The Bitter Socialite Chef Trace Barnett Q & A
He’s the Bitter Socialite, providing “fresh ideas in a swanky southern way.”
I tried one of his recipes, a tomato bisque which was flavor packed and just right. I had the privilege of interviewing Trace a few days ago and enjoyed getting to know this sweetheart from the South and hope you will too.
I am trying to get my house in order right now. Good Grit Magazine is coming here on Friday. We are shooting a feature and I’m in cleaning mode today.
Good “Gree-uht” Magazine, (pronounced in a thick southern drawl). It’s a fairly new magazine out of Birmingham. It’s nation wide. Pick a copy up, you’ll enjoy it. It will be their November/December issue.
I’ve been impressed that you’ve had several opportunities to make appearances on your local television stations.
You know, that’s how everything started. I lived in East Hampton (New York) and then moved back home (to Alabama). I started my blog up there and just kind of showed what I was doing. I came home and really focused on that and I got a spot on Good Day Alabama. They reached out and said, “Hey, can you do something on Valentine’s Day?” And then from there, it was on. I was a regular, then I just amassed other ones.
You are really good at it.
Thank you. It’s trial and error. I’ve been doing those local spots for almost two years now. You just learn. You figure out what to say and what to do. The big thing is—don’t even think about it. Just go and do it.
Thank you so much for this interview and allowing me to share more about you on my website.
You’re most welcome. I’m so excited and thank you for asking.
When did you start cooking and what were some of your first creations?
I was an only child and the youngest grandchild on both sides. My grandparents were retired, so I spent a lot of time with them. I was always with my grandmother—we were in the garden or the kitchen, cooking or canning. That’s primarily where I learned. My mom is also a really good cook.
So I learned most of my culinary stuff from my grandmother and she’s 80 now. Some of the first things I remember making always were jams and jellies. Blackberry jam was one that I actually started making on my own. We would go pick the blackberries and go into the whole process of canning them, then creating the jam and jelly. Other things that I learned to cook were a lot southern staples—biscuits, corn bread, cobblers. We used a lot of our own produce. They had an apple orchard and a big garden. I learned to cook turnip greens, collard greens and okra. I started to learn when I was very young, sitting on a stool by her all day, every day. We lived close by, before my parents built a new house. I would just go out and sit in my swing and I waited until I saw her in the garden and I would get in my little Jeep and head over to her house.
Turnip greens and collard greens are unfamiliar to me.
Well the whole plant is edible. Collard greens are a little different, but turnip greens are just the tops of the turnips essentially. They’re wonderful, although the traditional method of cooking them is you literally boil them down with hamhock and you add onion, and it turns into this mushy mess, how a lot of southern vegetables are. I sear them in a skillet, brown the onions and I love to use bacon. It’s really nice. It’s almost like spinach or kale. I’m doing a collard greens gratin in a feature next week for Birmingham Magazine. It’s going to be a really delicious recipe.
I love desserts. Do you like sweets?
I’m on the opposite spectrum. I do love sweet things and desserts, but I’ve always been someone that if given the choice between a big slice of pie or a slice of pizza, I would go for the pizza. As far as sweets are concerned, I love a good pie, like a good pecan pie. I love lemon merengue pie. I love coconut cream pie. If there is a dessert that I’m going to go for, it would definitely be some kind of a pie. I love to make desserts, pies and tartlets.
What is the population of Brilliant, Alabama?
Nine hundred. Sometimes when people ask where I’m from, I say Brilliant and sometimes I say Winfield. Brilliant is so small that we don’t have a grocery store or anything. Winfield has 5,000. I live outside of Brilliant in a community called the Gold Mine.
I’ve never been there. I’ll have to check it out sometime.
Do, it’s beautiful here. We’re in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains so we have the rolling hills. It’s rural here. We have a lot of farmland and pasture, which I love. Go further down in Alabama and you have the Delta. Four hours down the road from here, you’re on the coast, so we have a wide variety of terrain and environment.
How many students were in your high school graduating class?
There were 27. I was valedictorian and I quoted Legally Blonde in my graduation speech.
Your accent is so charming.
Oh, thank you. I don’t hear it. Every accent is different. North Alabama is different from South Alabama. There are all different kinds of twangs. I’ve got a little bit of an “ack-seh-unt.”
When you mentioned the name of a certain magazine earlier, I couldn’t understand what you were saying.
I get that all the time, especially on the phone.
What is the magazine called, Good Grip, G-R-I-P?
Good Grit. (Gree-uht)
What major did you start with in college and how did you choose food nutrition?
When I first started, I was in graphic design because I always wanted to do something in the creative field. At that time, I wanted to work at a publication or magazine. It was also at the height of the recession when I graduated from high school and started college in 2008. I knew people that had graduated with a degree in graphic design and they could not find a job. I decided to switch and food nutrition is one of those majors where you can work in a hospital, a nursing home or a school system. You can also work at being a recipe developer, work in a test kitchen or for a magazine. There were a lot of opportunities besides being in a hospital or nursing home, so that’s how I planned on that.
