Chef Judy’s fried chicken and waffles with all the fixin’s sets the scene to make lasting memories
BY JANET GIBSON / PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW WONDERLY
One of my earliest memories is of a family picnic in a land long ago and far away. I can close my eyes and still feel that perfect day – with sunshine magically streaming through the woods – and a feast laid out on the blanket before me.
“Jon-et, you grabbed a fried chicken leg and ‘vent’ to town!” Mama would say years later, in her sweet German accent and laughing at the memory. For a European lady, Mama made the best fried chicken on the planet, which delighted my husky dad who hailed from the hills of South Carolina.
We were a military family, with four kids and a fifth on the way, living in our mom’s native Berlin. I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” as they say, and while my older siblings were more interested in climbing trees, I was focused on polishing off that chicken leg. Somewhere in the Gibson family photo albums, a black-and-white Polaroid records the occasion.
I still love fried chicken.
So does Chef Judith Cage, better known as “Chef Judy” in culinary circles. “It’s the perfect picnic food!” she declares.
The Fayetteville-based chef has been featured on “Chopped” and “Supermarket Stakeout,” both on the Food Network – and she has prepared her specialties for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, actor/producer/director Tyler Perry and chart-topping rapper/Fayetteville’s own J. Cole.
Regionally, Chef Judy is known for her bevy of restaurants, including Uptown’s Chicken & Waffles at Ramada Plaza and Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville and at Stryker Golf Course on Fort Bragg; The View at Anderson Creek; The Lodge Family Kitchen in Spring Lake; Chef Judy’s Jaguar Grill at Johnston Community College in Smithfield; Let Me Cater To You at Pope Army Airfield; and her catering and personal chef services.
Growing up in Chicago, she fondly remembers the joy of Southern-inspired fried chicken picnics on Lake Michigan. She started preparing meals for her large family at age 9 and later honed her cooking skills in the U.S. Army.
She says the secret to great fried chicken is a blend of herbs and spices, and just like Colonel Sanders’, her recipe is proprietary. Her favorite way to serve the chicken – as the name of three of her restaurants implies – is by topping four fried wings over buttermilk waffles, liberally sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Chef Judy brought the goods for a CityView photo shoot featuring the Williams family of Hope Mills: Milton and Christina Williams and their children, Ava, 7; Isaac, 4, and Audrey, who turns 2 this September.
Milton is an orchestra teacher at Westover High and Middle schools and also offers private music lessons. Christina is a music teacher for kindergarten through 12th-graders at Renaissance Classical Christian Academy and a freelance photographer. Because of coronavirus restrictions, they have stayed especially busy – not only teaching online classes, but also homeschooling their own children. They were thrilled to “go on a picnic.”
A grassy knoll near a covered picnic area and an old white barn at the Cypress Lakes Golf Course in Hope Mills provided a picturesque backdrop.
As Chef Judy set up the picnic, she explained that it’s often what she adds to the side dishes that make them extra-tasty: smoked turkey to the collard greens, a minimum of three shredded cheeses in the macaroni and cheese (including sharp Cheddar), pecans to cornbread muffins and mayonnaise AND mustard to the potato salad.
In addition to the chicken and waffles main dish, she also brought her shrimp and grits, made with a “spicy Louisiana roux,” large shrimp and andouille sausage.
“It all looks absolutely delicious … it’s the perfect food for a perfect day,” says Christina. “It looks amazing!” Ava adds.
To wash it all down, Chef Judy’s beverage of choice is Kool-Aid. With a twist. Her “Passion” drink is red Kool-Aid spiked with sliced strawberries and mangos and blueberries. Think of it as a kind of innocent Sangria. The Williams children were happy to drench their thirst and give the thumbs-up. Making memories all the way.
“Family picnics bring comfort,” Chef Judy says, “which is more important now than ever before.”