Wes gracioulsy permitted me to include a few recipes from A Place at the Table, and a portion of our conversation is as follows:
Greg Freeman: Wes, I really like your book.
Wes Hampton: Thank you!
Greg: All of the recipes seem very doable.
Wes: That's good. I tried to do stuff that's pretty doable. There's a couple in there that are a little more intermediate. For the most part, it's pretty basic stuff.
Greg: Yeah. That's what I like about it. When you're kinda dumb like me, you need all the help you can get!
Greg: I'm one of these people......I believe our roots really shape who we are and what we become and that sort of thing.
Greg: Touching on that briefly, I know you make your home there in Birmingham with your wife, Andrea, and....let's see if I get it right...your boys, Barrett, Hudson and Carden. Is that correct?
Wes: Right. That's correct.
Greg: Now tell me about your upbringing. I'm assuming you're a native son of the South. Where did you grow up?
Wes: I grew up outside of Memphis, Tennessee, in Brownsville, Haywood County.
[Author's Note: Remember the Tanya Tucker hit, "Delta Dawn"?]
Greg: Uh, huh.
Wes: I lived there until I went off to college. Once I met my wife in college, we married in '98, and she brought me down to Birmingham where she's from. And I've been here ever since. Eleven years. And I really consider this home. I love it here. I'd love to remain here as long as I possibly can.
Greg: Yeah. I've never been to Birmingham, but it's always seemed like one of those classic southern cities with a lot of history and a lot of character.
Wes: Yes....South of town where we live, it's really beautiful with lots of mountains, and it's nice.
Greg: That's cool! Did the South play a big part in shaping who you are?
Wes: Yeah, I think so.
Greg: It's hard to get away from that, isn't it?
Wes: It is. And I think these recipes are definitely more southern-inspired.
Greg: Yeah, absolutely.
Wes: There's a couple of them that aren't. The Bierox is more German-inspired. It came from my wife's family. It's one of our favorites. We have some Mexican stuff in there, too. And a couple of Italian things, too, if I'm not mistaken.
Greg: Yeah, and I think here in the South, it's all about the food.
Greg: We love to eat. Now tell me where did you get your love for cooking? Who did you derive that from?
Wes: I grew up cooking a lot with my mom, just helping around in the kitchen, and I never thought about cooking until after Andrea and I were married. She was the cook when we married, and she, again, did all the cooking. So I would go in and help her some, and I thought, 'Man, this is really fun.' And I really enjoyed it. It was relaxing to me. So I would go in and kinda start seasoning stuff, and she would just ask me, 'What are you doing?' She would taste it and see that it tasted differently. And I started watching food TV, and I just got hooked. It was all so relaxing to me. It just kinda hit me all at once. It was weird. It's one of those things that I really enjoy, and I started doing it. And I just kept on doing it. So now I'm the cook of the house.
Greg: Wow! How 'bout that! You grew up in a household of all brothers, right?
Wes: Yes, three boys.
Greg: So it's great that your mom influenced you in that area. It's far-fetched for younger folks today, but it hasn't been but a few generations ago that men didn't do a lot of cooking and women didn't do a lot of driving. And, if either lost the other, they were in trouble.
Wes: You're right.
Greg: I love the concept of the book, the title itself. Bill and Gloria Gaither collaborated with Larry Gatlin to write a song called, 'There's Always A Place At the Table.' And your vocals were featured on that song on the Gaither Vocal Band's Grammy-winning project, Lovin' Life. And now you've created a cookbook titled A Place at the Table.
Greg: Obviously, there's a literal statement there, but it's also a spiritual metaphor. What does the phrase 'a place at the table' mean to you?
Wes: That was obviously done on purpose, just because we've had a lot of people in our lives, including us, that have just been hurt. And, unfortunately, they've been hurt by people in the Church...people that claim to be one thing, but their actions reflect another thing. They talk about grace and forgiveness and accepting others the way they are and all that other stuff. I think of a friend of mine now. He's a worship leader. The time came, and he was going through some really tough stuff. Instead of the church being there to help him through it, they just pushed him away. And said, 'Sorry, you're not perfect. We can't use you.'
