The King’s Tavern: A new restaurant brings life back to Natchez’s oldest building

EDM Feb 2014

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2014

Drive through the picturesque streets of Natchez is like stepping into a time machine. It’s not everywhere that you can catch glimpses of grand antebellum estates through the magnolia trees. However, turn down Jefferson Street and you are sure to find one structure that catches your eye. It’s an imposing wood and brick structure that predates anything else still standing in Natchez.

The King’s Tavern has a long and colorful history. It was originally constructed in the late 1700’s from the wood of scrapped ships as part of Fort Panmure, which housed a large detachment of British troops that occupied Natchez at the time. Eventually an entrepreneur named Richard King purchased the building and set up a tavern and inn for weary travelers. The tavern also housed Natchez’s first post office and soon became a popular gathering spot for the town.

As the rise of steamboat travel began to hurt Mr. King’s profits, the tavern eventually fell into the hands of the Postlethwaite family. The Postlethwaite’s would live in the structure for nearly 150 years, until 1973 when it was purchased by an investor and was once again reopened as a restaurant.

The King’s Tavern sat abandoned for almost a year until 2013, when Doug and Regina Charboneau purchased the property. Regina Charboneau is no stranger to the restaurant business, having owned and worked in restaurants from Alaska, to San Francisco, to New York. When the couple returned to Natchez in 2000, Regina thought she was through with the restaurant business. However, all that changed when Doug decided he needed a “project.”

“I really had no intention of getting back into the restaurant business,” Regina reveals. “But Doug wanted to open a rum distillery, the King’s Tavern was available, and it seemed like the perfect place.”

Regina had just ordered a wood-fired pizza oven for her home. When a concept for the new restaurant began to take shape, she decided to construct the oven at the restaurant instead. Several months of renovations were needed before The King’s Tavern could open for business. Finally, in September 2013, the historic restaurant welcomed the general public once again.

The restaurant’s specialty, under the direction of Executive Chef Allison Richard, is handcrafted, wood-fired flatbreads topped with an array of mouthwatering toppings such as brisket and horseradish cream, smoked bacon and shaved Brussels sprouts, or shrimp and smoked tomatoes.

Like many chefs, Regina is enthusiastically embracing the farm-to-table movement. Her menu items are seasonal and she is even making her own mozzarella for the flatbreads. The bar features craft beer and cocktails, unique Italian sodas, and craft bottled sodas. Bar manager Ricky Woolfolk frequently offers mixology classes on weekends.

In Spring 2014, Doug and the Charboneau’s son Jean Luc plan to open Charboneau Rum Distillery in the restaurant’s former bar. The pair plan to sell white rum and eventually aged rum in small quantities. It will also have a tasting room and provide tours.

Rum may not be the only spirit residing in the King’s Tavern. The restaurant is notorious for ghost sightings, the most famous named Madeline, a young girl who was supposedly murdered and then buried within the building’s walls. Regardless of whether the story is true, the lore has earned Madeline her own dish on the menu. However, staff and visitors over the years have reported seeing apparitions walking throughout the tavern, including Regina herself.

“I don’t believe in that kind of thing, but there was one instance during renovations when I was meeting with the construction crews and we all saw a shadow move across the room and block out the light. Whether it was Madeline, I don’t know.”

Maybe there is a reason the tavern’s tagline reads, “Spirits of All Kinds.”

From Alaska to Natchez and Everywhere In Between: Chef Regina Charboneau lives life to the fullest and loves every minute.

EDM Feb 2014eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2014
Article and photos

Imagine being the mother of a daughter in her early twenties and one day receiving a collect phone call from –of all places – Alaska. Your daughter informs you that she’s taking a job as a cook for eight men at a construction camp in the middle of nowhere. Thirty-five years ago, chef and Natchez  native Regina Charboneau made such a call to her own mother.

“This was before email and cell phones. There was really nothing she could do about it,” she says.

Charboneau grew up in a family that loved to entertain and always felt a draw towards cooking. After high school, she attended a few different colleges across the South, but never really found her niche. That is, until one summer when she and a group of friends decided to take a trip to Alaska.

The Tobeluk Consent Decree of 1976, also known as the Molly Hootch Act, had gone into effect a few years earlier. The act required the State of Alaska to build high schools in Alaskan native villages, meaning construction jobs in the area were plentiful at the time. Regina took a job as a waitress in a café in Anchorage.  However, she didn’t work there long before a customer came in and offered her a job cooking at one of the construction camps.

