My favorite part of working on projects nationwide is talking to the local cooks. They are the real story, and my greatest inspiration. One particular cook, Betty Croom, born and bred in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, found out that my son's favorite dessert is banana pudding, so she went to a grocery store for some perfectly ripe bananas and vanilla wafers to make her recipe for this dessert with me.
Betty makes this recipe differently from the traditional pudding I know, which is a thick custard with chunks of bananas and crushed vanilla wafers in it. She makes a meringue to layer over the top, giving it a much more finished look. Being a traditional Southern cook, she uses half-and-half in the custard; you can use 2 percent milk or a combination like I do.
—By Chef Steve Petusevsky