Grace and Grit

Chef and food stylist Libbie Summers has cooked for presidents and Paula Deen. A few times over, she’s sailed around the world scouring fresh food and culinary secrets from locals of all flavors. She’s got an insatiable passion for food, and it all started with a few hogs. Among a few other things, the contract Libbie Summers signed to publish a cookbook had to have one thing: a certain number of permissible curse words. It’s not that she’s excessively vulgar by any means; in fact, both she and her work are quite refined. But she also has a certain homegrown grit sprouted from spending her youth on a rural Midwestern boutique farm, complete with—her favorite part—packs of heritage breed hogs. Summers, who most recently worked as the culinary producer and senior food editor for Paul Deen Enterprises, says, “I watched pigs being slaughtered, and I wasn’t really squeamish around it. I used to play jump rope with intestine; but you don’t really want to know that,” letting out her booming, signature laugh. Much like the pigs she spent time with as a young girl, the culinary creative embodies this balance between grace and grit in everything she does, and her first book, The Whole Hog Cookbook, couldn’t be a more perfect example. After all, her tagline of choice for the book, which includes almost 200 glossy pages filled with stunning photography and a charming design, goes something like this: It teaches you how to use a whole pig from snout to shitter.

The phrase is a succinct way to describe the work and is also a nod to her grandmother, Lula Mae, who she says gave her a “colorful vocabulary,” a love of pork and a waste not, want not cooking philosophy. “[My grandparents] were into that way of eating long before it was this wonderful chic thing to do. That was the only way to do it,” she says. “Nothing was put to waste; they cooked everything!” In typical Summers fashion, after growing up playing on the farm, she then spent the majority of her career beginnings sailing all over the world on high-end private yachts, cooking for fabulous people in fabulous locations. Along the way, she amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of cuisine that she now shares with her colleagues and a rapidly growing fan base that includes the entire Deen clan and many of their devoted followers, former President Jimmy Carter (whom she just recently served Tipsy Pork Liver Pate, Buttery Potted Ham and The King’s Belly Sandwiches, among other dishes), Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay, Ellie Krieger, Bon Appetit and Country Living. In all of her travels and cooking experiences, she also gathered a number of laugh-out-loud stories that she weaves into the cookbook, which is a collection of over 100 different ways to cook pork—every part of it. She tells about the first time she tasted a heavenly pork tenderloin sandwich, which she describes as “big and so divine you’d give up your virginity and your only ride home just for a bite.” And she tells tales of a hot-tempered Mexican cooking queen she had to beg, plead and cook with into the wee hours of the morning in order to get a pork tamale recipe. But then, just as you’ve wiped your tears of laughter, she sweeps in with touching family stories that show just how important this one animal can be to a person, a family and entire cultures all around the world.