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“It was a great time to be in Alaska,” Charboneau recalls. “Anchorage was only 50 years old at the time. There was so much going on. I really wasn’t qualified to do the job, but there was so much need for help in those days, that they really didn’t care.”

Despite the understandable concern of Charboneau’s mother, that trip would change Charboneau’s life forever. The work was hard, but she learned a lot about cooking. Working in the bush of Alaska meant there weren’t any supermarkets nearby. Fresh food was dropped every 2-3 weeks and had to last until the next drop. Fresh salmon and caribou were usually among the supplies. Charboneau says she became more of a game cook while living in Alaska than she ever did growing up in Mississippi.

“That experience gave me my travel lust,” she explains. “I was in my early 20’s. I felt like the whole world was open and I could do anything.”

While in Alaska, Regina also met her husband Doug. She jokes, “His girlfriend was sweet enough to introduce us.”

Eventually, Charboneau managed to save enough money to put herself through cooking school. She attended Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France, one of the first accredited professional cooking schools in France to offer instruction in both French and English. Afterwards, she returned to Alaska and accepted the position of executive chef at the Tower Club in Anchorage.

In the mid-1980’s Charboneau and her husband decided they were ready to move back to the mainland. The couple was torn between moving to New York or San Francisco, but during a visit to The City by the Bay one clear February night, they knew they had found their new home.

“It was a beautiful night and I told Doug, ‘This is the place,’” she says. “The food scene was just getting going and the timing was perfect.”

Her career in San Francisco began as a cook at the Golden Gate Grille. The restaurant was a popular hangout for singers and had great reviews, but it wasn’t what Charboneau wanted to do. Once again, fate intervened when she was introduced to a group of people opening a restaurant in San Francisco’s Regis Hotel. The opportunity was a huge leap for the young chef.

“People ask me, ‘Weren’t you scared?’ I didn’t know any better. I just dove in feet first.”

Regina’s at the Regis opened in 1985. Because of its proximity to San Francisco’s theatre district, it quickly became a favorite among theatre goers, actors, musicians, and celebrities. Charboneau would go on to open a total of four restaurants in San Francisco, including the famous Burger and Blues, which won the WC Handy award in 1999 as the “Best Blues Club in America.”

Despite her wanderlust, the call to return home to Natchez finally won her over when Charboneau’s father passed away. In 2000, she and her husband returned to Natchez with their two sons, Jean-Luc and Martin.  The couple purchased Twin Oaks, a beautiful 1830’s-era home in the heart of Natchez.

Even though life moves slower in the South, that hasn’t stopped Charboneau. She serves as the culinary director for the American Queen Steamboat Company, where she oversees menu and recipe development; runs a six-bedroom guest house on the Twin Oaks property; and frequently gives tours of her home during the Natchez pilgrimage.

In early 2013, Charboneau and her husband purchased The King’s Tavern, a restaurant housed in the oldest building in Natchez. After several months of renovations, The King’s Tavern reopened in September 2013. The restaurant specializes in hand crafted, wood fired flat breads made in a wood-fired pizza oven on site. A rum distillery is scheduled is open in the spring of 2014.

Looking back, Charboneau is the first to admit that her life has been nothing short of amazing.

“I can honestly say I have loved my life,” she admits. “I have met so many people along the way. People that I cherish and still have life-long friendships with.”

Game Day Grub

e861292_589765237737570_1936952674_oat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
December / January 2013
Recipes and photos

Superbowl munchies are almost as exciting as cheering on your favorite team and watching the commercials.  Here are a few easy to assemble recipe ideas to curb your appetite and gameday excitement builds.

Recipes included Burger and Fries Bites, Individual Mexican Layered Dip, Cookie Dough Truffles, and tablescape ideas.

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Play with Your Food: David Leathers

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI861292_589765237737570_1936952674_o
December / January 2013

If asked about his childhood, chef and Mississippi native David Leathers likes to joke, “I had a dad that believed in child labor.”  Beginning at eight years old, Leathers worked in the kitchen of his parent’s barbecue restaurant in Fulton, Miss.

“Even before I became interested in becoming a chef, cooking was always been a part of who I was,” he explains.  “It was our livelihood.”

