Interview: Taylor Mathis on The Southern Tailgating Cookbook

The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South by Taylor MathisAccording to tailgating enthusiast Taylor Mathis, “You’ll understand why a game day in the South is unlike any other” when you read this cookbook. Mathis traveled across twelve states to document the favorite foods and game-day traditions embraced by thousands of fans at colleges and universities throughout the football-crazy South. Featuring 110 vibrant recipes inspired by Mathis’s tailgating tours, The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South is chock-full of southern football culture, colorful photographs of irresistible dishes from simple to extravagant, and essential preparation instructions.

In the following interview, Mathis describes how, even if your team doesn’t win the game, you can be sure to win the tailgate!

Q:  You are already well known to tailgating fans from your blog Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

A:  In January of 2010, I decided to start a food blog and needed a name for it. I knew that I wanted to have Taylor as part of the title. My Mom and brother, Harrison, were the best people I knew at coming up with clever titles, so I consulted them. After a few days of tossing around ideas, the name Taylor Takes A Taste was suggested and the name stuck! The Taking a Taste part plays on both eating food and taking pictures of it.

Q:  How did you go about your research for this book?

A:  I spent two and one-half seasons attending and exploring tailgates throughout the country. In 2010, I set out on my first tailgating tour to see and experience the best college football environments in the country. In 2011 and 2012, I focused my tours on experiencing tailgating environments in the South. These tours took me to the biggest of the Division I schools and to smaller Division III schools. Throughout the three seasons, I visited 35 college games at stadiums throughout the country. Twenty-nine of these games were within 12 different southern states.

From these tours, I was able to see what tailgaters were eating, what kinds of food worked best for tailgating, and experience the traditions and atmospheres that make tailgating a fall pastime unlike any other. I then worked with Sally James, my mom, to develop the recipes that you see in The Southern Tailgating Cookbook.

Taylor Mathis, author of The Southern Tailgating Cookbook, photo by Sara Catherine Moore
Taylor Mathis, author of The Southern Tailgating Cookbook (photo by Sara Catherine Moore)

Q:  What characteristics make a dish perfect for tailgating?

A:  The ideal tailgating dish is one that is portable, accessible, and fun! Tailgating is an outdoor entertaining event, so food that can be eaten while standing up is best. Your dishes should be able to sit out for a few hours, or be quickly made to order. The most important aspect of any dish is that it is fun! Tailgating is a time when you join with friends and family to celebrate your team. In this book, there are recipes for all ages and fan bases.

Q:  What are some of the challenges that tailgaters face?

A:  Tailgating is a form of on-location catering. With this comes the challenge of adapting to weather conditions and cooking on-site. You have no control over what that weather will be like, but you can plan your menu around the expected weather conditions. If it is hot, serve cool and refreshing foods. On cold game days, serve foods that will warm your guests up. If it is raining, try a menu suited for a grill-less tailgate.

Cooking on-site requires that you bring everything you need with you. To ensure that you have what you need, have a packing list and check off items as you load them in the car.

Q:  Do you have some favorite examples of how fans can show support for their teams with food?

A:  The easiest way to support your team is to embrace your team’s colors and create a team-themed tailgate! A team-themed tailgate is one where plastic utensils, table coverings, and serving items all display their team’s colors. When creating your menu, you can also serve foods and beverages that reflect your team’s colors.

Many tailgaters will “eat their competition” by serving the opposing mascot on the game’s menu. In The Southern Tailgating Cookbook, there are more suggestions and recipes that will show how to team-theme your tailgate and “eat the competition” on game day.

Q:  You recommend using the off-season to prepare for the real thing. Why?

A:  If you are planning on adding a new piece of equipment or a new cooking technique, it is best to practice at home to work out any potential problems before bringing it onsite. This off-season practice will allow you to see how the equipment and cooking will fit in with your own tailgating traditions and other equipment. You will be able to see what accessories you may need to bring and add them to your packing list. This practice ahead of time will allow the new equipment to fit seamlessly into your game day.

Q:  You do a great job of incorporating tailgating culture into this book, including sections on Game-Day Greetings and Southern Game Day attire. Are these traditions different in the south?

A:  Every team has its own colors, chants, songs and traditions that are unique to them. At every campus I visited I was able to witness and partake in the clothing and greetings that are a part of their game day tradition. Fans wearing bowties or sundresses with high heels are something you won’t see in areas outside of the South, for example.

