Someone’s in the Kitchen
Published 8:46 am Wednesday, October 13, 2010
BY MERLE MONAHAN/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
BERLIN—Dewey Burchett is proficient in many things, but he is best known perhaps for his cooking.
The retired building contractor plans the menu and cooks for his family’s reunion every year. Sometimes there are as many as 200 people attending over a course of three days, where they have their meals under tents in his son’s back yard.
“He has a big place here, room for trailers and campers; some of our relatives get here Friday and don’t leave until Sunday,” Burchett said. “But this is something I really enjoy. I’ve been cooking since I was 10, so it isn‘t all that hard.”
He actually started cooking for a crowd in 1997, when he lived in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. He perfected his recipes to feed larger numbers and came up with some that got “rave reviews,” he said with a grin.
“All the recipes are in my head,” Burchett said. “For instance, last night is the first time my Brunswick stew recipe has ever been written down.
“My two sons and I thought it probably would be a good idea, so we could keep it in the family,” he continued. “They wanted to keep it secret, but I don’t mind giving it out.”
Burchett said he didn’t start cooking for the family until he moved back to Virginia.
“Our first reunion was eight years ago,” he said. “My son, Jeff, and his wife, Stephanie, have this big place here and agreed to be the hosts.”
Burchett, of course, planned and cooked the meals.
And what meals they were. Friday night there was a fish fry and oyster roast, while during the next two days, guests were treated to sausage with peppers and onions, barbecue, chili, hot dogs and Burchett’s mom’s famous macaroni and cheese. Sunday night, Burchett served his home-cooked Brunswick stew.
Many of the desserts were brought by guests.
The oldest of five children, Burchett spent a great deal of time in the kitchen when his mother was cooking.
“She encouraged all of us to learn to cook, as well as how to do other things, like cleaning and sewing,” he said. “I learned to sew so well that my first job out of high school was doing alterations at an A and N store.”
He became a plumber, a police officer and detective, a pipe fitter supervisor in the Norfolk Ship Yard, and finally started his own contracting business.
“I just retired last year,” said the 66-year-old, who lives near Craddock, 32 miles from his son, Jeff.
“We spend a lot of time together,” he said of his son, who lives on Seacock Chapel Road near Berlin. “It only takes about a half hour to get here.”
NAME: Dewey Burchett
OCCUPATION: Retired contractor
FAVORITE FOOD: My mom’s macaroni and cheese
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Escargot
WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU REMEMBER COOKING: Bacon and eggs when I was about 10 or 11
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR WORST COOKING EXPERIENCE: I once scorched a pot of Brunswick stew, but fortunately I was able to salvage it
ONE INGREDIENT YOU CAN’T COOK WITHOUT AND WHY: Salt; it brings out the flavor
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU HAVE LEARNED ABOUT COOKING: Don’t walk away from what you’re cooking. That’s how I burned the stew.
WHO IS THE BEST COOK YOU HAVE EVER KNOWN AND WHY: My mom, Margaret Burchett. Everything she cooked was perfect. She cooked from scratch, and if she saw that we were going to run out of something she’d cooked, she knew how to stretch it. She raised five children (two boys and three girls) and taught all of us how to cook. I loved it, and I was the one who was always under foot in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, I’m still cooking — don’t know anything else I’d rather do.
IF YOU COULD EAT ONE THING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, WHAT WOULD IT BE: My mom’s macaroni and cheese.
DEWEY BURCHETT’S FAMOUS BRUNSWICK STEW FOR A CROWd
Makes 25 gallons
Ingredients: 70 pounds of chicken leg quarters, boiled and de-boned (makes six gallons of chicken)
7 gallons chicken broth
10 pounds onions, chopped
40 pounds cubed potatoes
4 No.# 10 cans butter beans
4 No.# 10 cans white shoe peg corn
3 gallon cans whole tomatoes
1 No.# 10 can diced tomatoes
1 No.# 10 can ketchup
1 No.# 10 can tomato sauce
1 ¼ cup salt
¼ cup red pepper
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup black pepper
¼ cup poultry seasoning
½ cup liquid smoke
Directions: After cooking and de-boning chicken, mix all ingredients in 25-gallon iron pot. Simmer for at least eight hours, stirring frequently. Stew is done when wooden paddle used to stir stew will stand on its own in middle of pot.