It’s often said that food is an ingredient that binds people together – a universal language that almost all of us can understand and enjoy. For Nashville-based food writer Erin Byers Murray, this is a concept she discovered growing up in a food-centric family. Today she is the editor-in-chief of the Charleston-based food magazine, The local palate. We sat down with Erin to learn more about her passion for food, her recent cookbook release, some of her favorite places to eat and shop, and more. Meet our newest FACE of the South, Erin Byers Murray!
When did you first discover your passion for food?
Like so many, my passion started at home with my mother and grandmother. They encouraged me to be in the kitchen. You were always the center of the world when we had vacations… Then, when I was in high school, my mom had an accident and was unable to work for a while. At the time, my dad was traveling a lot for work and my sister was in college, so I ended up cooking for my mom and me. It was easy, easy stuff, and she coached me the whole time. That was the start of my understanding, “Oh, I can put a meal together” and appreciating what’s in there.
How did you get to your current position? The local palate?
That was in 2020, so in the middle of the pandemic and quarantine. I knew the publisher from The local palate, and I had written for them as a freelancer for many years. He and I had spoken several times during that time, and the magazine had undergone a small shift and change. He [called] me as they came from a time when the magazine was closing. He reached out and said he was looking for a new editor-in-chief and we talked a lot about it. I was hesitant because the company is based in Charleston, but he agreed that we could try launching it remotely. It turned out to work really well. It was a bit knowing the right person at the right time and keeping that network channel open.
Last year you published a cookbook entitled Co-authored with chef Jeremy Sewall The Row 34 Cookbook. What can you tell us about it?
This book is the second cookbook Jeremy and I have collaborated on. We published our first book The New England Kitchen, in 2014. Jeremy and I go way back. We met in the early 2000s when he was just starting out in cooking in Boston and I was starting out as a food writer. We worked on a few stories together and always stayed in touch. When he told me he was working on a book project, I immediately jumped in because I’ve always loved his food and cooking. We worked together on that first project, and then The Row 34 Cookbook based on his current restaurant with locations in Boston, Portsmouth, NH, and Burlington, MA. We wanted to work with the same cookbook editor we had before and we tumbled around all sorts of ideas, but the menu at Row 34 talked about what home cooks can do with seafood. The book is very seafood focused, but the beauty of the way Jeremy writes his recipes is that it’s very accessible. We of course test all recipes to make sure it’s accessible. It opens doors for people to better understand how to cook seafood at home.
What is one of your favorite dishes to take home?
I have two children – 8 and 11. Our home is all about sitting down at a table and eating the same thing together. One of the dishes everyone loves is meatballs – whether it’s spaghetti and meatballs, a dish with chicken meatballs or we’re making a lovely Asian-influenced glazed meatball. [Meatballs are] the one dish everyone can always agree on.
Where are some of your favorite places to eat and shop in Charleston?
There is a great little shop where I got pairs [of shoes] named Charleston Shoe Company. Two of my favorite places to eat when I walk in are The Ordinary [and Chubby Fish]. I usually stay on King Street – stopping by The Ordinary for oysters, an oyster slider and a glass of champagne is always a treat. I love Chubby Fish and Chef James London is fantastic. Because it’s Charleston, I always eat seafood when I’m there. His restaurant uses the whole fish. There is a small place called Babas on Cannon that I highly recommend. It has a small cafe but they are also open for lunch and at night turns into a fun wine bar with small plates so you can drop in there all day.
As a mother, cookbook author and magazine editor, you have many responsibilities. How do you make time for yourself?
I am a great hiker. I go for a walk every day. I’m always around Richland Creek or West Nashville. I like doing yoga – this is my escape. I’m also a huge reader, so being able to steal an hour and just sit with a good book is always therapy for me. I’m also a strong believer in the power of being with other women, so I regularly plan dinners and outings with girlfriends just to keep my sanity and also to have a few good laughs. To me, this is one of the best forms of self-care.
What is the best advice you have ever given or received?
My grandfather used to write me letters, and he wrote me a note that I received about a year or two before he died. It was a simple statement, “Just make sure you take the time to stop and smell the roses.” I was early in my career and it hit me that way at the time because I was in my 20s and it was me very fast moving. Everything was exciting and happening… I still have that note from him because it reminds me to always take a minute to slow down and appreciate what you’re going through.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Being able to do yoga, a constant supply of hot tea, and a fairly constant supply of books. If I don’t have a good book, I don’t know where my time is going.
Thank you Erin! All photographs by Leila Grossman.
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