It’s been a big month for American heartland chef Adam Sappington. He nabbed the People’s Choice award at last week’s Feast Portland Sandwich Invitational, made his debut on the Food Network’s hit show Diners Drive-In’s and Dives, and he recently inked a cookbook deal. We caught up with the head-to-tail butchering, tallow-frying chef to get the inside scoop.
Ben Tepler: You faced tough competition at Feast’s Sandwich Invitation, everyone from Charleston’s Sean Brock with his “Hillbilly Fried Bologna Sandwiches,” to Ox’s Greg and Gabrielle Denton with their duck confit/cheddar waffles. But the people have spoken. Tell us what makes your award-winning lamb burger so damn good?
Adam Sappington: Well, the meat comes from Hawley Ranch near Eugene, which raises some of the best lamb around. Most chefs feel like putting lamb with mint is too obvious, but I said “screw it,” made a mint aioli, dressed some iceberg lettuce, added the smoked tomato jam we use at the restaurant and threw some great, melty Havarti on top—worked like a charm!
The Country Cat was just featured on Food Network’s wildly popular Diners Drive-In’s and Dives. Pop food icon Guy Fieri called your Whole Hog Platter “one of the best pork dishes” he’d ever had. What has the response been like?
Everything they [the show’s executives] said would happen did happen. The episode aired on September 2nd, and by the next day, business had doubled. It hasn’t stopped since. Being on that show is like winning the lottery. People watch it on the airplane flying in to PDX…and we are right next to the airport! They land and bring their families from all over the United States: New York, Florida, freaking Minnesota. Shit, from everywhere. It is absolutely insane.
What is Guy Fieri like in person?
We had no idea what to expect…we worried he’d be a chum, or not really a serious cook. You know, these things take forever…like nine months of planning, three days of shooting, staged dinners—and he is only in your restaurant for one day! But it turned out he was an absolute gentleman, punctual, super respectful of my staff, great with my kids and a blast in the kitchen.
On the show, you said your signature fried chicken recipe came from your great grandmother…and that she prepared it in a prison. Is there a story there?
Yes. My great grandmother, Maude Marie Murphy, grew up in Vienna, Missouri, and her mother was the cook at the local jailhouse there. When she grew up, she sort of inherited the job. She brined the chicken in salt water for a day, buttermilk for another, fried it in lard…those guys in prison were real lucky bastards.
Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from The Country Cat is in the works. What should we expect from your first cookbook?
We are shooting to have it printed by fall of 2015. It’s going to encompass Country Cat as a whole, starting from its inception back in 2007. It’ll feature the food we like to cook, the staples we grew up eating, and our greatest hits from the restaurant. There will be four different preparations for each animal, pastries and bread from Jackie [Adam’s wife and Country Cat’s Co-Owner], cocktails, bar snacks—you name it. I’m headed down to Missouri to take pictures of that jail my great grandmother cooked at, and totally going to fry chicken with the last descendants of that lineage.
A piece in the Oregonian two years ago talked about you leaving The Country Cat to go teach the next generation of snout-to-tail chefs. Any truth to that rumor?
No, that was an unfortunate interpretation. Hey—I’d love to teach kids some time, but building a real Oregon-centered culinary school is just an idea at this point. I am still totally in love with my job. I’ll be turning 42 this December, and I still do the butchery, charcuterie, and work the line three nights a week. My staff will kick me out themselves if I ever start to slack.
The Country Cat
7937 SE Stark St