Your timing is perfect with football season starting. I went to school at the University of Alabama (in Tuscaloosa). I don’t know where it originated, but there are a lot of diehard sports fans out here. In Alabama, everyone gathers on the quad and does tailgaiting up until the game. We’ve had really good seasons since Nick Saban (the Crimson Tide’s head football coach) has been here. With that Roll Tide, there’s a whole rivalry between Auburn University and Alabama. And their slogan is “War Eagle!” I don’t use the term “Roll Tide” loosely, but a lot of people do and are really into it.
What’s the best part of going to football games?
The tailgating part is my favorite. I love the food, the atmosphere, the weather. I love being around all my friends. Everyone is always just happy. Sometimes I have been known to not leave the tailgate and give my ticket away.
What inspired you to audition for Food Network Star?
A friend of mine saw that they were accepting applications and I just on a whim, went online and applied. The next thing I knew, I was a part of the show. I had never done any kind of food competition before.
What was it like when you found out that you were a finalist on the show?
It was the best day. On the day that they called me, it was snowing. I had a group of friends and close family that came over and we celebrated. I did not say that I was on the show, so we were just celebrating something exciting. I have friends that look for any excuse to party.
Is there anything that you would do differently?
You have to be so quick and on your toes and think so fast. One thing I would definitely change, and I never get nervous when I do my regular TV things, but there are a lot of nerves attached when you do something of such magnitude. I just wish I would get out of my own head and be a little be more relaxed and not try to be so polished.
I learned a lot working alongside the people on the show. I’m not professionally trained, and never worked in food service or in a professional kitchen. It was really cool working in the kitchen with the other chefs. It’s a different medium to create content and shoot stuff for your blog. It really helped the way I view food and recipes. That was a really good take away from the show. I was working with a bunch of experts.
What was your favorite moment on the show?
I loved the Beauty and The Beast challenge because it combined decorating, hosting, entertaining and food. I loved working with Addie (Gundry). We’re best friends. We talk all day, every day now. I really loved that moment (with Corey and Amy) and all of us working together and creating this table for the party because I’m not just strictly about the food.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love everything that you see on my blog (www.thebittersocialite.com) for fun. I especially love to garden. I plant herbs, vegetables, ornamentals and flowers. I love to create and do DIY projects, do crafts and cook. I love to travel. Occasionally I will paint and draw if I’m in the mood. I love to go to flea markets and collect old, vintage things. When I moved back from New York, I renovated a barn as my house. I love the whole aspect of renovating and converting. It’s an ongoing project. We’re working on landscaping now and it’s been really fun. It’s an all open loft concept, except for my bedroom and closet. It’s different from anything I’ve lived in before. It’s been fun to furnish and find things to decorate it.
I always loved to decorate. Even as a kid, I loved to collect antiques, furniture and little household things. It’s always been a huge interest to me. When I moved to East Hampton, I planned events there, some really large scale and just fabulous parties. I love the idea of having people over and entertaining and making the whole experience. Food is important, but without the proper environment or setting–you can make make a fabulous dish, but it won’t be what it can be if you don’t have the right party to go with it.
How did you end up in East Hampton?
I worked for an individual. I always wanted to live somewhere larger and I knew that New York was just a tad too big and I loved the idea of a seasonal community. I loved East Hampton when I traveled there before. I had worked in Birmingham at a bridal publication. That’s how the whole event planning started. A friend (of a friend) was looking to hire someone and after a couple of phone calls and a job interview, the next thing you know, I was on the road.
How long did you do that?
A couple of years, then it was time to come home. I learned a whole lot there. It was wonderful.
What can you say about your cute little dog, Murphy Brown?
Oh, Murphy Brown! First of all, let me tell you, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about him. You know that he’s the laziest thing on the face of the earth. I adopted Murphy in 2014, so I’ve had him for three years. He was 2 and has been the best dog. Before that, I had my childhood dog, Clover. She was 18 years old when she passed away, then I found Murphy. I had been looking for a while and saw his little picture. He was part Schnauzer, Terrier and something else. He’s basically like a little football. He weighs 34 pounds.
They took him out of the crate, he looked at me and just flopped over. So I said, “I’ll take him.” He loves to travel. He loves getting in the car and hitting the road. He’s been all over. He’s been to New York, Washingington, Baltimore, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Baton Rouge and Houston. Murphy Brown has traveled around. He’s my little friend.
What are you looking forward to in the next year?
I love creating holiday content for my blog and TV spots. I just love everything about the holidays and the fall—Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m about to redesign my whole website. I’ve been shooting videos for Southern Living. That’s been really fun and I look forward to doing more of those. I really want to do a how-to book for entertaining, decorating and cooking.