On a beautiful summer afternoon, the grill is smoking and Karen and Fred Socks’ aroma-filled backyard patio in Tradition is full of people from all backgrounds and professions. Their common thread consists of a genuine appreciation for the entertaining couple, a love for the Gulf Coast, and a hearty appetite.
Walter and Katherine Blessey, owners of Chateau Blessey, a bed and breakfast in Biloxi, are frequent guests of the spontaneous gatherings and always look forward to spending time with their dear friends. “Any time Fred and Karen put on a party, it’s going to be a treat because Fred is an excellent chef and Karen is the ultimate host,” Walter says. “It’s a very good combo and we don’t miss an opportunity to visit the Socks.”
Adds Katherine: “Everything is always fresh, hands-on and it just makes you feel welcome, and it’s nice to entertain each other,” she says. “I love their spirit and they are very giving, gracious and honorable. They have become ambassadors for our community.”
While classic jazz standards play in the background, guests help themselves to a colorful, sumptuous display of Fred’s hard work. After everyone sits down to get in a few bites, Fred’s curiosity gets the best of him and he can’t wait any longer.
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“OK, so how’s the food?” he asks. As the unanimous, overwhelming praises billow for a job well done. The chef beams with pride and is grateful for another successful gathering. An invite to one of the Sock’s well-known gatherings at their Biloxi home in Tradition guarantees three things: Great conversation, plenty of laughter and an unforgettable, savory menu of world cuisine.
The couple thrives on networking, but it’s definitely not always about business. They are both very passionate about sowing into their community by serving a number of organizations. To them, it’s a key ingredient for a happy life. But, part of investing into their community also includes hosting weekend get-togethers to provide a relaxing escape that leave Monday-Friday cares behind for just a few hours.
They may be known on the Gulf Coast for their volunteer efforts and principles of philanthropy, but their reputation for providing a fun atmosphere to kick back and have a good time with friends also is celebrated.
“We’re very social people, so to be able to bring people into your home and feed them good food and have some camaraderie is just a great thing,” Karen says. “Sense of community is so important — it’s important to know your neighbors to share with them and to support them. That’s a big part of us.”
Fred is the mastermind of selecting dishes for a gathering, and he quickly adds, absolutely no cookbooks are involved. He falls into the category of great chefs not bound by exact measurements. A little of this, a little of that and a lot of heart is all he needs to give his guests an amazing culinary experience.
He is a civil/structural engineer by trade and a chef by passion. “Cooking is a lot of fun for me,” Fred says. “I enjoy it and it’s very therapeutic — it’s my getaway. There are some things I brag about, and cooking is one of them!”
Fred has no formal training in the kitchen. He grew up in Gambia, West Africa, and although, culturally, it’s not common to find men in the kitchen, his love for cooking developed by closely watching his mom prepare meals for the family. At age 12, his acquired skills were tested when he had to cook for his siblings while his parents were on vacation because the nanny hired to cook was running late.
The rookie menu included bacon, eggs, grits and spam. “The nanny tried it and liked it so much, she would let me cook without telling my mom,” Fred says with his infectious laugh. “I enjoyed it, and since then, I’ve always liked watching how people react to my cooking.”
That reaction still drives Fred, but his cuisine has moved on to a healthier fare. One of his specialties is grilled, slow-cooked lamb chops marinated in a blend of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, thyme, Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, garlic and blend of curry, which is then served with a spicy Latin American garnish of diced jalapeño peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, olive oil and vinegar.
Other menu favorites include “a very mean potato salad” and a French version of tabouleh, a wheat-based couscous salad with finely chopped cucumbers and ripe tomatoes mixed with lemon juice, thyme, olive oil and a little water.
And of course, what’s an outdoor party without cool, refreshing cocktails. While Karen is known for her “Golden Fox” margarita on the rocks, Fred is known for making Marquisette, a blend of Perrier water, chardonnay, champagne and slices of lemon soaked in sugar. Beverage staples also include a selection of red and white wine and Heineken beer.
Karen says cooking relaxes her husband and he loves to hear his guests’ feedback. “I don’t care how busy Fred is with his many projects, he will take time to prepare a meal. He loves feeding people and entertaining them.”
Before the party comes to an end, Katherine leans over and gives a valuable piece of advice to a visiting couple interested in building a house in Tradition: “Stay friends with the Socks and you’ll be happy forever.”
1 bottle of champagne
1 bottle of chardonnay wine1 6-pack of Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water 4 to 5 lemons, sliced and soaked in sugar overnightMix all ingredients and serve over ice