Rooted in the heritage of food

Most people’s first words are “Dada,” “Mommy,” “Mama” or one of the other variants of Mother and Daddy. My first word was “Nani.”

My Nani was my grandmother, Susie Joyce Hardaway.

Susie was a woman unlike any other: stern yet gentle, loud yet graceful, strong yet sweet. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of us in the kitchen — whipping up pies for holiday dinners with family, setting the dining room table, flipping through her mother’s recipe book to find our next culinary adventure. We often watched the Food Network and Cooking Channel together, admiring chefs for their creations, or dissecting episodes to learn new techniques to use in the kitchen.

My relationship with that amazing woman recently came to an abrupt end. This past April, my grandmother passed away from non small cell lung cancer. Her diagnosis was unexpected and occurred during a hospital visit that we thought would be for severe hip pain. We expected her to be in and out — prescribed a mild pain reliever and back into our arms. I will never forget the day the doctor called us in to share the formal diagnosis. With a sigh and an unchanging tone, the doctor told my family that my Nani was terminally ill. At best, with chemo and possible immunotherapy, she would live another six to 12 months. However, just a short week after that diagnosis she passed away.

It’s the harshest reality I’ve ever had to face in my life.  She was a second mother to me, and losing her made me experience a pain I never knew existed. It was like losing a part of my very being. However, during the darkest moment of that time I felt an indescribable sense of ease. Almost as if my grandma reached out to me to let me know everything would be okay. I think back to those final days and it was almost like a flash. Everything happened so quickly — from her diagnosis to her death to the funeral arrangements — it all seemed to be one very long day.

Returning back to her roots of Brundidge, Alabama to lay her to rest on her family’s plot brought more ease and relief to my soul. Being able to walk the dirt roads she walked and breathe the country air she breathed in, drew us together even closer than we were in life. I feel absolutely blessed to have known her and want to keep her spirit alive through our mutual love of food.

Her namesake, Joy(ce), will reimagine traditional southern cuisine through global lenses as well as juxtapose classic dishes of the South in new, innovative ways. This culinary concept will allow me to highlight her roots but also explore new cultural identities.

Believe it or not, Leawood restaurants like La Bodega, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, and Rye helped set my inspiration ablaze with their offerings. As I developed the menu for Joy(ce), I wanted to follow in their footsteps – creating a food program that wowed diners and kept them coming back for more.

The first dish on Joy(ce)’s menu will be shrimp and grits — my all time favorite creation of the south.

Grits have a deep history to America’s south originating from the hands of Native Americans and eventually being transformed by West African slaves who incorporated fish and shrimp. Through Joy(ce), I will be reimagining this southern staple with Mexican flare:  shrimp seasoned with garlic, achiote, ground coriander and annatto seeds, and grits whipped with a green paste made from jalapeno, avocado, green onions, cilantro and parsley.

Recipe

Reddened Shrimp and Green Grits

Serves 6

Ingredients For Grits

1 avocado

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup grits

1/2  bunch of fresh cilantro

One 4-ounce can diced green chiles

1/2 cup green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preparation for Grits

Combine milk and water in a pot; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Mix in the salt and pepper. Rapidly whisk mixture while pouring grits in slowly and whisking continuously until they’re very smooth, with no lumps — this is key to good grits.

 

Turn heat down to medium-low, whisking regularly, so grits don’t stick to the pot.

 

Combine cilantro, green chiles, avocado and green onions in a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds or until everything is finely chopped.

 

When the grits have cooked through and thickened, remove the pot from the burner and whisk in the green mixture. Once the green mixture is evenly dispersed, add butter and whisk again. Whisk in parmesan cheese. Serve hot.

 

 Ingredients for Shrimp

1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled

5 teaspoons Sazon — available at Price Chopper on Mission Road

2 teaspoons grapeseed oil

Salt

 

Preparation for Shrimp

Devein shrimp, rinse under cold water and pat dry. Place shrimp in bowl . Sprinkle Sazon over shrimp and rub together to coat all shrimp evenly.

 

Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Place half of the shrimp in the skillet. Cook for two to three minutes then flip using tongs. Cook for an additional two to three minutes on the other side or until shrimp is no longer opaque.

 

Transfer cooked shrimp to a plate. Repeat with the second batch of shrimp and remaining oil. Lightly sprinkle shrimp with salt to taste. Serve over grits.