Bill Neal was born and grew up South Carolina’s textile belt. He graduated from Duke University, taught high school English, and came to Chapel Hill for graduate work at UNC. He and his wife Moreton Neal worked in local restaurants during those years, traveled in France, and then abandoned academics to open a restaurant, La Residence, in 1976. In 1982, with his friend and business partner, Gene Hamer, he created Crook’s Corner where he worked until his death in 1991. The restaurants attracted national attention and Bill was praised as one of the country’s most talented young chefs.
Former food critic and editor of the New York Times, Craig Claiborne, said of him, “Bill Neal is a genius at the stove, and his specialty, of course, is the foods of the South. He takes the basics of that region, and with his own inventiveness gives them a distinctive and uncommon appeal.”
Bill’s first book, Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking, was published in 1985; the revised edition in 1989. The impetus for writing this collection of recipes and stories came from his pride and interest in our culinary history dating back to his early years on his grandparents’ South Carolina farm. He credits his grandmother with sparking his interest in cooking and Southern cooking, a fusion of African, European and Native American cuisine, in particular. He said, “Most people don’t know what Southern cooking is. The best has always been hidden from the public because it took place in the home. I want these recipes to endure because they are strongly rooted in time and place. I find it emotionally satisfying to deal with Southern cooking because it is so closely tied to the land, to the seasons, and to my heritage. It really is natural food—it’s unpretentious, and it has to be seasonal.”
His second effort, Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, was published in 1990. “Our food tells us where we come from and who we have become,” he writes in the introduction to this delightful cookbook about the breads, biscuits, cakes, pies, cookies, desserts and delectables that have been the pride of Southern cooks for more than 300 years.
He also collaborated with David Perry on Good Old Grits published by UNC Press.
Moreton Neal’s memoir/cookbook, Remembering Bill Neal: Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, follows his life from country boy to chef, writer, historian, and trailblazer of Southern regional cooking.