Leathers attributes the work ethic his father instilled in him at a young age as a contributing factor for his success later in life.  At eighteen, Leathers left small town Mississippi to attend culinary school at the former Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts in Pittsburg.  He admits the move was a bit of a culture shock, but he would later go on to graduate at the top of his class. During his studies, an instructor gave him a bit of advice that would impact his career path.

“This particular instructor told me to find a specialty that makes you different from all the other chefs,” Leathers says.  He was inspired to take up food carving based on a book he owned by famous food sculptor Xiang Wang.  When Leathers discovered that Wang taught classes at The Andy Mannhart Academy in Luzern, Switzerland, he enrolled himself and was on a plane to Europe.

Where Pennsylvania was a culture shock, the young chef quickly fell in love with Switzerland.

“It is a beautiful country,” he adds.  “I didn’t want to leave.”  He did face one unique challenge, however, that most students don’t usually deal with on their first day of class.  Wang only spoke two languages – Mandarin Chinese and Swiss-German.  While it may seem impossible to take instruction from someone who doesn’t speak your language, Leathers discovered that the language barrier wasn’t really a barrier after all.

“It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language,” Leathers recalls, “It was more important that I was able to observe him and see his instruction rather than hear it.”  His experience would later inspire him to release three instructional DVD’s on the art of food carving.

David’s talents have garnered several TV appearances, most notably on TLC’s Extreme Food Sculptures.  During the show, Leathers constructed a life-sized sculpture of a woman in a masquerade mask to serve as the centerpiece for a charity ball in Louisiana.  The entire piece took 72 hours to construct.

Leathers eventually went on to launch his own brand of merchandise through his company Food Stylin.  The product line includes T-shirts and his own line of kid-safe knives.  Today, he frequently uses his talents to teach kids about healthy eating.  He makes frequent visits to elementary schools throughout the year and hopes to combat childhood obesity by finding ways to make eating fruits and vegetables fun.

“We have become a generation of convenience.  It’s not just about eating healthy food; it’s about eating real food.  Not everything comes out of a package.” he says.  “I had a little girl ask me once what my favorite vegetable was.  When I told her asparagus, her response was, ‘Ew, yuck.  Gross!’ I could tell from her response that this little girl had never actually tried asparagus.  I decided I wanted to visit every school in that community and let every kids try asparagus. Once they have the opportunity to try it, they can make their own decision.”

Leathers believes that by allowing kids to be involved in the meal process, it will open them up to trying new foods.  He hopes to be able to share his message with a wider audience through a children’s television show titled Play with Your Food currently in the works with PBS.

“It’s a tactic I use with my own five-year-old son,” he says.  “By giving kids ownership, they take pride in what they are eating.  The most important ingredient is making things fun.”

Eerie Eateries

EDM Oct Nov 2013eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
October/ November 2013

If you haven’t already made plans for this Halloween, consider forgoing the costume party and make dinner reservations instead.  It’s common knowledge that Mississippi has its share of haunted houses, so it should come as no surprise that we have a few haunted restaurants as well.  Whether the legends surrounding these establishments are true or not, that’s for you to decide.  Just remember when ordering “spirits” from the bar, it may come with a little something extra.

Weidmann’s Restaurant
Meridian, MS

Weidmann’s Restaurant is one of Meridian’s most well-known restaurants.  It opened in 1870 when the population of this city of over 40,000 people numbered less than 4,000.  After 143 years in operation, it is the oldest continuously operating business in Meridian.

It would be impossible to speculate how many people have come and gone through the doors of Weidmann’s during its long and enduring history.  Henry Weidmann, grandson of the original owner, ran the establishment from 1927 until his death in 1956.  He was known as a kind-hearted entrepreneur, extending business hours to accommodate railroad workers and even opening up the restaurant on Christmas Day to serve servicemen during World War II.

It was Henry’s kindness that surrounds one of the restaurant’s legends.  During the Great Depression, a young couple traveling through the state looking for work stopped into Weidmann’s for a meal.  Henry picked up the tab, telling the couple it was an engagement gift.  The couple promised to return on their first wedding anniversary, never to be seen again.  No one knows exactly what happened to them, but restaurant staff claims to see the ghostly shadows of a young couple sitting at one of the tables.  Doors have also been known to fly open, loud bangs are occasionally heard when nothing in the room is overturned, and footsteps can be heard walking around upstairs when no one is there.

