Chef at Home: Phoebe Lawless

Chef at Home: Phoebe Lawless

The James Beard award-winning pastry chef of Scratch Bakery shares one of her favorite meals to cook at home.


Phoebe Lawless1

Phoebe Lawless likes to keep things simple as pie.

The owner of the acclaimed Scratch Bakery got her start making sweet treats in her home kitchen and selling them at the Durham Farmers’ Market. Tonight, Phoebe’s back where it all began, the comforts of her Rockwood home. She’s heating up some oil in a vintage Copco pan when she says, “I like to think that the food at Scratch is pretty simple, honest food, and we do a lot of that here [at home]. Especially now with the Farmers’ Market twice a week, it’s easy for me to swipe the choicest tomatoes or things like that to bring home.”

Simple doesn’t mean boring. For example, Phoebe is fond of using honeysuckle picked straight from the gigantic patch in her front yard to make chess pies or lemonade.

There’s no honeysuckle chess pie tonight – Phoebe says that since she opened her brick-and-mortar, she doesn’t do much baking at home – but there is a medley of carrots and radishes over a bed of mizuna greens and sprinkled with blue cheese, a potato salad with fresh chopped chives, and fried chicken, as crispy and succulent as you can hope to find. You know, simple.

Phoebe’s fried chicken recipe is no secret: “The best way to do it is to marinate it in buttermilk overnight – I toss in garlic and cayenne, too. I like the paper bag method, where you put in your flour, lots of salt, black pepper, a little bit of baking powder, drain the chicken, and then shake it up.” She pan-fries a few pieces at a time, then finishes them in the oven.

A common staple in Phoebe’s household, fried chicken lends itself to being a tasty lunch leftover for husband Chuck Samuels and 7-year-old daughter Marilyn. “Some weeks are a little more hectic than others, so I won’t say that we don’t have fried egg sandwiches or buttery noodles some nights,” Phoebe admits. “But when I do have the occasional day off, I’ll put more effort into it, and usually I’ll ask Marilyn what she likes.”

Sitting on the stone countertop watching her mother, Marilyn volunteers her favorite dish: “It’s spaghetti and meatballs.” The family decides to move out to the back porch to enjoy their meal, surrounded by lush plants and flowers, and occasionally by one of their cats, Mayo, who jumps onto the bench for attention. This is suppertime at its best, plain and simple.

Ed. Note: This article first appeared in our June/July 2012 issue.

Amanda MacLaren
Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Ariz., she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for seven years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.