Wes: And, so when I heard the lyric of that song, I thought, 'Gosh, I really hope I get to sing this.' I could really relate to that so personally in my own life. So that's a really special song to me. And, with my own family...my own parents, there have been some issues in the past, and today they're still dealing with the consequences of decisions they made. It's good to be in a place where we can forgive. It doesn't mean we have to forget, but we can forgive the past and we can move on and just say, 'Hey, listen, you're not perfect and we're not perfect either. Let's see how we can approach this in a way that is peaceful and best for everybody.' So that's what we've done. I just love how I've heard so many stories about that particular song, how someone says, 'Gosh, that first verse or that second verse is me or was my father or is my mother now.' And it's just the amazing power of a lyric.
Greg: It's interesting that you mentioned that. Looking at it, at least from my perspective, I don't know of very many Christians....in fact, I really don't know of any....who always have it together and never lose their focus or never make mistakes. There are those who'd like to think we're all just nice, neatly wrapped packages, but at the end of the day we're all just sinners saved by grace. Far from perfect. We start each day over.
Greg: We just live day to day, and try to improve on where we've failed.
Greg: And, of course, we have to rely on the Lord for that. I think we're our worst critics. At least I know I am. But I think we can also be very hard on each other, too. So I'm glad you brought up that point.
Now getting back to the book, you have a really cool layout. I like how you've inserted some personal comments, some family photos and a lot of other nice touches, but I'm dying to ask you something. Did Mark Lowry, by chance, play a role in some of these comments? Some of these sound like something he would have come up with like the Gainesville, Georgia law. (laughing)
Wes: He had nothing to do with it. He hasn't even seen the book yet. Actually, my brother-in-law, Darren, Andrea's brother, was the one who designed the whole book. He laid it all out. I basically chose pictures. I wrote all the stories. I wrote the recipes. He's the one who put it all together and found a lot of those funny little facts and put 'em in there without me even asking.
Wes: He's a really creative person, and he put them in there. I read 'em, and I told him, "You've gotta leave these in here. I absolutely love this." I think it's funny, but it's true stuff.
Wes: And some of them I never knew until I read it. I'm sure people would like to know there are purple, white and orange carrots.
Greg: Yeah, sure. And it's illegal to eat chicken with a fork in Gainesville, Georgia!
Wes: I know! Who'd have thought?
Greg: I got a kick out of that. I'm about an hour and a half from Gainesville, and I know that all around North Georgia chicken farms abound. So that really doesn't surprise me at all. Chicken, especially the fried kind, is taken very seriously.
Wes: That is really funny!
Wes: I was the one who found that falling coconuts kill more people every year than sharks.
Greg: Yeah, that was a shock! I don't get around too many coconut trees. So I think I'm pretty safe.
Obviously, travelling with the Gaither Vocal Band and doing as much travelling as you do, I'll bet you've had a chance to eat at all sorts of cool places. Are there any memorable dishes or experiences that come to mind?
Wes: Yeah, there are two, specifically. There's one in South Africa. It was the second time I went to South Africa with the Vocal Band. It was when Marsh [Hall]...when his first daughter was born...and I were sitting at a meal in South Africa at a seafood place. And I don't even remember the name. It was connected to the Renaissance there in Cape Town, and it was the best seafood I'd ever had. It was just unbelievable. An amazing ceasar salad. Then we had langoustines, which I'd never heard of langoustines. Have you heard of those?
Wes: Langoustines are in between a lobster and a shrimp. They're kinda really, really big shrimp...small lobsters. It was the best shellfish. It's unbelievable. Langoustines, giant shrimp and baby lobster was the entrée I got. And it was just unreal! And Marsh got the salmon, and he says it's the best salmon he's ever had. So that was definitely one.
Marsh really appreciates food like me. Have you heard of Gordon Ramsey? He's the foul-mouthed British chef who has that show Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares on TV.
Greg: Yeah, yeah.
Wes: Anyway, he's very successful, and he has a restaurant in London called Maze. Marsh and I went there. It's a fine dining place, and I think the bill...just for me was like a hundred twenty-five U. S. dollars...
Wes: ...For my meal! But it was one of the most amazing meals I have ever had. Shrimp, filet and scallops and incredible chocolate cake for dessert. So it was a wonderful dining experience. Absolutely. It's neat to go to a place and feel like you're really being taken care of and pampered....especially when you're paying top dollar.
Greg: Sure, sure.
Wes: So those defiinitely are my top.
Greg: Yeah. Do you find yourself eating out someplace and coming home and attempting to recreate?
Wes: Yes, I do that a lot.
Greg: So it gives you a lot of inspiration when you go to other places?
