The farm-to-table movement is gaining ground in Mississippi as chefs across the state focus on serving locally grown and raised products, which supports area farmers and keeps consumers coming back for more. “When eating at restaurants, people really like having the freshest ingredients possible,” says J.J. Carney, founder of eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI magazine. “Plus, this movement is a great way for us to support one another and keep our dollars in the local economy. Some of these farms have been around for generations, and without this movement, I feel like they would be a dying breed. Thankfully, they’re being kept alive.”
More Than a Trend
To Chef John Currence, owner of Oxford- based City Grocery Restaurant Group, the farm-to-table movement isn’t a fad – it’s a way of life. Growing up, he spent his summers working in his grandparents’ gardens and savoring the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables, and those memories have helped him cultivate a thriving career in the food industry. “For me, it’s all about capturing the flavors of my childhood,” Currence says. He opened City Grocery in 1992, shortly after moving to Oxford, and has since opened Bouré; Big Bad Breakfast, which also has a location in Birmingham, Ala.; Snackbar; Lamar Lounge; and The Main Event – all in Oxford. Whenever possible, Currence uses locally grown and produced foods to create his menu items. In addition, each of Currence’s restaurants have ever-changing menus as he strives to serve in-season foods, ensuring that each dish has the flavor that Mother Nature intended. “I’m trying to recreate an experience and put it on a plate in front of you and transport you to that place,” Currence says. “That happens with a tomato that I grow or get from the farmers market here in town that I know somebody has grown and picked from the vine when it’s ripe. That’s the only way to get that flavor.” Serving up that homegrown flavor has helped Currence find success with customers and critics alike. In 1998, he won the Restaurateur of the Year and Chef of the Year awards from the Mississippi Restaurant Association, and in 2006, he received the Southern Foodways Alliance Guardian of Tradition Award. Among other honors, Currence also won the James Beard Foundation Best Chef South award in 2009.
Movement Maintains Momentum
Mississippi diners are eating up the farm-to-table movement, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Restaurants like Parlor Market in Jackson, Delta Bistropub in Greenwood, Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen in Jackson are also serving local foods, contributing to the state’s varied selection of farm-to-table dining spots. “It’s great to go into a restaurant, open a menu and see that a lot of the ingredients came from right here in our own backyard,” Carney says. Since launching eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI magazine in 2011, Carney says she has noticed the farm-to-table movement growing as more chefs across the state are connecting with area farmers and many diners – especially young people – who appreciate the fresh flavors they may have never tasted before. “So many children don’t realize where their food comes from,” Carney says. “They think it comes from the grocery store, so I think it’s great to show them that we can grow our own food and make it into something good. Mississippi chefs are really doing amazing things and creating amazing dishes with local ingredients.”