Folks often asked Doc Kennard what kind of a doctor he was. He’d answer, “I’m the doctor of food.” Doc owned a little eatery –– in its better days, a fishing shack –– on a tidal inlet in Virginia. His neon sign blinked, “Gumbo Eats.”

Folks often asked Doc Kennard what kind of a doctor he was. He’d answer, “I’m the doctor of food.”

Doc owned a little eatery –– in its better days, a fishing shack –– on a tidal inlet in Virginia. His neon sign blinked, “Gumbo Eats.”

The deal about Doc was he invented his own kind of restaurant. He was the greeter, cook and waiter –– he did relent one day and hired a bus boy.

“Things are more simple here,” he said.

That meant Doc took over the role of your mother and decided what you’d eat. There was only one dish, and it was what Doc felt like cooking that day. That meant one of the 2,000 versions of gumbo he had in his head.

Even stranger than this, every gumbo was incredible. It had to be. Even in 1974, eating in a shack on oil-cloth tables was not exactly what folks expected. Seeing Doc pop out of his rat-hole kitchen in his whites and toque (chef’s hat) cemented the ambiance.

He needed no juke box. Doc sang fishin’ songs as he worked, stuff like “Blue Marlin” and “Cletus Take the Reel.”

Our first time there, it was chicken-wing gumbo. At that time, wings were considered junk food and not the trendy, over-fried appetizer of later years. Groceries often gave the wings away.

Doc’s gumbo was a revelation. I refused to leave without the recipe.

“You’ll need this,” he said, producing a crusty, black, cast-iron stew pot.

The only thing else you’ll need is cold, cheap beer, a loaf of French bread, few fishin’ songs and three hungry friends. And a warm peach Sonker, the Southern deep-dish cobbler.

DOC KENNARD’S CHICKEN-WING GUMBO

 2 pounds chicken wings
 1 cup bell pepper, chopped
  2⁄3 cup celery, chopped
  1 cup onion, chopped
  1 pound ground beef
  28 ounces (1 can) tomatoes
  3 cups chicken broth
  Salt to taste
  1 teaspoon thyme
  1⁄2 teaspoon allspice
  1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
  1 cup lima beans (frozen or canned)
  1⁄2 cup okra, sliced, if you can find it
  2⁄3 cup corn kernels
  6 slices bacon, chopped
  1 teaspoon filé powder (optional)
  Bottled hot sauce on the side
  Cooked rice

Cut off wing tips and discard. Brown bacon and remove to paper towels. Remove all but two tablespoons fat from the bacon skillet and brown wings on all sides. Remove to paper towels.

Sauté bell pepper and celery in the fat until tender, about 3 minutes. Add beef, stirring to crumble and brown. Drain off fat and add wings and remaining ingredients except for corn and beans, chopping tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Simmer, covered, until chicken is tender, about 15 minutes. Add lima beans and corn and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes. Off heat and stir in filé to thicken, if desired. Garnish with bacon and with a mound of cooked rice on top.

Notes: Minus the chicken, this is a basic gumbo for seafood.

Serves 4