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Perfect Pimento Cheese Proves to be Essential in Southern Cooking

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Photo by Olivia Rae James

WHY THE ATLANTA GRILL NOW HAS THEIR OWN ‘PIMENTOLOGIST’

By Brooks Brunson

Good pimento cheese is hard to come by. Thinking back on my times waiting tables, I can distinctly remember an older gentleman conflicted about whether he should order the pimento cheese fries. “But is it good pimento cheese?” he queried. At first, I was thrown off by my customer’s inquiry. Turns out, he was just the first of many who would question the quality of the spread. Southern clientele don’t mess around with their pimento cheese. Luckily for the guys at the Atlanta Grill, the Ritz Carlton restaurant acclaimed for exceptional Southern cookery, their Chef de Cuisine, Brian Jones, also serves as their in-house Pimentologist.

That’s right. Pimentologist. In fact, after chatting with Chef Jones, we’re beginning to think that it should be a standard on any Southern chef’s business card—because perfecting the classic Southern relish is more than making a good spread.

“With pimento cheese, unpretentious as it is, I’m determined to do it right,” insists Chef Jones. “I feel that I’m paying respect to the cooks that came before us. Learn the origin of the food, and then you can take it to the next level.” For Chef Jones, perfecting pimento cheese is essential to Southern cooking as a whole. It is the dish often referred to as the caviar of the South—so why wouldn’t it be taken so seriously all the time?

“It gets a bad rap because it’s sold in processed forms,” he explains. “Many foods suffer from the fact that ‘from scratch’ takes time. It’s work to grate cheese, make mayonnaise, roast, clean and dice peppers—but the return is outstanding.”

And we know he must be right from the frequency of pimento cheese in his cooking. From using it to garnish his signature filet mignon, to throwing together a quick sandwich on the go (he likes it on sourdough bread topped with pickles), Chef Jones finds all kinds of uses for his premiere quality pimento cheese. At home, he also enjoys a bacon and pimento cheese omelet in the morning, and he recently added an appetizer to the Atlanta Grill menu that features grilled baguettes topped with green onion and pimento cheese.

Luckily, Jones wasn’t hesitant to tell us the key to good pimento cheese.

“A good ratio for classic Pimento Cheese is one cup of mayo and one roasted red pepper (peeled, seeded and diced) for every pound of cheese,” he says. “Add a pinch of cayenne, salt and freshly ground black pepper. And remember, the better your ingredients, the better the final product. Use a high-quality, sharp cheddar, and a good southern-style mayo if you aren’t making the mayo yourself.”