Aunt Jenny’s Catfish
Ocean Springs, MS

Travel down Washington Avenue in Ocean Springs, and you’ll spot an antebellum home dating back to 1852.  Surrounded by stately 500-year-old live oaks, the house has served as the home of Aunt Jenny’s catfish for more than 30 years.  However in a past life, the 160 year-old house served as a sanitarium, marketing its nearby mineral springs as having healing powers.

The establishment’s most noteworthy ghost is that of a gentleman with dark hair wearing dark slacks and a white shirt sitting at the bar in the Julep Lounge.  People who have seen the man claim he is drinking beer from a can, even thought the lounge does not serve beer in a can.  Patrons have also reportedly tried to buy a drink for the stranger, only to come back and discover he has vanished into thin air.

Other ghostly sightings include a face in the second story window and a young girl playing with a ball.  Lights flicker, faucets turn on by themselves, doors fly open, and footsteps can be heard coming from the second floor.

Cedar Grove Mansion Inn and Restaurant
Vicksburg, MS

While Cedar Grove Mansion Inn and Restaurant was built out of love, the house has seen its share of tragedy.  Completed in 1852, the Greek Revival style mansion was built by planter and businessman John Alexander Klein for his young bride Elizabeth.  The couple had a happy marriage and took pride in the upkeep of their home.

During the Civil War, the home was used as a hospital for Union soldiers.  Obviously, some soldiers likely died in the house from their injuries and perhaps their spirits remained.  Later, the Klein’s 17-year-old son accidentally shot and killed himself on the back stairway.  A daughter also died in one of the upstairs bedrooms, while two infants died in the nursery.

Staff members and guests have both reported seeing the apparition of a young girl playing and soldiers dressed in Civil War-era uniforms have been spotted wandering the grounds.  The ghosts of both John and Elizabeth reportedly enjoy checking on their guests and the smell of smoke from John’s pipe can occasionally be detected in the Gentleman’s Parlor.

King’s Tavern
Natchez, MS

Built sometime in the mid-to-late 1700’s, the King’s Tavern is the oldest building in Natchez.  The tavern was originally opened by Richard King, the tavern’s namesake.  The King’s Tavern closed back in early 2012, but was recently bought by chef and Natchez native Regina Charboneau and her husband Doug  The restaurant reopened in September 2013.

The King’s Tavern is probably Mississippi’s most infamous haunted restaurant.  Ask anyone who from Natchez and they can probably tell you about Madeline.  According to legend, Madeline was a young maid who worked in the tavern and was supposedly also having an affair with Richard King.  When King’s wife Esther discovered the nature of their relationship, the jilted wife reportedly had Madeline killed.  The legend goes on to claim that many years later in the 1930’s, the remains of a young woman and two still unidentified men were discovered buried in the wall behind the fireplace.  The only actual confirmed death in the house, however, is that of Elizabeth Postlethwaite, who died in 1860 and whose family owned the building for over 140 years.

Staff and visitors to the tavern have seen full-bodied apparitions of a female walking throughout the tavern.  Footsteps appear across freshly mopped floors.  Jars come flying off the shelves, faucets turn on by themselves, doors open and close when no one is there, and chairs rock and move by themselves.

State Fair Fare

EDM Oct Nov 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
October / November 2013

After enduring the sweltering heat that comes with the summer months in Mississippi, and often lingering well into September, the slightest hint that autumn might be on its way usually creates a buzz of enthusiasm.  Fall in Mississippi means colored leaves, football games, and the arrival of the Mississippi State Fair.

Now in its 154th year, “The Fair” as it’s affectionately nicknamed, begins the first Wednesday in October and runs for twelve days.  Anticipation builds in the weeks leading up to opening day as convoys of trucks hauling parts and pieces for rides with thrilling names such as The Zipper, Ring of Fire, and MegaDrop are spotted driving along the interstate headed to Jackson.  Adults and kids alike start dreaming about their favorite rides, or if you are hungry, favorite fair foods.

Fair food falls into a category all its own.  Combinations that would never be considered acceptable outside the fairgrounds – such as deep-fried Oreo cookies or a hamburger patty sandwiched between two glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts – are welcomed with open arms, or mouths rather, under the flashing lights of the midway.  Mississippi’s fair boasts a mile-long midway offering just about any treat you could possible think of.  If you are a regular, you are probably all too familiar with a few of these local favorites.  If not, we suggest you stop by their booth and give them a try on your next visit.

