Vivian Talks Duke's, the Cool Kids' Mayonnaise

In an interview about Duke’s Mayonnaise, Vivian Howard shares her conversion to the Southern brand and why mayo is so important to Southern food. The iconic Southern mayonnaise, based in Richmond, Virginia, is a proud sponsor of season five of A CHEF’S LIFE. 

Q: Did you grow up with Duke’s Mayonnaise?
A: I grew up with Miracle Whip. I didn’t really understand Duke’s until I became part of the Southern chef community. I realized that there was a cool brand of mayo and Miracle Whip was not the cool brand.

Q: How important is mayonnaise in the canon of Southern ingredients? 
A: It’s huge. It shows up everywhere: chicken salad, pimento cheese, potato salad, deviled eggs. Lots of cultures have potato salad but they don’t often bind it with mayo. Our chicken casseroles have mayonnaise in them. Our tomato sandwiches, obviously. There’s deviled ham sandwiches and even banana and mayonnaise sandwiches.

Q: Why has Duke’s become your go-to mayonnaise? 
A: With a lot of other mayonnaises, you end up tasting the mayo. With Duke’s, it accentuates what you are eating. It is a good foil for the other items on the sandwich, especially a BLT. Duke’s makes the tomato taste like a tomato and the bacon taste like bacon.

Q: We know you converted Ben to Duke’s. What do you remember about that? 
A: I just remember Ben — thinking he knows everything about everything — believing there wasn’t anything better than Hellmann's. I think he was actually converted by a tomato sandwich and then I think he ate Duke’s off a spoon right after that.

Q: What is one of your favorite recipes using mayonnaise? 
A: I adore a good casserole but if I had to pick one dish it would be my crab fennel gratin recipe. I really love fennel and crab together. It’s like a crab dip with a little more refinement and nuance.

Vivian Howard’s Fancy Crab Dip
One note: If using pasteurized canned crab, omit the salt or your crab dip may end up too salty. If you cannot find ground fennel seed, use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to pulverize whole fennel seeds. 

3/4 cup Duke’s Mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup grated Fontina cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound lump crab meat
1/2 cup crushed saltines
3 tablespoons butter, melted Scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, fontina cheese, ground fennel, salt, lemon juice and red pepper flakes. Carefully fold in crab meat. Once combined, transfer to a greased, shallow cast iron baking dish. Top with crushed saltines and melted butter.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and top with Parmesan and scallions. Serve with toasted bread, pita chips or crudités.

Yield: 6 servings