Lifestyle expert Chadwick Boyd is no stranger to good ol' Southern cooking

Brooke Slezak

Food and lifestyle expert Chadwick Boyd looks very familiar.

You’ve probably seen him appear on the TODAY show, Food Network, or his pre-movie screening show, Reel Food. As a food and lifestyle expert, Boyd dabbles in everything from teaching cooking classes on live television to formulating brand strategies for some of the most prominent food brands in the industry (like Coca-Cola, Panera Bread, and Seattle’s Best Coffee). So why is this mogul in the Southern Living Test Kitchen making us a Cherry Berry Crostata with Pinot and Rosemary?

The reason is simple: food. Boyd’s farmer roots gave him a deep love for vegetables, and his latest recipe collection, Entertaining with Vegetables, speaks to this passion. Boyd developed the collection along with acclaimed Southern chef Nathalie Dupree, a founding member of of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and is generously donating 10 percent of his proceeds to the Alliance’s Graduate Fellowship.

After enjoying a generous serving of Boyd’s Squash and Kernel Corn Casserole with Cornbread, we had to sit down and get to know the man who made such a delicious Southern dish. 

RELATED: Taste of the South: Squash Casserole

SL: What connects you to Southern food, and why do you love it?
CB: I was born in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but my great grandparents were from Virginia, and my great grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher. They got married when they were 16, and settled into Pennsylvania to ‘save the damn Yankees from hell.’ So I grew up with the best fried chicken, the best biscuits, and the most incredible coconut custards and lemon meringue pies. So, for me as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania it was actually normal to be in a Southern family. It’s just a part of who I am.

SL: You graduated from college with an English degree. How did you end up in the food industry?
CB: Really, it’s passion. I come from a pure line of farmers and we didn’t have a lot of money, but the one thing that we did have to give to each other was food. I loved gathering at the table as a little kid. As I got older, I thought I was going to be an architect. I tried that, but what I was really good at doing was telling a really good story, and doing it visually as well as in written form. That parlayed into working with the early years of Food Network, back when they didn’t know if people would watch food on TV for 24 hours a day. Then, I started working with celebrity chefs and doing cookbooks, and it soon all came together for me. It was great practice for me to do what I do now.

SL: What a typical day like for a “food and lifestyle expert?”
CB: My atypical day is working from 9 to 5. I’m always creating, that is a natural thing for me. When other people are relaxing at night, cooking dinner, doing routine things, these are opportunities for me to create. If I’m having people over for dinner, I’m actually developing recipes as I’m cooking. I’m always thinking from that standpoint. So, there is no typical day. I can get up at 3 a.m., go do a TV shoot, be back in my office at 9:30, and sit down with a couple of clients and do strategic work. Then, the next thing I know, I’m doing an interview like I am now.

SL: What’s the hardest part about branding food in today’s America?
CB: The most difficult thing about marketing large food brands is staying relevant today. You can’t ignore organic, local, and all of those things that people want today—in fact, the thing that I love doing most is helping really large-scale brands incorporate those components into their products. This makes the products that they develop much more relevant with the world, especially the millennial generation. There are ways to make things better. I’m committed to making things better, and finding out how we can use better ingredients. If we can make a shift towards better, then we’re making better lives for everyone.

SL: Tell us about your latest project. Why did you decide to create a recipe collection now?
CB: I’ll give you the backstory. I woke up in February, on a Thursday morning, and I checked my personal email, which I never do. I had a five-paragraph email from my Nana. Now, she usually just forwards something, or she’ll write like a 4 to 5 word sentence, that’s all. But in this email, she’d typed up an invitation for me to be the celebrity judge for the chocolate festival put on by the church in the very small Pennsylvania town where I grew up and was christened. When your Nana asks you something, you say yes.

From there, my commitment was to help the Church ladies raise as much money as possible. So I said, of course I’ll do it, but I want to help you raise as much money as possible. I already had a ton of recipes together because I’ve been working on a book. But I needed to create something in a short time. So I called Nathalie Dupree [with the Southern Foodways Alliance], and I said I’m doing this and I want to donate 10 percent of the proceeds to the Nathalie Dupree Graduate Fellowship, and she said, ‘I will only do it if you call it a recipe collection, this is not your book.’ And I said, ‘deal.’

I started doing a cooking class in my Nana’s town. And the next thing from there, I did one in Atlanta, and then I did one in New York, and it ended up becoming a 15-city national tour. That’s why I’m so excited about my recipe collection—because I get to share and connect with people in tons of cities around the country.

SL: What draws you to vegetables?
CB: Well, I can tell you that I’m not a vegetarian. People assume that just because I’m ‘about produce.’ But the truth be told, my love of vegetables stems from my farmer roots. It frustrates the crap out of me that when you have vegetables as a dish, people ask where’s the meat. Or, they assume that something is missing. To me, good food is good food. I like to cook with all kinds of produce, and to make really good food that everyone just enjoys without thinking about it being healthy or thinking that something is missing.

SL: What’s the first thing you remember cooking as a child?
CB: I was a really odd kid. My mom had Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls. It was the 1963 edition. I came home from school and I studied it like a textbook. I was fascinated by it. I cooked very simple food out straight out of that cookbook. I made my very first dinner party when I was 10 years old, to the soundtrack of Flash Dance. It was Steak Diane, twice-baked potatoes, and peas. I did it for my mama.

SL: What ingredient can you not live without?
CB: I cook a ton with honey, black pepper, and Sriracha—it’s not a condiment, it’s an ingredient. Depending on what you are cooking, Sriracha brings out the flavor. And I love spicy food. I love cumin and coriander mixed together.

SL: Do you have a signature dish right now?
CB: Right now, it’s my shaved broccoli or shaved celery salad. In my recipe collection, I’ve got a shaved celery salad that is my deconstruction of celery sticks and pimento cheese. It’s delicious.

SL: What is the strangest thing that you’ve ever cooked?
CB: Smoked and grilled Cicadas. My good buddy Bun Lai is known for hunting invasive species and cooking them. Three summers ago at his home in Connecticut, we took a whole bunch of Cicadas and dehydrated them, smoked them, and then grilled them with spices and olive oil. It was cool and fun, but… I haven’t eaten them again.

SL: Sweet or savory?
CB: Savory

SL: Late night craving?
CB: Cheese— like really good cheese.

SL: Go-to fast food order?
CB: Biscuits

SL: Food you can’t stand?
CB: Jello. It’s not a food.