Penn’s

Penn’s red and yellow logo with its smiling catfish in a white sailor cap have been a familiar site across much of Mississippi for more than 45 years.  Roger Penn’s fried catfish and chicken nugget establishment began as a drive-thru in Canton in 1967.  Since then, Mr. Penn has seen his little restaurant spread to 10 corporate locations in the Jackson-metro area and nine franchises all over the state.

Every year, Penn’s bring some of its popular menu items down to the midway, such as fried catfish, crawfish tails, popcorn shrimp, and fried green tomatoes.  But hands down, their biggest seller is the chicken-on-a-stick.  Chunks of white meat chicken are skewered with dill pickle slices and onions, dipped in Penn’s secret-recipe batter, and fried until golden brown.  People wait in line for hours and after one bite, you’ll know why.

Malone’s Taffy

Malone’s Taffy is loved by fair goers all across the South and parts of the Midwest.  But the company that produces those fluffy, chewy morsels wrapped in waxed paper are based out of Byram, Miss.  Founded by the Malone brothers almost 100 years ago, the original brothers sold the business decades ago.  However, the candy company that still bears their name has been passed down through four generations.  It was Mike Mooney, Sr., who brought Malone’s Taffy to the Mississippi State Fair.  Mooney moved his family from Southern Illinois to Jackson in the early 1970’s and set up shop.

Mike Mooney, Jr., took over the family business in 2004 and now oversees the daily taffy-making operations.  From June to October, Mooney is hitting the state fair circuit, traveling through the Midwest as far north as Wisconsin before heading back home to serve up fresh, homemade taffy to the folks back in Mississippi.

The Biscuit Booth

There is probably no food vendor more loved than the State Fair Biscuit Booth.  Lines go on for miles as hungry patrons stand in line for a pillow-soft homemade biscuit filled with warm syrup.  The best part?  The biscuits are completely free.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce oversees the Biscuit Booth every year.  They are able to give the biscuits away at no cost through donations and a team of dedicated volunteers.  Kroger donates nearly 7,000 bags of flour, while Borden supplies them with over 500 gallons of buttermilk.  The shifts of volunteers – some of whom have been working the biscuit booth for years – work day and night and on weekends to make sure their supply doesn’t run out.  It’s a sweet memory that has been passed down through the generations, and one you sure don’t want to miss.

In the Bloglight: Seeded at the Table

EDM Cover Aug Sep 2013eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
August / September 2013
Cover photo and article

Like a lot of new brides just starting out in life, Nikki Gladd – author of the blog Seeded at the Table – began learning to cook out of necessity. Her husband Ben was in graduate school working towards a Ph.D. in New Testament and money was tight. Nikki began cooking budget-friendly meals as a way to avoid having to eat out and save money.

“I was never taught how to cook while growing up, so I had a lot to learn!” Nikki says. “The more I cooked, the more I learned. The more I learned, the more I enjoyed it!”

Soon after, other newlywed friends and family members began asking Nikki for her recipes. A native of Michigan, Nikki and her husband have also lived in the suburbs of Chicago and in Southern California. Because friends and family were spread out all over the country, Nikki launched her first blog – Pennies on a Platter – in 2007 as a way to share recipes that she tried and recommended.

In 2012, Ben, Nikki, and their young son Judah left Southern California and moved to Mississippi where Ben began a teaching job at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. It was during this time that Nikki began formulating an idea to rebrand her blog so that she could share more about her faith, family adventures, travel experiences, and product reviews. Seeded at the Table launched in early 2013.

“The phrase ‘Seated at the Table’ is one that means much more to me when it comes to my relationship with Jesus Christ, and changing the ‘Seated’ to ‘Seeded’ added a nurturing/growing notion to it,” Nikki explains. “My desire is to encourage families and friends to find joy and community by being nurtured at the table – sometimes an actual physical table, sometimes a symbolic table.”

Nikki admits that living all over the country has developed an appreciation for regional foods and cooking styles. She enjoys Midwestern favorites like hot dogs, brats, and Chicago-style pizza. While in California, she grew to love multi-cultural foods such as fish tacos and fresh salads. Since moving to Mississippi, she has jumped right into Southern cooking, honing her techniques for making cheese grits, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, and beignets.