Q:  What constitutes a tailgating family?

A:  A tailgating family can be friends, relatives, or any other person that you routinely spend your game days with! In The Southern Tailgating Cookbook, I discuss how these tailgating families form, how they organize themselves on game day, and the unique ways in which they can set themselves apart.

Q:  And speaking of family, you worked with your mom, Sally James, on developing the recipes for The Southern Tailgating Cookbook. Tell me about your collaboration.

A:  Sally is a professional recipe developer and we work together on Taylor Takes A Taste as well as for corporate clients. From my travels to tailgating destinations across the South, I was able to develop an idea of the type of food that works well at a tailgate, and was able to experience how the food varied from region to region. I then took this information to Sally and we worked together to formulate the ideas and recipes in the book. Her background in catering, talent, and creativity were invaluable resources in creating the food in this book. All of the recipes that are cooked outside were tested in her backyard and the images were shot in a studio that I set up in her garage. Working with my mom on the recipes in The Southern Tailgating Cookbook was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything!

Q:  What are some of the most celebrated college-town restaurants?

A:  Every college town has certain restaurants that hold a special place in alumni hearts and stomachs. During my travels, I was able to experience a pre-game meal at many such traditional places. In the book, I talk about visiting the following:

  • Mario’s Fish Bowl in Morgantown, WV
  • Rama Jama’s in Tuscaloosa, AL
  • The Varsity in Atlanta, GA
  • Taylor Grocery in Taylor, MS
  • Pancake Pantry in Nashville, TN
  • The Esso Club in Clemson, SC

In the seasons to come, I look forward to experiencing even more of these celebrated college town restaurants!

Q:  Tailgating with local ingredients is growing in popularity. What kinds of locally-sourced items might appear on game day?

A:  Tailgaters enjoy cooking their game day meals with ingredients that are local to them. For example, at NC State, I saw a fan whose seafood boil had crabs from the North Carolina Coast. In Baton Rouge, an LSU fan’s seafood boil contained crabs from Lake Pontchartrain. If there are hunters or fishermen at your tailgate, they will proudly display the success of the hunt on their game day spreads. More ways to include local ingredients in your tailgating spread can be found in The Southern Tailgating Cookbook.

Q:  How can tailgaters gain a home field advantage at neutral-site games?

A:  A neutral site game is a blank slate. There isn’t a team that can claim the tailgating sites as their own. By assembling friends and making the trip to tailgate before the game, fans can bring their team’s home traditions and spirit with them! Having more fans than the opposing team will help create a game day environment that will be similar to what players will find at a home game. This environment may help your team win the game!

Q:  Of the 110 amazing recipes in your book, name a few that might already be considered your signature dishes.

A:  I love every recipe in this book and each would be perfect to have at your next tailgate, but if I had to choose a few signature ones, they would be:

  • Drinks: Oranges-n-Cream Punch and Spiced Hot Cider
  • Breakfast: Cinnamon Toast Breakfast Cake with Icing Drizzle and Doughnut French Toast with Raspberry Syrup
  • Appetizers and Snacks: Granny Smith Apple Salsa, Sherwood’s Anything Dip, and Brandy-Almond-Brie Cheese Ball
  • Sides: Carrot-Raisin Salad, Zesty Arugula and Kale Salad, Spiced Pumpkin Beer Bread, and Smoked Turkey Salad
  • Main Dishes: Chow Down Chili, Sally’s Boneless Barbecue Chicken, and Dry-Brined Turkey Breast
  • Sandwiches and Soups: Pimento Cheese Club and Creamy Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup
  • Desserts: Training Table Brownies and Mini Funnel Cakes

Q:  Can you suggest an easy menu for the unseasoned tailgater?

A:  If you are brand new to tailgating, you could try a grill-less tailgate. Here is a great menu for an afternoon game.

  • Drinks: Blueberry Moon Cocktail
  • Appetizers: Cheddar and Pecan Cookies
  • Sides: Zesty Arugula and Kale Salad, Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
  • Sandwiches: Pimento Cheese Club
  • Dessert: Training Table Brownies

Taylor Mathis is a food and lifestyle photographer, blogger at Taylor Takes A Taste, and a passionate fan of all college athletics. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. His book The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South is available wherever books are sold.