ALMOST 300 PEOPLE tuned in to chef Matt Lewis’s shrimp-and-grits cooking class, from all around the Seattle area and beyond — including his mother in Birmingham. “No pressure!” he joked. “Hi, Mom!”
Lewis, who grew up in New Orleans and earned love here in Seattle for his food truck Where Ya At Matt and now-departed Restaurant Roux, didn’t want COVID-19 to take cooking classes away. Chef Box Live, his new partnership with local events company Sound Excursions, delivers all the ingredients for a recipe to your door, then delivers a very good approximation of the fun of an in-person class via the internet.
Lewis has enlisted friends in the industry to teach, too, and notes that it’s been “a focus for us to showcase the talents of local chefs of color, female chefs and LGBTQ+ chefs.” Upcoming classes include a reprise of the shrimp and grits class, Lewis’s eggs Benedict tutorial, a Mediterranean supper with chef Zoi Antonitsas, plant-dyed pasta with Salty Seattle’s Linda Miller Nicholson and a paella party with chef Manu Alfau, with prices starting at $39.99 per class including ingredients for a party of two. (If you miss the broadcast or want to revisit any of it, a link is available afterward.)
The livestreams come from Lewis’s enviably appointed kitchen. As he went through the process of his signature shrimp and grits, he gave lots of pro tips, fielded questions sent in by viewer-students and shared their in-process photos, too. It all happened with the assistance of his apparently accident-prone friend Sam Minkoff, who started out the series with a big cut on his face and now sports a hand immobilized in a splint, but can still operate the Sam Cam for closeups of the proper texture of grits or when your shrimp are ready to be flipped.
The pace stayed leisurely, with onion, shallot and garlic used as a demo on knife skills suitable for beginners and a relaxing refresher for more experienced cooks. Audience questions included, “Do I have to use a wooden spoon or is a metal one OK?” — nope, yes. And, “Is there a substitution for the beer in the sauce for the shrimp to make it gluten-free?” — yes; use white wine or Champagne instead. Speaking of the beer, Lewis asked and answered a key question himself at the outset: “What do you do with the rest of the beer? You drink it!”
More learning: You don’t actually have to pick a lane on the two Southern hot-sauce classics — Lewis likes “more acid-forward” Crystal brand for seafood, and “heat-forward” Tabasco for grits. A pinch of cayenne makes a just-fine substitute for either, but sprinkle it onto the back of a spoon to measure rather than using your fingers — your eyes will thank you. Get messy: Shell-on shrimp keep sweeter flavor and stay more tender — “If you don’t like shells, you’re missing out,” Lewis said. He also approves of Bob’s Red Mill grits, and while the recipe here calls for cheddar, that’s just the way he makes them for the truck — Parmesan is great, too, or any cheese that pleases you. And while Seattle Knife Sharpening & Supply closed for good last month to move to Montana (noooooo!), Lewis highly recommends The Epicurean Edge in Kirkland, still around for both sharpening and supply, with knives ranging from nice starter ones to those that he himself only wishes he could afford. Remember, “A sharp knife is a happy knife!” he said.
Like garlic? Add more. Don’t like it? Lewis didn’t even say, “What’s wrong with you!?” — just to leave it out. The insight into the mind of a chef — “That’s not going to break the recipe!” — might be especially nice for novices, but just felt kind and reassuring overall. The stock that came in the kit to make the grits was Kirkland brand organic — “A local company,” Minkoff accurately joked, while Lewis stated flatly, “I don’t make stock at home in the summertime because it’s too hot.” Thank you for the anti-stock-shaming, Chef!
At the end, Lewis and Minkoff took a sweet moment to thank their “Casses.” Both are engaged to a (different!) woman named Cass — Minkoff is affianced to Cassie Hendrickson, with whom he runs Sound Excursions, while Lewis’s fiancee Cassondra Copeland helps him with Where Ya At Matt. “They keep all of our [expletive] together,” Lewis noted later. “We could not do this without them.”
Then it was picture time, with lots of photos sent in from classmates’ kitchens: cutting boards full of professional-looking mises en place, cheesy grits clinging to a spoon, shrimp simmering in richly deep-red sauce, a guy cooking in a Los Pollos Hermanos apron, parents and kids cooking alongside each other. Everyone was smelling the same excellent smells — Lewis and Minkoff joked about creating smell-o-vision, but the shared scent of butter and spice was real — and then the messaging and photo-sending went quiet as everybody started eating a new favorite supper. For a moment, it felt like we could all be together again, and it was so, so good.
Chef Matt Lewis’s Shrimp & Grits
Serves 2 — the chef recommends his own Creole spice mix, available for sale at the Where Ya At Matt food truck.
For the Southern-style grits:
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter
½ onion, small dice
1 cup grits
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
½ cup cheddar (or Parmesan!)
1 tablespoon hot sauce
Salt to taste, about a teaspoon
1. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter on medium-high heat, then add onion and saute for about 3 minutes until slightly translucent.
2. Add 1 cup grits and stir constantly, toasting them lightly over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes — we’re looking for a popcorn smell.
3. Turn heat down to medium, add 2 cups chicken stock and whisk until incorporated, then add 1 cup half-and-half while continuing to whisk. Add remaining 1 cup of chicken stock, and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil (careful — it can spit!), turn to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
4. Stir in the cheddar and hot sauce. Add salt to taste. Grits can be set aside at this point, then reheated over medium-low heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon of butter, plus a little more stock if grits seem too thick, and serve.
For the New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp:
2 tablespoons butter
8-10 fresh shrimp, depending on size, shell on or peeled
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Creole spice
6 ounces lighter-style beer, like lager or pilsner
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter until it begins to foam.
2. Add the shrimp, and begin to saute on one side of the pan.
3. Make space on the other side of the pan. In the open space, add shallot, garlic and bay leaf, and saute until aromatic (be careful not to burn!). Turn the shrimp as they begin to color.
4. Add Creole spice to the whole pan, stirring to incorporate everything.
5. Deglaze the pan with the beer.
6. After about 4-5 minutes, pull the shrimp and set aside, then turn heat down to medium and reduce the liquid by about half, whisking occasionally.
7. Add 1-2 teaspoons of butter to the liquid, and swirl in with the whisk.
8. Add hot sauce and lemon juice, then whisk. Add shrimp, and toss gently to combine.
9. Add Worcestershire and almost all the parsley, plus salt and pepper to taste and more Creole spice to your liking. Serve over grits sprinkled with the rest of the parsley, and enjoy!