Meet the Queens of Southern Food
The newly anointed royalty of barbecue and hot chicken
Helen Turner has been smoking pork shoulders for the residents of little Brownsville, Tennessee, for decades. As one of the few female pitmasters in the South, she has met many a customer who can’t quite believe that she works the hardwood coals and tends the meat herself. To the east in Nashville, Andre Prince Jeffries, who presides over Prince’s Hot Chicken, has seen her family business grow from a hole-in-the-wall chicken joint to a major destination for hungry Nashvillians and tourists alike.
This year, Turner and Jeffries are being honored by two of the food world’s foremost authorities. Miss Helen, as her customers call her, was just crowned this year’s queen of barbecue by the Southern Foodways Alliance. And this May, the James Beard Foundation will present Jeffries and her restaurant with an America’s Classics Award, inducting Prince’s into a fraternity that includes such storied establishments as Crook’s Corner and Arnold’s Country Kitchen.
“I think the recognition they’re receiving is long past due,” says Southern Foodways Alliance head and Garden & Gun contributor John T. Edge. “In the South, for the longest time, many of the people who cooked dinner were black women, and we devalued their labor. We didn’t celebrate what they did.”
Shortly after their awards were announced, we caught up with both Southern food queens. Check out our interviews for their thoughts on hard work, celebrity, and the, ahem, very “personal” effects of Prince’s hot chicken.