Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interview with Nathalie Dupree, write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate

Nathalie Dupree has written numerous cookbooks, hosted hundreds of television shows, and won a couple of James Beard Awards. This fall, the vivacious septuagenarian, wants to add United States Senator to that already impressive resume. Early this month, she declared herself a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate, saying, “I have one goal in this campaign: to cook Jim DeMint’s goose.” She then quipped, “First I’ll have to find him, which means searching for him–in Delaware or Alaska, or Florida, or Ohio, or Nevada, or maybe I’ll find him in Arizona.”

I decided to call Dupree to ask how the goose is coming along. She answered my call with all the down-to-earth gentility one would expect from a Charleston chef known for her exuberant manner and somewhat scattered, but brilliant, cooking style.  I asked her why she thought she might be the person to run against DeMint.

“Well, I couldn’t figure out who had the name recognition,” she said. “And I just got mad. His self-righteousness and hubris…it angered me that he was using his hobby horse to punish the people of South Carolina. He is laughable, but it wasn’t funny anymore.” She tried to think of other people who might run. “The Lee Brothers were out because you can’t run brothers,” she said of the other famous Charleston cooks, who are also her neighbors. “And Pat Conroy, well, I don’t know if he would be a good Senator.”

People often compare making laws to making sausage, and so I wondered if her kitchen skills would translate to the Senate. “Any kind of kitchen experience helps. You can delegate authority, and try things out. Talk to people and see what works. A lot of kitchen skills translate. I can work with people. I feel confident. I am not so extremist that I couldn’t work with Lindsey Graham. He tries to work with everyone,” she laughed. “I’m not too proud to work with him.” But, according to Dupree, DeMint is.

Dupree’s major issue is the Port of Charleston. The morning that we spoke, the New York Times ran an article “DeMint’s Stand Against Earmarks Grows Lonely as State Sees Need.” Lindsey Graham has requested an earmark for $400,000 that would pay for an Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study on dredging the Charleston Harbor in order to make it deep enough for new super tankers to come to the Harbor anytime (and not just at high tide).  The Senate has approved earmarks for ports in other states, but according to Graham the Senate did not want to approve the money without the support of both of the state’s senators. DeMint claims to support the dredging of the harbor, but is so strongly opposed to earmarks that he will not support it.

Dupree said, “Just looking at all the parts of the state, you know they need the port. There’s money out there for all that. You just have to know how to work with other Senators. I really believe that DeMint just doesn’t know how the Senate works. He’s so arrogant that he thinks he knows better than the whole Senate.” According to Dupree, the irony is that “DeMint wants to create a whole new level of bureaucracy and make a study to study the feasibility of the study. He’s going to find it impossible to get anything done because he’s supported so many people against established senators that no one will ever be willing to work with him.”

Dupree is quick to clarify when asked about the environmental impact of the port. “I am not making a decision that it should be dredged. I am not pretending to be an expert. But it is a senator’s job to get the bacon so that the people who do know can make the study. I want the information. Because in 2014 the Panama Canal will take larger boats. We’ve already gone from the 4th Port to the 9th port [in terms of use]. Savannah is killing us. And we’ll have to work with environmentalists to see about jobs vs. the environment. That’s a state issue. But bringing in the money for the study is a federal issue and DeMint is not doing his job. Earmarks are not a four-letter word.”

When asked about Alvin Greene, Dupree would say only “Bless his heart. I wish him well.”  She refused to comment any further on the Democrat’s strange candidacy, saying “It would make things even more confusing.” She paused and added. “Anyone who has worked with me knows that I am a messy cook. I make a mess in the kitchen. But I’m good at cleaning up messes. That’s what I do. I want to go up there and get to work for the good of South Carolina,” even if it means “leaving Charleston at the prime time, which is always a bad thing.”

1 comment:

  1. You might've asked her why she wouldn't support Tom Clements, who is at least on the ballot. Voting for Clements is easy. He's a clear alternative to DeMint.