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Between Bites by James Villas

Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist
by James Villas
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002)
Hardcover, 304 pages

What inspired you to write this book?
James Villas: Over the years I’ve known just about everybody in the food world. I’m rather obsessed with the evolution, particularly in America, of food. I thought I would tie together those strings and show what had happened over the last forty years, through my personal contacts and experiences. Having known Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne and MFK Fisher. I just wanted to have my say on what all the excitement’s been about. And, to try to give some background, to what’s happening today, and why it’s happening. What’s happening today is happening because of those heroes. Every chapter in that book, you might have noticed is filled with love. If I don’t love the person I don’t write about the person, including my own mother. I included the chapter on my mother because she’s just been so instrumental in my own development. After all I wanted to look back, and say Jim, you know what’s it all been about? And, what have you gone through and what does it mean? And I hope the book answers the question. I start off with a little boy over in France, with the greatest chef in the world, (whom I didn’t even know was the greatest chef in the world), and, bring it through twenty-seven years as the food editor of Town & Country, to the revolution happening today, and to a much more sophisticated little boy, who’s now quite a big boy, and try to codify all those decades.

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Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist
by James Villas

James Villas stumbled into his forty year long career while escaping from the rain. Interested in food, but not as a career, he ducked into the Hôtel de la Côte d’Or during the reign of celebrated chef Alexandre Dumaine. Dumaine took Villas under his wing, for a moment. In Between Bites, Villas recounts his lifelong journey through the culinary world. He examines the importance of meeting and befriending culinary greats such as Alexandre Dumaine, Craig Claiborne, Paul Bocuse, Paula Wolfert, and many more. Villas exposes little known aspects of people in the food industry that everyone thought they knew. His telling of MFK Fisher’s personal instruction on the correct way to vomit is particularly juicy, as are his questionable activities with James Beard in bars in Midtown Manhattan. Villas’ odyssey would be incomplete without the recipes from critical moments of his life. From Coq au Vin with chicken’s blood to his mother’s strawberry preserves, each recipe is simple and produces stellar results. Read this book and experience the culinary revolution witnessed over the past forty years through James Villas’ eyes.

The Quintessential Southern Fried Chicken
From Between Bites by James Villas (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002)
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 4 Servings


  • 1 (3 ½ pound) chicken
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 3 cups (1 ½ pounds) shortening
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup lard


Divide chicken into 8 pieces. Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt plus pepper. Combine buttermilk with lemon juice in large bowl. Add chicken to bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.

Remove chicken from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Melt shortening in large heavy skillet. Make sure shortening is ½ inch deep, if necessary, add more shortening to pan. Combine flour, remaining salt, and more pepper in heavy brown shopping bag. Remove dark meat pieces of chicken from buttermilk. Let excess buttermilk drain from each piece, before placing it in bag. Shake bag vigorously to coat. Add lard to skillet and when small bubbles appear on surface, reduce heat slightly. Remove chicken pieces from bag one by one, shaking off excess flour, and using tongs, lower gently into hot fat.

Arrange pieces in skillet for even cooking. Reduce heat to medium, and cook 11-17 minutes. Reduce heat slightly, turn with tongs, and fry 11-17 minutes longer. Quickly repeat all steps with white pieces, adjusting heat as needed, frying 2 minutes less than needed for dark pieces.

Drain chicken at least 5 minutes, then transfer to serving platter without reheating. Serve hot, or at room temperature.


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How did you choose which recipes to put in the book?
JV: There was only one reason and that is, if the recipe related to the text. For example if I wrote about how Craig Claiborne screwed up my barbeque, then I give the correct barbeque recipe. If I wrote about Frank’s Lemon Meringue Pie, which is a very funny story how he ate the whole thing, then I give the recipe. In the first chapter for example I did the Coq au Vin with the chicken blood, because that’s probably the dish that I most remember from Alexandre Dumaine, so, I happened to have that recipe and I put it in. They had to relate I mean I think I put my mother’s one of her preserves in there, they had to be very closely related to the prose text, to the story I was telling.

What did you learn about cooking while writing this book?
JV: Probably the main thing I learned about cooking itself, when I finished writing the book and reread the manuscript, is how fascinating, the evolution of cooking in America has been, since the late fifties, and early sixties, what slapped me in the face, is much progress we’ve made, how different things, were, for better and for worse, a lot of the things I hate, that happened, and a lot of things I love. In other words, once I finish the entire book, then I’ll sit down with the manuscript and I’ll reread the whole book, just to see how the whole tenor is, and, it really dawned on me that I had been through a lot. I lived a very full life, and above all that I had participated in a fascinating evolution.   

What do you think it takes to be a great food writer?
JV: That’s the big question, and I’m getting this award on Thursday night from Bon Appetit, and I’ve gotta give a speech and I was thinking about that, very question cause I know that’s what they wanna hear. I would say first of all, you know I am not a conventional food writer. I stay in trouble. I don’t have lots of friends in the food world cause they get angry with me. You’ve got to establish a platform and you’ve got to stick by that platform, A. B, you have got to be willing to take a tremendous number of risks.

In what sort of way?
JV: Every way. You have got to have the gall and the nerve to write what no one else will write. Now I’ll give you the example, in the book that you’ve just read, I reveal things about James Beard, and Craig Claiborne, and MFK Fisher, that no one has the gall, the nerve, to reveal.

Well, I have to say that I made your fried chicken, and it was the only fried chicken I’ve ever made that came out well.
JV: Well thank you, and I seem to change it every time. What people really want that I refuse to do except once or twice a year because it’s so difficult, is my Carolina chopped pork barbeque, which has to be done outside. I used to have a pit; now I’ve learned to do it in the kettle drum, and, it takes 9-12 hours, and it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever put in your mouth and people also like my Brunswick Stew.

What kitchen tool can you not live without?
JV: Knives. I’ve got have Henckels, I’ve got a collection of knives you wouldn’t believe and it’s in my will as a matter of fact. I still think the greatest knives are made by Henckel, and Wusthof, and I’ve got about fifteen, yeah I’d say about fifteen, priceless knives. I have to have, certainly great skillets, I could not live without a skillet, and I could cook the rest of my life with nothing but a knife and a skillet.