Gemmell calls cooking style ‘southern with an international flair’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not very many nights go by when Elaine Gemmell isn’t in her kitchen whipping up something for dinner.

And while the picture of her preparing a nightly dinner may not be very different from the scene in most kitchens, the food that comes out of it usually is.

Gemmell has become known for her creative meals and jokes that guests often drop by right about dinnertime.

Email newsletter signup

Over the years, Gemmell has developed a cooking style that she call “southern with an international flair.”

The southern portion is most likely rooted in the kitchen of her mother where Gemmell got her first exposure to great food.

“My mother was an excellent southern cook,” Gemmell said.

From years of sampling her mother’s food, Gemmell gained one very important piece of knowledge that she puts into use.

“It is all about the seasoning,” Gemmell said of her mother’s cooking style. “I knew what things were supposed to taste like.”

Along with a good tasting pallet, her mother also equipped Gemmell with an assortment of family recipes. Originally handwritten in a red bound notebook, the collection has been used so much that the pages now have to be held together by a rubber band.

The book, given after her college graduation in 1966, has grown over the years to include recipes from other family members. Gemmell, in an attempt to preserve her family’s recipes, has typed many of the recipes and put them in her own “cook book” — a three-inch thick three-ring binder.

The “international flair” comes from the time she has spent traveling with her husband, Mike.

“Everywhere we go, we try to do at least one thing that is cooking related,” Gemmell said.

Gemmell said she also likes to stop in local grocery stores to explore the local foods.

“I like to bring home a lot of local spices and seasoning,” she said.

Also during her travels, Gemmell is on the lookout for handy kitchen tools. One of her favorite finds so far is an assortment of metal fruit squeezers from Guatemala.

Gemmell said she and Mike travel to Guatemala often to visit his parents and like to bring the citrus juicers back for friends.

During a recent trip, her plan hit a roadblock when Guatemalan airport security didn’t want to allow the tool to board the flight in Elaine’s carry-on bag.

“I guess they were afraid she was going to take it out and use it as a weapon,” Mike said.

But after a little negotiating, an agreement was reached, and the juicer boarded the plane with the Gemmells.

Also coming home with the Gemmells from Guatemala was a recipe for Guatemalan tamales, which has become one of Elaine’s favorites to prepare.

Guatemalan tamales differ from typical tamales because they are wrapped in banana leaves before being steamed.

And, although the recipe may seem complex, Elaine said it is very accessible.

“You can get everything for it right here in Natchez,” she said.

Elaine believes cooking in general is very accessible.

“If you can read and follow directions, you can cook,” Elaine said. “That’s why I’m not afraid to open a cookbook and try a new recipe.

“Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t, but I’m not afraid to try them.”

Mike said that more often than not the meals are top notch.

“She doesn’t ever want to brag on herself,” he said.

And while she’ll never brag about her food, she never shies away from cooking it either.

“There are five words you will never hear coming out of her mouth,” Mike said. “Let’s go out to eat.”

Why would she when dishes that are just as titillating can be whipped up in her home kitchen.

“I just love to cook,” Elaine said.