Since her rebrand, Nikki’s readers have responded positively to the change. She never imagined that when she launched her first blog over six years ago that her life would change in so many ways. Nikki has been able to turn her hobby as a food blogger into a career, allowing her earn an income while being a stay-at-home mom Judah and newborn son Simon, who arrived in May. The highlight of her career came in February when she was granted to opportunity to interview First Lady Michelle Obama one-on-one during Obama’s visit to Clinton as part of the Let’s Move! campaign to prevent childhood obesity.

When asked to describe her experience interviewing the First Lady, Nikki reveals, “In one word: ‘unreal.’ She was the sweetest lady and made me feel like number one. She’s a super intelligent woman, but also very down to earth.”

Because Nikki and her family recently bought a house in Madison, she plans to add DIY home improvement and decorating projects to her lineup in addition to travel and family posts and of course, more recipes. One of her favorite recipes on the blog is White Cheese Dip.

“This recipe is a match of the queso dip we all crave at our favorite Mexican restaurants,” she says. “Using just a few ingredients and the microwave, it can be served in anyone’s home in just minutes!”

White Cheese Dip

Ingredients:
1 1/4 (1.25) lb block White American Cheese (Land O’Lakes brand preferred), cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup diced green chiles
2 pickled jalapenos, chopped
1 ounce pickled jalapeno juice
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cold water
Pinch of cumin (optional)

Directions:
Toss all ingredients into a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, stopping to stir after every minute. The mixture might seem watery during the first few stirs, but should come together as a nice runny dip after all the cheese is melted.
Serve immediately as a dip with tortilla chips or as a sauce over your favorite Mexican dish.

*Recipe Note: White American cheese is found at most deli counters in your local grocery store.

*Reheat Instructions: Store any leftover cheese dip in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until creamy and hot.

Eating Al Fresco

919434_511684505545644_1825633308_o

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2013
Article, photos, and cover

Spring is upon us, which means now is the time to get out and enjoy the outdoors before summer heat and mosquitos drive us back inside.  One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is a picnic.  Picnics can come in every form and fashion, from a romantic date for two, a fun-filled outing with the kids, or a time to catch up the relatives at a family get together.

To ensure a successful picnic, keep things simple.  Bring foods that can be eaten with your fingers and can tolerate warmer temperatures.  Remember, everything you bring to the picnic area you have to bring back with you, so opt for disposable items that can be thrown away afterwards.  After a hectic work week, combining delicious food with fresh air and sunshine is the perfect way to unwind.

Looking for a prime spot to picnic?  Mississippi has many to choose from.  In fact, Reserve America included several of Mississippi’s state parks in its “Top 100 Campground Awards.”

The listing below is just few of our peaceful and serene parks.  Each one has something different to offer and we invite you to explore all of them.

High White State Park
Grenada, MS

Located halfway between Memphis and Jackson, Hugh White State Park is home to Grenada Lake – Mississippi largest body of water.  The park’s 135 picnic sites are strategically located in various areas around the lake and each offers its own recreational amenities that are sure to please every outdoorsman.

The obvious attraction is Grenada Lake itself and there is no shortage of picnic tables and pavilions providing scenic views of the lake and its six beaches.  But if you’re looking for a way to work up an appetite, there are also four playgrounds located in three day-use areas in addition to tennis courts, ball fields, and a fitness trail.  Grenada Lake’s nature trail and four hiking paths are the perfect setting for doing a little bird watching.  The lake is also known for its crappie fishing as well as bass, bream and catfish.

Paul B. Johnson State Park
Hattiesburg, MS

Paul B. Johnson State Park is located on Geiger Lake in Mississippi’s Pine Belt Region.  The park is surrounded by long-leaf and loblolly pines, dogwoods, and ancient oak trees, creating the perfect setting for a family picnic.

Fifty picnic areas dot the shores of Geiger Lake along with six large picnic pavilions available by reservation for large groups.  Outdoor amenities include playground equipment, a 27 basket disc golf course, and a 5,000 square-foot splash pad where kids, and even their parents, can cool off on a hot summer day.  Fishermen can fish for largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker, crappie, and channel catfish

LeFleur’s Bluff State Park
Jackson, MS

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Jackson lies the serene LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.  The 305 acres that make up the park are located on the banks of the Pearl River.  An abundance of amenities means there is plenty to do before and after a picnic.

In addition to five nature trails that lead hikers through wooded bluffs and river bottoms and beside lakes scenic swamplands, the park also features a nine-hole golf course, driving range, and children’s playground.  Fishing in Mayes Lake offers bass, bream, catfish and crappie.  The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is also located on the outskirts of the park.

