A Chef's July Fourth on Cumberland Island
At home in Atlanta, Linton Hopkins is a multitasking, empire-building chef with only one speed: fast. In the past decade, he has launched two acclaimed restaurants (including his flagship, Restaurant Eugene) and a bakery, established a farmers’ market and opened a wine and spirits shop. But when Hopkins steps onto Georgia’s Cumberland Island—an 18-mile stretch with palm trees, white-sand beaches and wild horses—the iPhone goes off and the Bermuda shorts come on. “It’s pretty remote—you have to take a ferry to get there,” he says. “You go everywhere by bicycle. Gentlemen still wear jackets.” He spends mornings digging for clams on the beach with his kids, a throwback to his own childhood holidays spent prying mollusks from South Carolina’s shore.
To celebrate July Fourth, Hopkins and his wife, Gina, entertain family and friends at the Greyfield Inn, a mansion hotel run by descendants of the Carnegie family, who once owned the entire island as a private retreat. In planning the holiday feast, Hopkins had to include some of his favorite casual Southern dishes, like pulled pork dressed with his aunt Julia’s sweet, tangy barbecue sauce. “One of my earliest memories is of eating her barbecue and drinking Coca-Cola on her farm in Alabama,” he says. “Also, a meal in the South without roast pork is not really a meal.”
But for Hopkins—an F&W Best New Chef 2009—cooking isn’t all about nostalgia. “For me, going on vacation is about finding the food of where I am,” he says. “On Cumberland Island, I’m not eating steak. I’m eating shrimp that were caught that morning.” Using fat, shell-on local shrimp, he makes a stew dotted with baby lima beans and sausage.
Fitting for the island’s relaxed pace, Hopkins also cooks some of his most leisurely dishes, like an overnight slaw that takes an eight-hour soak in vinegar, sugar and mustard powder. And of course there’s the pork shoulder that he turns into sliders—rubbed in coffee, sugar and salt; refrigerated for at least half a day; slow-roasted for six hours; then glazed with sorghum and cider vinegar. “Why are we so obsessed with the 30-minute meal?” says Hopkins. “I want to create a TV show called The 36-Hour Meal. The best things take a little bit of time.”