Prison Chef's Death Row Recipes

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With recipes for "gallows gravy" and "rice rigor mortis," Brian Price's new cookbook brings a touch of dark wit to a subject seldom welcome at the dinner table: death.

But it's the taste of Price's humor, not the flavor of his dishes, that is raising questions about "Meals to Die For," a collection of 42 recipes for final meals requested by inmates on Texas' death row.

"Some folks think I'm poking fun at a serious and solemn subject," said Price, who prepared 220 such meals in a prison kitchen in Huntsville while serving time himself. "My intention is not to offend anyone."

His recipes — such as Old Sparky's Genuine Convict Chili, in levels of spice measured at 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 volts — have drawn criticism from at least one victims' rights group.

"He's a scum-sucking bottom-feeder," said Dianne Clements, president of the Houston-based Justice For All, complaining that Price is trying to profit from crime at the expense of victims.

The book, scheduled to be published in March, is as much about prison experiences as food.

"There's a fascination with death, the macabre, a curiosity of the dark side," said Price, who was paroled last year after serving 14 years on a pair of convictions related to the abduction of his brother-in-law and a sexual assault on an ex-wife.

The book says the favorite last meal is cheeseburgers and french fries. Steak, ice cream and fried chicken are popular too, Price said.

Vegetables? Not so much, although one inmate wanted fried squash, fried eggplant, mashed potatoes, snap peas, boiled cabbage, corn on the cob, spinach and cheese-covered broccoli with his chicken.

Price is not the first to tap into the public's fascination with final meals.

Until December, the state Department of Criminal Justice listed on its Web site every item requested in a last meal since Texas resumed capital punishment in 1982. That was 313 meals until the list was eliminated after some people complained it was offensive.

"The subject of last meals is one that seems to captivate the public," department spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. Price will "definitely find an audience."

Prison officials try to meet meal requests but usually choose from whatever is available in the prison pantry. That means a request for lobster may bring fish sticks, the closest thing to seafood in stock.

Price begins the book with the filet mignon he was asked to cook in 1991 for Lawrence Buxton, who was executed for a robbery and slaying in Houston. He received a T-bone instead because the pantry did not stock the more expensive cut of meat.

He later learned from a corrections officer that Buxton had complimented the meal.

"That little feedback — it moved me," he said.
  • Lauren Johnston

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