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Three friends share love of Coast and food through a book

Billy Solitario
Billy Solitario

A chef, a writer and an artist boarded a boat, headed for the barrier islands for a fishing trip, and they cooked up the idea for a cookbook that reflects the history, food, family and culture of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Chef Matthew Mayfield, co-owner of Tay’s Barbeque in Pascagoula, Moss Point and Madison, and lifelong friend, New Orleans artist Billy Solitario, teamed with writer and author Troy Gilbert to spend three years fishing, eating and testing recipes for “On the Coast,” which comes out this week.

When they met

“When I met Matthew and Billy, we became instant friends,” Gilbert said. “We all love the water, the Coast, fishing and eating good food. We joked about doing a cookbook because we had a chef, an artist and a writer.”

Three years later, the joke is reality, but “On the Coast” is not your typical cookbook.

It is based on how Coastians and chefs really cook in their kitchens. This trio loves the water and everything that entails. Gilbert writes about sailing and boating. Solitario paints landscapes of the Gulf Coast and is also a still life artist. And Mayfield, who is Culinary Art Institute-trained, cooks everything from fine dining to barbecue.

Coast roots

Because his family roots are Coast deep, Mayfield, who also owned a fine-dining restaurant in Pascagoula in 2000, includes not only his own recipes but old family recipes.

“My parents are good cooks so they opened up old family recipes,” Mayfield said. “We spent evenings talking about food, what their parents cooked and, of course, eating.”

“Matt is the catalyst for this book,” Solitario said. “He’s been our cruise director, putting all of us together. One night he even made cracklings in a hotel room.”

“The spring was a mad dash to the finish line with organizing all the paintings, final recipe testings and putting the book together,” said Gilbert, who attended St. Stanislaus. “Spring was crazy, but this book has been nothing but fun. We practically lived at Matthew’s parents’ home and on their boat docked at Marine Mart in Ocean Springs.

“Who doesn’t love the Mississippi Coast?” Gilbert said. “The wonderful families, fantastic arts community. I fell in love with this area and Matt’s family.”

History, food, family, fun

“On the Coast” is filled with history, food, family and fun.

“Developing recipes, fishing, drinking beer — what’s not fun about that?” said Solitario, who was reared in Gautier and has his gallery in New Orleans.

His still life of a crab sitting on a garlic bulb is the book’s cover. Interspersed among Coast stories, history and recipes are some 40 of Solitario’s artwork. Gilbert, while being the writer, also did the book’s photographs.

These three years have been a great chapter in their lives. It’s been nothing but fun, they say. It all began at the Marine Mart in Ocean Springs on that first fishing trip.

“We didn’t know when we hopped on the boat together that we would become lasting friends,” Gilbert said. “Matt’s whole family welcomed us in and provided a new element, families, to the book.”

Recipes

So what are their favorite “On the Coast” recipes?

“I love the Vancleave Specials,” Mayfield said. “Their limited ingredients celebrate seafood. The ingredients are relative, depends on whom you’re talking to. I love the history of this.

“Less is more when it comes to cooking. In the book, there are great appetizers, side salads and easy dinners. A quick trip to the store or seafood market, and you have dinner, no fancy devices.”

Butter beans and shrimp get a resounding vote of approval, as does redfish. Biloxi doughnuts, a substantial meat section and pickling recipes are others to which to look forward. Readers will find 140 recipes in the 220-page book, which is a combo cookbook and coffee table book that will sell for $25.

“I worked on the recipes numerous times, wanting to get them just right,” Mayfield said. “We also added a section on boat snacks, recipes that you can cook up in the galleys of boats. Family cooks also are highlighted as are great chefs on the Coast, such as those at Sycamore House and Vestige. With barbecue being the family business, there are barbecue recipes.”

Book events

Now comes the fun part: Book launches, book signings and the Peter Anderson Festival. Friday, Oct. 14, is the launch party at Solitario’s gallery, Studio Solitario, from 5 to 9 p.m. at 4531 Magazine St. in New Orleans.

The first Coast party will be a book signing and premiere at Pass Christian Books, 300 E Scenic Drive, Pass Christian, 5:30-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Three or four home cooks will cook their favorites on Friday, Oct. 21, at the Biloxi Maritime Museum from 6 to 9 p.m. at 115 E First St., Biloxi. Of course, seafood recipes will be the order of the night.

These events are just the beginning.

Published by Pelican Publishing Co., “On the Coast” signings will be at Bay Books in Bay St. Louis, Pass Books in Pass Christian, Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama, Southern Bound in Biloxi and throughout the state at Lemuria, Square Books, Barnes & Nobles and Books-A-Million.

Since “On the Coast” had its beginnings at Marine Mart, it is only fitting that a book signing be held there. It is on tap for Oct. 29.

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