Jhe kitchen is often the heart of a home. The place where memories and meals are made, and it just so happens to be the epicenter of Shanna and Eric Jones’ burgeoning culinary empire.
With the imminent release of their first cookbook titled A healthier life in the South, a vibrant social media presence, with big-name collaborations and even interest from celebrity mercurial chef Gordon Ramsay, things are heating up fast for the Houston couple.
Gourmets and creators on their own, the newlyweds merged their talents in January 2018, creating the Dude that Cookz website. The site is a mouth-watering hub of recipes for every meal of the day, plus cocktails, gift guides, and other tasty bits.
Shanna Jones, the company’s creative director and photographer, previously co-founded lifestyle site Urban Swank with adventurer and local friend Felice Simmons. Eric was a professional athlete with an artistic flair and an abiding interest in all things tasty.
Born in Louisiana, Eric grew up in his grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens, enjoying every bite of butter-soaked Southern cuisine infused with Creole charm and spices. Although he never attended culinary school, he paid attention to how and what was cooked, recreating family recipes himself.
“I went to grandma’s class,” says Eric Jones. “They lived across the street from each other, so I saw all the facets of Southern cuisine. I grew up loving and eating everything.
Food is definitely a love language. But as Eric recreated the dishes he had growing up (or something memorable from a restaurant), he wanted that language to speak in a healthier way. The couple had “tried and dabbled” in clean eating, but soon began revamping the recipes in earnest and posting them to the website.
Eric’s other constant companion is a notebook he carries to jot down the details of meals that resonate with his taste buds and his vision and this notebook has become the basis of A healthier life in the South.
In addition to her photography skills and marketing acumen, Shanna brought her love of desserts to the table, allowing the couple to create an entire collection of recipes. Each gets a wholesome makeover, while maintaining a hybrid Southern and Creole blend.
“We love our Southern heritage and started healthy eating as a family by swapping heavy creams with coconut milk and olive oil for butter,” notes Shanna Jones.
“You can enjoy tasty and healthy Southern dishes without sacrificing flavor,” adds Eric.
Creating a cookbook
The pair were approached by Page Street Publishing after the publisher noticed the Dude That Cookz website liking their new take on familiar favourites. The collection of reimagined dishes — including chicken and sausage jambalaya, low-fat old-fashioned chicken and dumplings, and red snapper and cheese polenta with Creole tomatoes — emphasizes ingredients that reduce salt, fat, carbohydrates or calories in recipes. It was important to Eric that there were dishes for everyone in the book, regardless of allergies or food preferences, so there are shellfish swaps and vegetarian options.
The cookbook is divided into seven chapters. There are 60 recipes in total, including sandwiches, sides, desserts, breakfasts and even soups, a section that Eric is particularly fond of.
“The soup chapter is going to surprise a lot of people,” he says PaperCity. “The healthy flavors of the soup are outstanding.”
Her favorite is the five star cream of mushroom soup with truffles, inspired by an asparagus and truffle soup that Jones had in Napa. Its healthy version includes baby bella mushrooms, garlic and vegetable broth.
Eric credits his sense of smell rather than his taste as the rudder of his food recreations. And he relies on Shanna to serve as his chief taster and give him honest, informed opinions.
“That’s the weirdest thing. It’s aroma-based,” says Eric Jones. “Once I have this scent, I throw the ingredients into my kitchen like a canvas. It’s my art.
Their culinary chemistry started early in the relationship. Rather than booking a table for two on Valentine’s Day, these two instead hosted a kitchen, each creating a menu and trying to wow each other year after year in the kitchen. It’s now a Jones tradition.
The duo have already caught the eye of Success Rice, Zwilling and Bob’s Red Mill, working with the brands on various projects. Other collaborations are on the horizon.
When the Joneses got the call from Gordon Ramsay’s production company, it was simply a matter of timing that stalled the project. Eric and Shanna were knee deep in the cookbook and under the publisher’s deadline. With their Healthier southern cuisine book, which will be released on February 22, the couple is preparing for new opportunities in the kitchen and in front of the camera.
“Four years ago, we turned our hobby into a business,” says Eric. “Shannna took me out of my shell and convinced me of the possibilities and now I really appreciate that. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
Whatever the next step is sure to be delicious.