Meet Bobby Lee
Let's start at the beginning - with how I first became interested in cooking.
Well I guess I always liked the smell of a kitchen; I can recall my Grandmother cooking in rural North Carolina when I was 6 or 8 years old. My mother was a good cook as was my Aunt Kate, who had a huge garden and we always had fresh vegetables in season or at least home-canned from her larder. Always lots of food on the table, simply cooked, but huge - every day there were two or three meats and perhaps eight vegetables. And Sundays after church were even bigger.
There was a smokehouse with hams, sausages, salted pork stocked from the slaughtering of a hog, or beef stock. It was a family undertaking and the meats were shared between the families.
At the end of tobacco harvest, I recall whole pig roasts for the close Burgess family, the men staying up all night tending to the fire turning the pig and of course drinking and telling stories. I of course was sent off to bed early of fell asleep even if I was wide eyed listening to the events of the preparation. Everything was timed so the barbequed whole pig was ready for dinner (noon) the next day. The wives just prepared food, Iced tea, lemonade to complete the feast.
My mother remarried a career navy man when I was 11 and I moved away from the farm, we lived in Norfolk, Charleston, and Newport RI until I went off to school.
In 1963 I was off to New Orleans, started a metal service center with a long-time friend Newt Reynolds from my days in Charleston and in a year or so was married and by age 25 we had two children. My wife Trish quickly became a good gook, and we entertained customers and friends at home often. She did the cooking I just helped.
Later Newt and I purchased 30 acres of land across the lake to build a weekend house on. It took a year to get it built it had 4 bedrooms two in each wing and a huge living room with a vaulted ceiling and the biggest fireplace known to man at that time. The men cooked mostly on the grill outside and the wives prepared the other items in the kitchen. Above the dining room was a loft where the kids played, sleep and peered over or thru the railing as the adults turned up Neil Diamond or other music with the bar in full swing. Often there were 4 couples and maybe 10 or more kids in the house on a Friday night by 6PM.
After a night of celebrating and with a pounding head, I would always be up first, gather up all of the kids who were up or could fit into the car, and head off the country store, which had a penny candy counter and treats galore I would have coffee and biscuits with the owners while the kids devouring way too much sweets, I loved her kitchen it reminded me of my Grandmother's.
So later on before the Saturday night party got started, it fell to me some kind of way to make appetizers which I got creative at.
Whatever was leftover I used in a verity of ways. I made dips, I rolled salad into a slice of ham and cut it up into bite sizes, leftover deviled eggs were spiced up piled onto crackers with garnishes, bread slices were cut into triangles and rounds and topped with creole mustard and mayonnaise spiced spread topped with ham, cheese and maybe a pickle in between.
It became known as “Bobby Lees Something out of Nothing”
We entertained a lot and for lots of guests, I recall doing Eggs Benedict for 24 in the back yard, huge sit-down dinners for 12 and 16. Black Tie Dinners, where we worked all day and partied all night. Seemed like I spent a lot in the kitchen, but Trish did the cooking.
The kids became teenagers, and we stayed more in New Orleans as they wanted to be with friends, we kind of moved on to a beachfront condo in Destin and still I just did the barbeque thing, but we did a lot of grilled lobster and fish or we ate at every know restaurant in New Orleans and Destin.
Lots of late-night Marti Gras balls with Queens Suppers at 1 or 2 AM in the morning
Next thing you know the kids are off to college, and I moved to Destin, sold my business. I recall having to take the Florida Driver License Exam, Trish and I had our test booklets out having lunch with a bottle of wine at a waterfront restaurant. Lots of people got a kick out of that scene.
Back and forth to New Orleans, and then we discovered Highlands NC.
We soon had a house there as well. I played a lot of golf that first year, and quickly burnt out, and recall waking up day and telling Trish, “Teach me how to Cook!”
That started it, we spent days in Florida shopping for food, reading cookbooks, and learning to make great sauces, learning knife skills, learning to season foods. Trish had years of experience and was my mentor. To this day she is still the better cook!!!
The beach got old in a hurry, too much sun I think, and we started spending way more time in Highlands or back in New Orleans.
That’s where “Bobby Lees Best Ever Cheddar Cheese Dip” came about.
In New Orleans there was a product called “Betta-Cheddar” it was served everywhere, people liked it but I knew I could make it better, so I started experimenting with it.
I used better cheese, I bought better walnuts, I used every spice that I thought would improve it, I cut fresh red bell peppers and green onions, I adjusted the types of cheese I used, I tinkered with the way I roasted the walnuts, I adjusted the spices, time and time again as to the amounts and types I used.
In the end, I got it right.
I would make it in batches and give it away as presents or take to parties, people raved about it, keep asking me to make and sell it, but I just dismissed it as too much work to make on a larger scale.
Up in Highlands, it was the same story, people loved it, keep asking me to sell it somewhere so they could buy it. So some friends convinced me to make some and sell it at the Highlands Farmers market.
So, I do and take 30 (12 oz.) containers down there Saturday morning set up my lawn chair, with a big cooler of Cheese Dip, start giving out samples on crackers, and sold them all for $8.00 each in about an hour and a half. $240.00 bucks! Wow, that will pay the whiskey bill.
So, every week I am at the farmers market and I sell more and more, I add Gumbo to what I sell, cornbread, quiches, Hell this is work.
So next summer I add one retail outlet, Dusty’s Market, and keep selling, by this time Trish wants me out of her kitchen so I leased a small commercial space buy a little equipment, and set up operation. It just keeps growing. We expand there, and then I find Lucy’s Market in Atlanta.
I recall walking in samples in hand, and ask Kim Wilson the owner to carry my product, I offered her a sample and she replied “I don’t normally try products in front of vendors”, I interrupted saying “go ahead I’m not afraid” as she tasted she replied, “ O my god, I’ll take 40”
More and more retail outlets, more items are added, and I still am cooking for benefits, serving large dinner parties. Good Cooking makes people happy, which makes me happy as well.
Another year passes, we expand again and hire Larry Murray and he becomes the head chef, He knows every recipe except for the sauce in the Cheese Dip.
It’s been a nice ride.