Legion State Park
Louisville MS

History abounds in Legion State Park, which was originally inhabited by the Choctaw Indians.  It is one of four original state parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  In fact, the park’s visitor’s center, also known as Legion Lodge, is an impressive hand-hewn log structure that has remained unchanged since its construction in the 1930s.

The park’s 440 acres features a 1.6 mile nature trail around Lake Toppasha in addition to two miles of trails through the Red Hills Archery Range.  A children’s playground, swimming beach, and fishing are also available.  Legion State Park’s picnic area features tables, grills and picnic shelters as well as a large picnic pavilion, for large groups.

Holmes County State Park
Durant, MS

If you are making a road trip this summer on I-55, Holmes County State Park is conveniently located for a quick pit stop to stretch your legs and enjoy a bite to eat in the shade.  The 88-acre park is built around two bodies of water – English Lake and Odom Lake and has a variety of recreational amenities.

The park features three picnic areas equipped with tables and grills along with relaxing views of the water.  It also has three large picnic pavilions available for reservation for large groups.  Four miles of nature trails are good for working up an appetite or taking a relaxing stroll through the woods.  Along with playing fields, boat launch, fishing, and disc golf course, one of the park’s most unique features is a roller skating rink.

Sample recipe included with the article.  Other recipes included homemade cherry limeade, mini muffaletta sandwiches, and butterscotch pudding.

Spinach and Penne Pasta Salad

  • 1 package (16 ounces) uncooked penne pasta

 For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

 For the salad:

  • 1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced blacked olives
  • 1 package (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain pasta and rinse in cold water.  Set aside.

While pasta is cooking, combine the vinaigrette ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, onions, olives, and spinach.  Pour the vinaigrette over the mixture and toss until coated evenly.  Serve immediately.

Leftover can be store in an airtight container in the refridgerator for up to two days.

Serves 10

On the Menu: The James Beard Foundation comes to Jackson

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI April / May 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
April / May 2013

Even though almost three decades have passed since the death of American chef and food writer James Beard, “The Father of American Gastronomy” still plays a significant role in molding and influencing the
food culture in America. Whether through the twenty cookbooks he published during his lifetime, the cooking school where he taught, or the work his foundation has done to inspire and support future generations of cooks, James Beard’s legacy has left a mark on the world that will not be forgotten.

The James Beard Foundation was established in 1986 after Beard’s longtime friend Julia Child approached several of his friends and colleagues with an idea to preserve the Greenwich Village, NY, brownstone where Beard lived and frequently entertained students, authors, chefs, and other industry professionals. Today, the Foundation mentors future generations of chefs through scholarships, educational programs, lectures, special events, and its prestigious awards program.

Earlier this year, Jackson had the privilege of hosting “Southern Comfort Redux,” its first Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner. Seven of Mississippi’s best chefs came together to prepare a multi-course
meal complete with carefully selected wine pairings to raise money for the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Fund. Since 1991, the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program has awarded over $4.2
million in financial aid to students and working culinary professionals.

While this was the first time this event has been held in Jackson, the state of Mississippi is not a
newcomer to the scene.

“Mississippi has a really rich tradition of James Beard dinners,” revealed Chef Tom Ramsey, who hosted
and helped orchestrate the event at his restaurant Underground 119 in Jackson. “They started back in
the nineties in the Delta with KC’s Restaurant [in Cleveland, MS]. Mississippi also has a rich history of James Beard nominees. Derrick Emerson [Walker’s Drive In] was a James Beard nominee. Taylor Bowen
Ricketts [Delta Bistro] in Greenwood is also a James Beard nominee.”

Ramsey was joined by fellow chefs Dan Blumenthal of Mangia Bene Catering, which owns Bravo!, Broad
Street Baking Company & Café, and Sal and Mookies; Jeremy Enfinger, executive chef of Ruth’s Chris
Steakhouse in Ridgeland; Jesse Houston, chef de cuisine of City Grocery in Oxford; Mitchell Moore,
owner of Campbell’s Bakery in Fondren; Mike Roemhild, executive chef of Table 100 in Flowood; and
Nick Wallace, executive chef at the Hilton Garden Inn (formerly known as the historic King Edward
Hotel) in downtown Jackson.

The sold-out meal featured seven courses of the finest local cuisine Mississippi has to offer such as
Mississippi farm-raised catfish, Louisiana bowfin roe, red wine and butter poached rabbit, Gulf fresh
seafood, and Louisiana crawfish. Five sommeliers were on hand to recommend one wine and one regional beer to complement each dish. The meal stood out from other James Beard scholarship dinners in that it was served family-style, something Ramsey says has particular significance.

“James Beard was more about the process of sharing a meal not feeding someone. There is a big difference,” Ramsey explains. “We did this meal family style expressly for that purpose. We had people
who didn’t know each other sitting at the same table and instead of all of the conversation being centered around, ‘What is it that is going to be put in front of me? Here is my little plate and my little universe and I’m going to eat this,’ it was passing platters around and it was a lot more interaction.”

The meal was so successful that the group has been invited to recreate the dinner at the James Beard
House in New York City. An invitation to cook at the James Beard House is highly coveted and has been extended to other noteworthy chefs such Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jacques
Pépin, and Charlie Trotter. Plans to set a date are currently in the works.

Overall, Ramsey could not be more pleased with the way the meal came together. “It was fantastic,”
he said. “Seven great chefs – all with different influences and different talents – that kind of share
this passion for creating really wonderful things and the interaction you get from feeding someone.
Jackson is really developing its culinary scene and this was a great way to move the ball forward for the chefs of Jackson. It’s a great validation of what we’re doing here.”

For more information about the James Beard Foundation, visit http://www.jamesbeard.org.

Neck Ties to Chef’s Knives: Tom Ramsey

April / May 2013
Article and photos

Vicksburg native and chef Tom Ramsey began his career in an unlikely place.  He didn’t start out bussing tables as a teenager or prepping ingredients and taking orders as a young chef fresh out of culinary school.  In fact, up until three years ago, Tom Ramsey worked as an investment banker.  So how to you make the leap from carrying a briefcase to wielding a chef’s knife?

“My passion is cooking.  I was always looking for the opportunity to make a really dramatic career change, but it never really made sense to do it,” Ramsey said.

The pivotal moment came one night as Ramsey and his wife were watching the Food Network.  Ramey’s wife asked if he would rather be cooking to which Ramsey revealed that he would.

“We talked about the financial hardships we might face with moving from a professional career to just
starting over as a cook in my forties,” he recalls.  “We made a decision together to do it and we haven’t looked back since.”

Ramsey worked as a caterer for a short period of time before becoming the chef and sommelier at Underground 119, a modern and stylish jazz club and restaurant which opened in 2009 in the basement
of the Old Elks Club Building at 119 South President Street in downtown Jackson.  The venue frequently hosts live jazz, bluegrass, and rock & roll acts while the menu features a selection of tapas and fresh Gulf seafood.  Ramsey admits his career move came with obvious changes.

“In investment banking we might do four deals in a year.  For three months at a time, you eat, drink, and sleep that deal.  You go to bed with it at night; you wake up with it in the morning.  It’s constantly on your mind.  You work it out in little increments and you work on this one project for forever,” Ramsey explains.  “In the restaurant business, it’s very volatile.  There is a lot less finesse and a lot more making decisions in the moment and then dealing with the consequences.  But at the end of the night, it’s done and you walk away from it and go home.  It starts all over again the next day, but it doesn’t carry over.”

Taking such a huge leap in his career was challenging in the beginning.  “It was really baptism by fire running my own kitchen at first,” he admits.  However, he credits his fellow chefs as his inspiration and motivation for diving headfirst into Jackson’s restaurant scene.  “ I’ve learned more from friends of mine who are chefs than anywhere else.  Guys like Dan Blumenthal, Derrick Emerson, Jesse Houston, Mike Wallace, and the late Craig Noone.  Guys who are really good friends of mine and they’ve put up with me working with them on different projects. ”

Ramsey’s passion for cooking has led to both radio and television appearances.  Most recently he hosted “Southern Comfort Redux,” Jackson’s first dinner held to benefit the James Beard Foundation, with six other chefs from Mississippi.  He has also been invited to participate in Beard on Books, a monthly literary series held at the James Beard House in New York City that features readings and discussions by chefs and authors all over the world.  Ramsey plans to share some of his own writing and discuss the food culture in Mississippi.

Underground 119
119 S. President Street
Jackson, Mississippi 39201
(601) 352-2322
http://www.underground119.com

Hours:
Tuesday 5 p.m.-11p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Friday 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturday 6 p.m. – 2 a.m.