The novel cook

Author Randy Wayne White, known for his Florida-centric mysteries, explores his passion for food in a new cookbook.
Published Jan. 17, 2007|Updated Jan. 17, 2007

Randy Wayne White sprinkles hot sauce on a chunk of grouper, smiles at the spectacular tropical sunset over Pine Island Sound and says, "Snacks on the porch are the best."

On this porch, with these snacks and this company, it's hard to argue. White is not just an enthralling storyteller in person but the author of 13 bestselling novels about Marion "Doc" Ford, a CIA agent turned marine biologist, freelance investigator and righter of wrongs. (The 14th book, Hunter's Moon, comes out in March.)

But his latest book, Randy Wayne White's Gulf Coast Cookbook, has nothing to do with murder and mayhem, and everything to do with food.

On a balmy January evening, the big wooden table on White's porch is crowded with dishes: crisp-fried grouper chunks, chilled and served with lime wedges and coarse salt; slices of perfectly grilled steak with cilantro chimichurri; earthy, chili-spiked bean dip; smoky-flavored sweet potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked in the coals of the grill.

"If we didn't have company, I'd skip the tin foil," White says.

With his wrestler's build and close-cropped hair, he looks the part of a tough-guy thriller writer, but White seems as passionate about food as he is about writing, fishing and baseball.

The cookbook isn't the only evidence. White is a hands-on partner in a restaurant, Doc Ford's Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille, and also runs a thriving business selling his own brand of hot sauces, made in Colombia and marketed at

"Don't just taste it, smell it," he says, tilting a bottle of Doc Ford's Green Flash under a visitor's nose. "It smells like flowers, like chili blossoms."

Though his family hails from North Carolina, White was raised on an Ohio farm and grew up with traditions like smoking or salting meat to preserve it. His cookbook includes a recipe for brine-curing 100 pounds of pork.

His mother taught him to cook, White says. "I think she figured the boys should know how so they wouldn't be dependent on a woman."

He honed his cooking skills during more than 12 years as a fishing guide in Sanibel, and his culinary horizons expanded when he began writing a column for Outside magazine.

His travels often took him to Central and South America, where he found wonderful cooking - and that hot sauce.

So it made sense to think about a cookbook, although this one nearly got wiped out by a hurricane.

The fictional Doc Ford lives in an old Florida bungalow on a Calusa Indian mound on Sanibel Island. White lives one key east, in an old Florida bungalow perched on a Calusa mound on Pine Island.

The sturdy house was built in the 1920s, but it had a close call in August 2004, when Hurricane Charley barreled across the island.

"The eye came right over us," White says, "and it spawned all these tornadoes."

The houses next door and across the street "imploded," he says. On a wall of his porch, photos show a huge pile of trees and other debris, his house barely visible underneath it.

Although the house is 20 feet above sea level, a chunk of its roof was torn off, and the wind and water that came in destroyed much of the interior.

White spent the first half of the storm in his car, the rest in the house. If another storm comes, he says, "I wouldn't leave. This house is solid."

Now, the restored and refurbished interior - with its hardwood floors, leather furniture and handsome art, its cook's dream of a kitchen with a burly gas stove, acres of countertops and a windowsill lined with spices and oils - looks ready for a magazine photo shoot. On the broad porch, though, you can still see bits of debris stuck in the rafters.

Charley took a couple of other critical items.

"The hurricane wiped out all my good work habits," White says, and it's taken him a while to reorder his life. The storm also destroyed most of his recipes.

He had signed a contract to do the cookbook before Charley, but afterward, he says, "I couldn't focus on that. They kept asking me when it would be done, and I didn't even want to think about it."

His friend Carlene Fredericka Brennen, a writer, photographer and publisher, stepped in to help. "Carlene did all the work."

The result is a book that combines White's recipes with many gathered from his family and friends and from Sanibel area restaurants.

White's personal touch comes in the form of dozens of photos from his fishing guide days and excerpts from his books, many of them lyrical descriptions of the Florida land- and seascape.

White finds not only inspiration but dinner there. The grouper on the table was caught by his son Lee, home from college. (Younger son Rogan is following in Dad's boat shoe steps, working as a fishing guide out of Sanibel.)

In the morning, White heads out to gather starfruit from a huge old tree nearby. He'll take a couple of bags over to the restaurant: "The chef can do something really cool with this."

Armed with a rake, he knocks the golden ripe fruit off the tree, hopping over mounds full of angry ants to grab it.

"In the next book," he says, "I think Doc Ford will take on the fire ants."

Colette Bancroft can be reached at (727) 893-8435 or


Randy Wayne White's Gulf Coast Cookbook

By Randy Wayne White and Carlene Fredericka Brennen. Lyons Press, 222 pages, $16.95


Shrimp Cocktail With Tequila Sauce

1 cup ketchup

1 cup chili sauce

1/3 cup prepared horseradish

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons Doc Ford's Tomlinson's No Mas! hot sauce

1/3 cup tequila

Salt and pepper

4 pounds fresh Florida pink shrimp, deveined and in the shell

- Place ketchup, chili sauce, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, hot sauce and tequila in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill tequila sauce in refrigerator for at least one hour.

- Place 4 cups water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When water has come to a boil, add shrimp. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until shrimp are just pink and still firm to the touch. Drain shrimp, place in a medium-sized bowl and refrigerate until chilled. Serve as peel-your-own with tequila sauce.

Makes 2 servings.

Source: Randy Wayne White's Gulf Coast Cookbook


Georgia Wilson's North Carolina Fried Chicken

The delightful smell of fried chicken cooking on the stove brings back wonderful memories of my mother in the kitchen. This is my mother's recipe - Randy Wayne White 2 slices of salt pork

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

3 pounds chicken pieces

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 cup lard or shortening

- At low heat, render salt pork in large frying pan.

- Crack eggs into buttermilk. Soak chicken in egg-buttermilk mixture for 15 minutes.

- Combine flour and pepper. Coat chicken well with mixture. Remove salt pork from frying pan, and add lard or shortening. Heat on medium high heat. Add chicken. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook 15 minutes on one side, turn and cook covered until tender and brown (about 20 minutes).

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: Randy Wayne White's Gulf Coast Cookbook


Sanibel Beer Buster

2 ounces 100-proof vodka

3 dashes Doc Ford's Green Flash hot sauce

12-ounce beer of choice

- Place vodka and hot sauce in a tall beer stein or beer mug. Fill with your favorite beer. Do not stir.

Makes 1 serving.

Source: Randy Wayne White's Gulf Coast Cookbook

Recipes from Randy Wayne White's Gulf Coast Cookbook, Lyons Press, $16.95. Doc Ford's Hot Sauces are available at