Just like the menu featured at his New Orleans eatery, Mason Hereford’s first cookbook Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ in New Orleans (Penguin Random House, 2022) flexes nostalgic Southern comforts that go beyond the basic pimento cheese sandwich. Between these vibrant pages—and the toasted slices of bread at his restaurant—thick cuts of bologna meet potato chips while peanut butter and bacon team up atop a patty for a burger that plays funky flavor notes across the palate.
Hereford’s introduction to food was inspired by his childhood spent in Virginia and in the aisles of corner stores. “I remember all those funny snacks like Dunkaroos and the crackers and the cheese with the little red stick,” says Hereford. “The branding and all those things were so powerful and so memorable.” Flavor Trippin’ covers all cravings, from salads to sandwiches, and desserts to drinks, all with a munchy spin.
Hereford’s Journey to Create Turkey and the Wolf
Tell us a little bit about what led you toward the food scene after college.
The pursuit of a good time is the short answer. The long answer is: After my art history degree didn’t land me a job at the three museums I applied for, I applied to every business on Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue. Two called me back. One was a pizza place, and one was Fat Harry’s. I started working the door before I got in the kitchen and realized I really liked to cook.
What made you choose New Orleans as a home base?
I had not visited there. I was sitting at a bar with a friend of mine and he said,“we’re graduating college in a month, and everyone has decided where they wanted to go.” He just said, “how about New Orleans?” I didn’t know it was a place that people revered or that it had a culture unlike anywhere else. It took no time for me to imagine, “I’ll just live here forever.”
Talk about what you call your “direct route” to deliciousness.
Do whatever you want in the kitchen, but you don’t need to make everything from scratch if somebody makes a version that’s better. It’s a very home-cook-friendly way to go about a recipe. We’ve expanded our pantry in the restaurant to include store-bought ingredients that the chef-driven restaurant might turn their nose up at. It’s rare to see nuts in a cookbook where they don’t tell you to slow roast until you get a bright flavor. But also, Planters mastered that technique. There are people whose entire craft is to make this peanut good.
Describe what the recipe development process looks like for you.
The staff bounces ideas off of each other and comes up with something that makes us all look at each other like,“that’s it.” Inevitably, it’s not as good as you think it was going to be and somebody chimes in with another idea. At the end, it turns into some sort of Frankenstein version of where you started.
Have you always known that you wanted to do a cookbook?
I didn’t know that I had that much that people wanted to know. When I started making the book, I realized that there were a lot of opportunities to have fun with the illustrations and taking pictures with my brother. I cooked something once and my brother figured out how to get it into a magazine and he was like, “if you ever write a cookbook and I take the pictures we’re going to crush it,” and here we are.
The book is dedicated to your dad. Was he a cook himself or did you draw any inspiration from him when conceptualizing your restaurant and book?
He was just the coolest guy. His parents were the ones that fed me fried chicken and corn pudding and mashed potatoes. He lived in New Orleans, and I was the only one of his four kids that lived there. We were just unbelievably close before he passed away last February
Tell me about when you first tried hog-head cheese and what made you include it at your restaurant and in the book?
The first time I tried it was just at a party not long after I moved to New Orleans. I liked the interactive thing where you spread it on a cracker and then you take a little bit of this sauce and then a little hot sauce, or whatever. Now we make it at the restaurant every week. It’s a hilarious undertaking and funny process to behold when you’ve got a pot that holds thirty gallons and it’s got five or six big heads and snouts poking out.
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Reprinted with permission from Turkey and The Wolf by Mason Hereford with JJ Goode, copyright (c) 2022. Published by TenSpeed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.