Wes: Yeah, it really does. I did the chicken lettuce wraps in there, and P. F. Chang's is what inspired it. Honestly, I think they taste very close to P. F. Chang's chicken lettuce wraps. In my opinion, I don't think they're quite as good, but they're almost identical. Yeah, I love it. I go out to eat, and say, 'Yeah, I'm gonna go home and try to recreate that.' And there's another one. That Ginger Salad Dressing is unbelievable. I got that inspiration from Benihana's, the Japanese restaurant, and I like the one I came up with a little better than theirs. I just kept tweaking it and messing with it until I got the taste right. It's wonderful. It's really addictive stuff.
Greg: That's cool!
I would say that a conversation with Wes Hampton would not be complete without talking a little bit about music. I know just last week you guys did your live concert taping in San Antonio.
Greg: I'll bet you're really excited about that.
Wes: Yes. There was a great turnout, and we probably sang for over four hours. It was a four-hour taping, and they're gonna end up doing two DVDs from it, I'm pretty sure. I would assume there will be two DVDs with all of that footage.
Greg: Do you have any idea when those will be expected to release?
Wes: Yeah. The first of 2010, January 2010. They will release the same time our new CD does. So we have one CD due out in September, and our second CD is kinda all new material on it. It will release about the same time the video does and, again, that should be in January 201o. So we're very excited. It's gonna be a great, great video.
Greg: It sounds really cool. So the new CD will comprise the same songs as the DVDs?
Wes: Some. It'll have some. The one coming out in September---Reunited---is kinda all of the big Vocal Band ballads redone by this current group. And the second CD that comes out in 2010 is all new material, and we actually did a few of the songs on this video.
Wes: So we crunched them in, kinda crammed them in and tried to learn last minute. We needed new material to sing.
Greg: Sure. In the meantime, I know you've been busy with some solo appearances this summer. How is that coming along for you?
Wes: It's coming along well. I've only done four concerts, and I have one in August and one in September. They've really gone well. It's kinda nerve-racking at first when you get out there and you're singing on your own. It's on your shoulders.
Greg: Yeah, sure.
Wes: You've got to think about what to say, what songs to call, and it's all on you. It's all on your voice. It is an experience, but I have to say that, in all honesty, I enjoy singing with the Vocal Band a lot more than I do solo. In the downtime, when the Vocal Band is not singing, it's good for me to get out there and stretch myself. I'm trying to establish myself as a solo artist as well as a singer in the Vocal Band. I have to think of the future, because, obviously, the Vocal Band is not gonna last forever. So I've been thinking about my future and what lies ahead of the Vocal Band. I pray the Vocal Band will continue. You know, Bill is in great health, and his dad lived to be 92-years-old. So it's in his genes. We're praying that he stays healthy and well. He just lives to do this. He passionately and honestly loves to do this, and that's why he does it. It's because he loves it so much.
Greg: Now, do you by chance have a solo record in the works?
Wes: I've actually been talking to the Gaither organization about doing a solo CD. It's just been so crazy recently with the video taping and the CDs we've been working on. It's kinda been put on hold. We are talking about doing something in the near future.
Greg: That would really be cool!
Wes: I hope so.
Greg: This has really been a pleasure talking with you about the cookbook and your other endeavors, and I'm glad that everything is going so well for you.
Wes: It really is.
Greg: I just want to make a personal comment. I've interacted with you at the Gaither concerts backstage, and we've gotten to know each other. Eva Mae LeFevre was a friend of mine, and she told me years ago that she did not hand out compliments very readily. So, in other words, if I got one from her, it was something to appreciate! And I kinda have the same attitude. And I just want to say to you in all sincerity that I've observed your enthusiasm, your genuineness and your humility, and I have a lot of respect for you because of those things.
Wes: Thank you.
Greg: It's not every day that people, even those who wear the Christian label, have all of those attributes. So I truly have a lot of respect and admiration for you.
Wes: Thank you, Greg.
Greg: And, with my Southern Edition, I have quite a diverse group of readers. I'm sure many of them are huge fans of yours, but I'll bet you're gonna pick up a few more when they try some of these recipes!
Wes: I really appreciate it, Greg.
Greg: It's making me hungry already!
Wes, again, I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. I wish you the best. And we'll be in touch again very soon, okay?
Wes: Hey, Greg, thanks very much.
Greg: Thank you so much. You have a great weekend, and please give my regards to Andrea, okay?
Wes: Surely will. Thanks, Greg.