Enjoy Mississippi’s Fresh Fruit All Year Long: Basic Canning 101

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Town & Gown
May 2013
Article and photos

Spring is our reward for surviving the wet, cold, grey weather that comes with winter.  When green buds start forming on the tree branches, it’s like a glimmer of hope has arrived.  However, when fresh produce starts showing up at the local farmer’s market, it’s time to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Currently, strawberry season is in full swing in Mississippi.  Unfortunately, it won’t last for long.  Canning is a great way to take advantage of the plentiful fruit that is in our backyard right now so you can enjoy it all year along.  Preserving and canning food isn’t just for grandmas anymore.  The art has seen a resurgence in recent years due to the increase in the price of food and concerns over the use of artificial ingredients and preservatives.

One advantage to canning your own fruit is the quality and freshness of the fruit.  Fruit begins to lose nutrients as soon as it is harvested, so the sooner you eat it, the better.  Fruit purchased from a local farmer’s market has typically been picked within the last 24 hours.  Fruit purchased from a major grocery store chain may have been picked up to a week prior.  Sometimes the fruit has been picked before its ripe, in anticipation of the long lead time needed to get it to its final destination, preventing it from fully developing all its nutrients.

Canning works by boiling food to kill any bacteria and sealing the can (or jar), creating a completely sterile environment.  Because there is no bacteria present, the food does not spoil, allowing home canners to store unopened food for an extended period of time.

If you are new to preserving and canning fruits and vegetables, strawberries are a good place to start.  Strawberries are naturally high in acid, meaning they can be processed using the water bath canning method and do not require the use of a pressure cooker, as is required when canning vegetables and meat.  The only tools you need are a stockpot deep enough to cover your jars with at least two inches of water, glass mason jars with lids and rings, a jar rack, and a basic utensil kit.  Most of these items you may already have on hand or can be purchased at your local grocery store.

Because the goal is to create a sterile environment for the food, it makes sense to thoroughly clean and sanitize your jars.  Check jars to make sure they are not chipped or cracked.  Wash jars, rings, and lids in warm soapy water, then sterilize the jars only in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Once sterilized, remove the pot from the heat, but allow your jars to stay in the hot water to keep warm.  Pouring hot jam into a cold glass jar can cause the jar to shatter.

Place jar lids in hot, but not boiling, water.  Hot water softens the gummy material on the lid that seals the jar.  However, boiling water will activate the lids and render them useless before you even get started.  While jars and lids can be reused, lids can only be used once.

One term you may come across in canning is “headspace.”  Headspace is the space from the top of the jar to the food or liquid in the jar. Too little headspace, and the food may boil over and prevent the lid from sealing. Too much headspace and the jar may not seal properly because the processing time is not long enough to drive the air out of the jar. Food at the top of the jar may also discolor.  Most recipes will instruct you on how much headspace to leave.  Many basic kits come with a ruler to help you measure headspace.

Once the jars have been processed and allowed to cool, check the lids to make sure they do not flex up and down.  Occasionally, a jar will not seal.  The contents are safe to eat, but the jar needs to be refrigerated and eaten immediately.  According to the The National Center for Home Food Preservation, properly sealed jars have a shelf life of at least one year.  Once opened, your strawberries should be kept refrigerated and consumed within one month.

Taking that first taste of real homemade jam made with fresh strawberries is like nothing you can buy in a store.  Once you’ve made your first successful batch, you may find the process extremely rewarding and completely addictive.

Sample recipe below.  To view the entire spread and recipes, visit the Town & Gown website.

Small Batch Homemade Strawberry Preserves

  • 2-1/2 cups sliced strawberries (about 3 pints)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoon pectin (I used Sure Jell)
  • 3-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 (12 ounce) glass preserving jars with lids and bands

 

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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.

Ya’ll Come Back, Now! The origins of Mississippi’s favorite condiment

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI April / May 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
April /May 2013
Article and photos

There are a few ways to tell when someone is not from Mississippi. If they don’t speak with a drawl, if they are in too much of a hurry, or when presented with a Mason jar of comeback sauce, they look at
you and ask, “What is it?” That last one is a dead giveaway.

Very few condiments are as versatile as comeback sauce. Mississippi-native, chef and food writer Robert St. John refers to the spicy sauce with an orange-pink hue as “ . . .the Queen Mother of all Mississippi condiments.” A combination of Thousand Island dressing and remoulade sauce, comeback sauce was named because it’s so good that you’ll “come back” for more. It’s more than just a way to dress up a bowl of salad greens – comeback sauce is slathered over po’ boy sandwiches, used as a dip for French fries, or spread over saltines for an afternoon snack.

Other Southern towns may try to lay their claim as being “The home of . . .” But the city of Jackson is the only town that can lay claim to the origins of comeback sauce. The exact details of how it got its start are a little sketchy, but most local food historians agree that comeback sauce originated in the 1920’s or 1930’s at The Rotisserie, Jackson’s first Greek restaurant. It began as the restaurant’s house salad dressing and quickly spread to other restaurants across the state.

Today local Jackson eateries such as the Mayflower, the Elite, the Cherokee, Crechale’s, Primos, C. S.’s, Hal & Mal’s, and Walker’s Drive-In all serve their own version. Across the state, you’ll find comeback sauce served in Robert St. John’s restaurants in Hattiesburg, Ajax Diner in Oxford, or Giardina’s in Greenwood. But truthfully, if you walk into just about any mom-and-pop establishment in Mississippi, chances are they’ll have their own version.

Several local food purveyors – such as Bullshed out of Pelahatchie, MS; Oxford Falls in Starkville; and
Thames Food in Oxford – now sell their own commercially bottled blend of comeback sauce. That’s
great news for homesick natives living elsewhere or non-natives who are curious as to what all the fuss
is about.

If you really want to make homemade, you can bet just about every family has their own version. The
basic ingredients are always the same, but some recipes include a dash of this or that to suit different
tastes. You may have a little trouble getting some people to share what makes their comeback sauce so
special. Many recipes have been passed down over the years and are considered a well-guarded family
secret. However, we were able to snag a copy of what the original Rotisserie restaurant served so many
years ago.

Rotisserie Come-Back Dressing

  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup chili sauce or ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 cup Wesson oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Dash of Tabasco
  • Salt to taste

Measure out all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until everything is well-combined.

Store in an airtight container. Refrigerate any unused dressing.

Makes approximately 1 quart of sauce.

In the Bloglight: Angie’s Southern Kitchen

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI April / May 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
April / May 2013

Mississippi native Angie Sarris has amassed quite an impressive cookbook collection since she began cooking as a young girl. In fact, she estimates she has over 2,000. Her massive collection means she
isn’t likely to run out of ideas for her blog, “Angie’s Southern Kitchen.”

Angie comes from a long line of cooks. While growing up in Laurel, her grandparents loved to entertain
and she has fond memories of large crowds showing up for Sunday lunch after church, fish frys, or casual meals with family friends. Angie and her husband moved to Atlanta, Ga., shortly after getting married and once on her own, she started working on her own style of cooking.

The biggest challenge she faced as a newly married cook was combining her Southern roots with her husband’s Greek lineage. She began learning how to prepare some of the most popular Greek dishes, but soon learned that Greeks are very different from Southerners.

“Greeks are like Italians – they think their grandmother’s food is the best,” Angie explains. “Well, I did not have a Greek grandmother to be loyal too. I would try all the different family member’s dishes and I was free to like the one that TASTED the best.”

Angie began picking her favorite aspects from certain recipes and combining them to make her own unique Greek dishes. While she was met with resistance at first, she now gets rave reviews from her husband’s family.

“You know they liked it when they ask for the recipe,” she adds. “Success!”

In July 2011, Angie launched her blog as a way to organize her recipes and share them with family and
friends.

“I am always changing a recipe trying to get it just right. I needed a way to keep up with my recipes and journal what I wanted to keep. But when I would go back to it I could not remember which one we liked, did not like, or where I put it,” she says. “I was always having someone request a recipe from me all the time. It would be hard for me to go back and put my hands on it with all the recipes I have. Then I decided, hey I am going to do a blog and just journal what I cook, what I really like and want to repeat. Then my friends can follow along and visit when they want and it is there for them as well.”

Angie continues to see success with her blog and loves to receive phone calls, emails and packages from
her readers. In addition to cooking, she also enjoys traveling. However, she will admit that there is no place like the South.

“I have to say Southern is still the best the world has to offer. I am happy to say Southern food has a
new appreciation in the food world. I am proud to be from the South. I know how to shoot it, clean it,
cook it and put on a soiree you won’t soon forget. That is being a real Southerner to me.”

As for her library of cookbooks? Well, she’s still adding to her collection.

“How can you have too much of something you love?”

Angie’s Southern Kitchen
http://www.angiessouthernkitchen.com

Meal on Wheels: Jackson’s New Food Truck Ordinance Begins to Pick Up Steam

EDM February March 2013 covereat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2013
Article and photos

Over the last few years, food trucks have seen an almost cult-like resurgence in popularity.  They have evolved from the old-fashioned pre-made hamburgers and sandwiches to gourmet fare often prepared right on sight in a mobile kitchen.  In major metropolitan areas all over the country, a seemingly normal street corner becomes a lunch hot spot as nearby patrons line up to grab a quick meal curbside.  A few hours later, the truck has rolled on and it’s business as usual.

Food trucks require less capital and overhead costs than traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants.  Therefore, they are a less costly way to break into the food industry and can provide a boost to local economies.  However, the question of whether or not to allow food trucks to operate within a metro area is one that is frequently debated.   That’s because without regulation, food trucks can pose an unfair advantage over restaurants.   In 2011, the City of Jackson passed its first food truck ordinance allowing vendors to sell food curbside.  The new ordinance does carry some restrictions to prevent unfair practices and holds food trucks accountable to the same food safety requirements that restaurants do.  A $500 annual permit allows vendors to set up shop at one predetermined location within the Jackson city limits.  The vendors must either have a kitchen subject to approval by the state Department of Health either inside the truck or at an offsite location.  Operators also cannot serve food within 150 feet of a brick-and-mortar food establishment.

Since the ordinance was established, a few mobile food vendors have begun to spring up in the area.  Earlier in 2012, Fred’s Franks began selling hot dogs and chips three days a week from a push cart in Smith Park in downtown Jackson.  Followers of the local farmer’s market and festival circuit have likely been introduced to Garden to Fire’s innovative mobile wood-burning brick oven used bake fresh, handmade gourmet pizzas.

This past November, Jackson saw the arrival of its first traditional food truck.  Lauren Davis, owner of Lurny D’s Grille, and his crew set up shop on the corner of West and Amite Streets in front of Smith Park in downtown Jackson.  A self-taught cook and grillmaster, Davis started to seriously consider starting his own food truck shortly after the ordinance passed.  Typically, every weekday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Lurney D’s serves up freshly grilled gourmet hamburgers and hand cut French fries right from the sliding glass windows of their psychedelic, brightly colored blue and orange truck.  Occasionally, LurnyD’s will cater a private event, but fans can keep up with their whereabouts through social media.

The presence of food trucks brings more to a metropolitan area than delicious food.  Since they can set up shop virtually anywhere, they have the ability to bring more food choices to residents and workers in areas where traditional restaurants do not yet have a presence.   Food trucks allow those that live and work within an area to feel more engaged with each other and their city.  They can also bring life to places that are otherwise low-traffic.  Such is the case during one unseasonably warm day at Smith Park.  Rather than taking lunch back to the office, many patrons can be found sitting on benches throughout the park eating their lunches, enjoying the fresh air, and engaging in conversations with each other.

There are a few challenges to working in a mobile kitchen.  The obvious being cramped working conditions.  Combine that with a hot grill and a fryer and it can feel like working in a sauna despite the temperature outside.  Davis and his crew have also had to deal with a few minor unexpected issues that  a typical restaurants owner isn’t likely  to run into, like flat tires and food orders getting blown around on a windy day.

Overall, however, Davis days the response to his food truck has been very positive.  “We’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” he says.  “We are also getting a bunch of new followers on our social media sites.”  He hopes his success will pave the way for more local entrepreneurs who are considering taking the plunge into the food truck industry.

In the Bloglight: FatFree Vegan Kitchen

EDM February March 2013 cover

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2013

Susan Voisin is no stranger to the food blog world.  In 2006, she launched her blog – FatFree Vegan Kitchen – as a supplement to her already popular website, FatFree Vegan Recipes.  Her website contains over 1400 member-contributed vegan recipes.  However, Susan was looking for a place where she could share her own ideas.  At the time, food blogs were just beginning to pick up steam and there were very few that focused on vegan eating.  Susan quickly attracted a loyal following and today her blog garners more traffic than the original website.

Always an animal lover, the Hammond, La., native experimented with vegetarianism throughout her college years.  After reading the book, Diet for a New America, which examines the inhumane conditions that many animals that are bred for human consumption live in, Susan finally decided to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle permanently.  After six years as a vegetarian, she made the transition to totally vegan.

“Vegetarians don’t eat the flesh of animals–cows, pigs, birds, or sea creatures. Vegans go further and eliminate not just meat but also anything that was produced by animals, so we don’t eat eggs or dairy products, such as milk and cheese,” Susan explains.  “And we avoid using animal products as much as we can in our daily lives, so we don’t wear leather, wool, silk, or fur and we avoid household products that contain animal ingredients or are tested on animals.”

FatFree Vegan Kitchen focuses on preparing whole foods that are low in both fat and sugar.  It also teaches people how to make delicious meals using simple, natural ingredients, rather than packaged and processed foods.  In addition to recipes, Susan also provides readers a glimpse into the kitchen of her Jackson home that she shares with her husband David and daughter Elena.

Seven years later, FatFree Vegan Kitchen has won several awards, including “Best Food Blog” from the preeminent vegan magazine, VegNews, in addition to being mentioned in the Vegetarian Times, a magazine that has been at the forefront of the healthy living movement for more than 30 years.  The success of her blog has also opened up job opportunities that Susan never expected, such as doing food photography for cookbooks and advertisements.   She has been approached about writing a cookbook, something that she is considering for the future.  However, for now she will continue to improve the recipes and photos featured on her blog so that her readers keep coming back.

For anyone considering adopting a vegan lifestyle, