Recipes from Pickled, Fried, and Fresh: Bert Gill’s Southern Flavors
By Bert Gill

I started working in a restaurant at the age of fifteen. I don’t remember whether I thought this would be a lifelong career, but I do remember loving it instantly. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve had some really amazing mentors over time—just ordinary people doing what they loved and then making a living at it.

People have urged me to make a cookbook of the various recipes that I have created and served in restaurants over the years. Never has that request become as pronounced as it has been since the opening of Blue Gill. Perhaps it’s because the food is more homey and comforting and less about flair—more accessible to the home cook.

From the introduction

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Pimento_Cheese
Credit: Wes Lindberg

Pimento Cheese

Growing up in Central Florida, I could always count on a few things. One was that my mother cooked dinner for us every single night—and when I say dinner, I mean a full-on, home-cooked, delicious meal for a family of five. Something else I could always count on was that there would be pimento cheese in our refrigerator. This recipe is a take on the classic southern pimento cheese we all know and can’t stop eating. Serve with fresh pickles and crackers, in a sandwich, or as a topping for burgers.

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup softened cream cheese

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon chopped pickled jalapeños

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers

Makes approximately 2½ cups

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise and cream cheese well. Then gently fold in the remaining ingredients.

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Collard_Greens
Credit: Wes Lindberg

Collard Greens

Lots of collards recipes have ham in them. This recipe is a tasty meat-free variation with coconut milk, which gives it that savory, fatty flavor we all love. Surprisingly, the coconut milk isn’t the predominant flavor in this recipe, but its presence makes this dish unique.

After one taste of these collard greens, consider your love affair with the old standard recipe over! It’s a great vegetarian alternative and a favorite at Blue Gill.

1 large sweet onion, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup coconut milk

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon stone ground mustard

1 large bunch fresh collards, stems removed and leaves chopped coarsely

chopped roasted peanuts

Makes 4–6 servings

Sweat the onion with the butter in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat for approximately 2 minutes. Turn the heat down low and add the coconut milk, sugar, cider vinegar, hot sauce, and stone ground mustard. Gently stir until combined and the sugar has dissolved. Turn the burner off and let the mixture rest.

Place the chopped collards in a large pot and cover with cold tap water. Bring to a boil just for a minute or two and drain in a colander. Add the blanched collards to the coconut mixture and cook uncovered on medium-low heat for 35 minutes.

Serve each portion with a sprinkle of chopped roasted peanuts for texture.

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Blue_Gill_menu
Credit: Wes Lindberg

On the Restaurant Business

Courtesy of Gainesville Observed
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There was a level of absolute discipline that goes into it and having passion for it. It’s a very emotional business. At least it is for me. I’m a very emotional person, and so it gives me something that I need in my life. It fulfills something mental and physical. There’s the adrenaline part to it. There’s the intensity. There’s defeat. There’s a lot of losing. It doesn’t feel good to lose. But when things are great, it’s rewarding.

While I love cooking and I love cuisine, I also love the interactions I have with my co-workers, developing a team—the concept of culture. It’s very important for us to create culture within our workplaces, where people are responsible to each other for the success of our company.

On Local Food

Courtesy of Gainesville Observed
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When I moved to Gainesville, I started going to the farmer’s markets here and making connections. The farmers would come, we’d make the menu, we’d make the food. I started with the University of Florida meat-processing unit. I built relationships with my vendors, found common interests and got their products. I went right to the farms. You trust what they’re going to deliver to you and then you serve it. We became proponents of local food.

When you go into one of our restaurants, you’re not going to see it advertised all over the place. From the beginning we have purchased as much of our food locally as possible. It’s not just produce either, it’s also meat, it’s chicken, it’s fish, it’s eggs. We are always trying to get the best product within our community that we can. This is not some fad for us.

Blue_Gill
Credit: Wes Lindberg

On Southern Cooking

Courtesy of Gainesville Observed
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I have a real love-hate relationship with Southern food. It’s amazing how everybody’s got to have some opinion about what “Southern” is. Some believe that if the cornbread isn’t like a rock and grisly, then it ain’t real Southern cornbread. Or they’ll say, “It’s not like my grandma used to make.” Well, we’re doing our own style of Southern cuisine that’s not your grandma’s—and maybe that’s a good thing.

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Credit: Wes Lindberg

Bert Gill is chef-owner of Blue Gill Quality Foods, Mildred’s Big City Food, and New Deal Café in Gainesville, Florida. His book Pickled, Fried, and Fresh: Bert Gill’s Southern Flavors, released this month from University Press of Florida, showcases his signature items like pimento cheese, clams with fennel and oranges, watermelon salad, and bourbon cocktails. The recipes and photos in this book showcase the unique personality of Gill’s local foodscape—a region with multiple harvests throughout the year and access to fresh catch from both coasts. His cookbook represents how Florida chefs are using local ingredients to create their own exciting niche in southern cuisine.

 

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Credit: Wes Lindberg

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