The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival was created in 2010 to “shine an international spotlight on the rich food and beverage traditions of the South.” This year, Mississippi boasts a strong presence with more than seven chefs and restaurants representing the Hospitality State. Take a look behind the scenes at the food, atmosphere and culture that inspires them.
Vishwesh Bhatt – Snackbar, Oxford
Part of Chef John Currence’s “dine-asty,” Snackbar offers bistro style with Southern-influenced French eats and a full oyster bar, with fresh seafood arriving daily. Bhatt began working as a line cook at Currence’s Oxford flagship restaurant, City Grocery, in 2001, and has stayed with the restaurant group since then. He opened Snackbar in 2009. Some of the restaurant’s popular options include fried boudin balls, roast quail, baked catfish, softshell crab, amongst others. The restaurant also offers occasional live music and entertainment. Chef Bhatt has been a James Beard award finalist numerous times for Best Chef in the South.
John Currence – City Grocery, Oxford
Known as the “crown jewel” of the historic downtown Oxford Square, City Grocery offers classics like shrimp and grits, pork belly, duck breast, scallops and steak. Currence was born in New Orleans but began cooking in North Carolina during his culinary schooling. He trained in French technique and Southern cuisine, and eventually worked as sous chef at both Gautreau’s and Bacco in New Orleans, before opening City Grocery in 1992. He is also owner of Boure, Big Bad Breakfast, Snackbar, Lamar Lounge and The Main Event Catering. He won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South in 2009.
Cole Ellis – Delta Meat Market, Cleveland
Born and raised in Cleveland, the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Cole Ellis worked his way through restaurants in South Carolina and Tennessee before moving home to open Delta Meat Market. The market offers customers the freshest selection of meat and veggies, with specials changing daily to showcase items in season. Menu items include house-smoked sausage, bacon and deli meats, soups, salads, and sandwiches. As Chef de Cuisine, he has participated in the James Beard Foundation’s “Sunday Supper South” series dinners and the Williams-Sonoma “Tasting Table” chef series.
Derek Emerson – Walker’s Drive-In, Jackson
Located in the trendy Fondren neighborhood, Walker’s Drive-In focuses on local, fresh ingredients and sustainable seafood. Popular options include BBQ oysters, tamales, flounder, seabass and redfish. Chef Emerson spent summers with family in Meridian, Mississippi, and returned to work as executive chef for Schimmel’s before opening Walker’s in the former 1950’s diner in Fondren. He and his wife also own Local 463 in Madison. Chef Emerson has been a James Beard Award semi-finalist over several years for Best Chef in the South.
Elizabeth Heiskell – Debutante Farmer/Elizabeth Heiskell Catering, Oxford
In 2011, with her husband and three daughters, Elizabeth Heiskell moved to the Oxford area and started Woodson Ridge Farm, providing produce to chefs, restaurants and families in the surrounding communities. Debutante Farmer, Elizabeth’s brand, includes bloody Mary mix, pickles, jams and other canned produce from the farm. Her catering company, Elizabeth Heiskell Catering, offers catering for any size event. Some of her specialties include fried green tomatoes, steamed gulf shrimp, cornbread catfish, and tailgating items like pimiento cheese, brisket, and peanut butter bars.
Ty Thames – Restaurant Tyler, Starkville
Starkville is quickly advancing as one of Mississippi’s culinary hotspots, and Restaurant Tyler is at the forefront. Chef Thames supports the “eat local” movement and uses only fresh, local ingredients from around the region in his dishes. The menu boasts BBQ fried okra, sweet potato gnocchi, fried chicken, po’ boys and more. Thames is a Mississippi native who began cooking at a young age and went on to study under Chef Leonardo of Maria Luigi Restaurant in Italy. He worked at several restaurants in the Washington D.C. are, including the Ritz-Carlton, before moving home to Mississippi and starting Restaurant Tyler. He won the Mississippi Seafood Cook-off in 2015.
For more information on Mississippi restaurants, chefs, and local cuisine, come see us at www.visitmississippi.org.
Photo credits: City Grocery; Grant Ellis for Delta Meat Market