Biscuit-making with James Beard Award-winning chef Scott Peacock

The chef hosts his Black Belt Biscuit Making Experience in Reverie, the 1858 historic Greek Revival mansion in Marion, Alabama
James Beard Award–winning chef Scott Peacock leading a small-group biscuit-making workshop

Photo by Jen Causey

My biscuits have always resembled hockey pucks. I’ve dreamed of making biscuits like the ones that once floated by on plates of fried chicken at Watershed, the former Decatur, Georgia restaurant of James Beard Award–winning chef Scott Peacock. They’re the masterpieces that were featured on the cover of Gourmet magazine and in The Gift of Southern Cooking, Peacock’s 2003 cookbook co-authored with his late mentor, Edna Lewis.

So here I am, on a Saturday morning, standing in the kitchen at Reverie, the 1858 historic Greek Revival mansion in Marion, Alabama, where Peacock hosts his Black Belt Biscuit Experience. As one of four “biscuiteers,” I am as eager to soak up Peacock’s wisdom as I am to sample one of the fresh-from-the-oven biscuits brushed with butter.

As he stands before us, Peacock explains why biscuits, a universally adored Southern favorite, have become his life’s work. “I chose biscuits because, in addition to being delicious, they can be made quickly with staple ingredients,” he says, noting how they cross boundaries including race and income.

In addition to using buttermilk, unsalted butter, and heirloom flour he now grows on his farm, Peacock has a secret weapon: homemade baking powder, a simple combination of cream of tartar and baking soda. “Commercial baking powders contain aluminum sulfate and leave a metallic taste,” explains Peacock, recalling the culinary tip he learned from his mentor. “You don’t need that. You’re better than that.”

As his hands create tiny rose petals from the butter in the dough, Peacock warns, “There is no self-correction in biscuit-making and no resurrection.”

The rolled-out dough is already risen as Peacock dusts a biscuit cutter and slices circles with it. He then shoves the tray into a 500-degree oven, eyes keeping close track of the chemical reaction occurring inside.

Just four minutes later, his biscuits emerge, beautifully browned and looking like gently risen…pucks. These aren’t the perfectly bouffanted biscuits served at Watershed. But rather, they reflect everything Peacock has learned in the two decades since. “When I was a younger biscuit-maker working in restaurants, we used White Lily flour because uniformity was important,” he explains.

As he distributes the still-warm delicacies topped with jam and country ham, Peacock explains why he left the bustle of a busy Atlanta restaurant for a quieter life of intimate biscuit-making in rural Alabama. “To me, this is so much more than a biscuit. It’s an offering. It’s a prayer. It’s time travel.”

This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of Southbound.