTrece

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri

What she’d grab if the house was on fire: Autographed menus from a transformational meal at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. “Trotter used a lot of products I had grown up with that no one ever used in that manner. I was amazed to see oxtails on his menus.”

Advice to young cooks: “People need to understand that the most basic recipe done well can turn into a masterpiece. We often think we need to shoot for the foie gras and the caviar for it to be special. You don’t.”