More About Dutch & Rio: My Inspiration
Updated: Feb 24
The inspiration for creating Dutch & Río Comfort Cuisine was birthed out of my grandparent’s kitchen. Their modest home on W. 22nd Street in North Little Rock, Arkansas served as the hub for relatives, close friends, and-at times-forlorn individuals, to enjoy a replenishing and delicious meal. Most anyone could pull up a seat at the dining room table, on the kitchen stool, or under a TV tray in the den. Pot-dipping, plate serving, lively conversation, and continuous laughter swirled throughout the home—stimulating the senses and comforting the soul.
Our granddaddy, affectionately nick-named “Dutch,” taught us how to cook with culinary skill and finesse. His actual name was Robert Lee Harrison. He worked at the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas for Governor Winthrop “Win” Rockefeller (1967-1970) of THE world renown Rockefeller family. Despite having no professional culinary training, (being that a Black man from the south, during the 1940s-60s was not afforded the opportunity to do so), he was quite skilled in the kitchen. Although the Governor traveled to Arkansas with his own personal chef, Dutch cooked for him on a couple of occasions. Long after his retirement, and up until the day he died, he whipped up artful and sumptuous meals. While growing up, and for as long as I can remember, our dining experiences ranged from soulful smothered chicken to a masterfully executed standing rib.
My first influence for cooking started with my grandma, Zerita, whom everybody affectionately called “Rio.” An accomplished cook, she taught me how to cook with heart and soul. Since I was about age 12, during the summers, my grandma dedicated her time to showing me how to cook and bake. Moreover, she was especially intent on teaching me what-the old-time southerners- called, ‘the social graces’ of entertaining. She possessed an enviable collection of fine China and silver, used often on Sundays. Her tea service cart and curio remained staged with genuine crystal glasses and punch bowl sets; which were necessary accessories for dainty finger sandwiches and fruity frappes. You could be a “Dignitary” or “down-on-your- luck,” food was always prepared with sharing in mind.
Both of my grandparents were exemplary stewards of the community. Not only did they share generously from their table; they also doled out countless freezer bags and home-canned vegetables from their garden. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the seemingly endless supply of Mason jars packed full of peach fruit preserves.
Despite their modest earnings, "Uncle Dutch" and "Aunt Rio", managed to feed and comfort countless others on any given day.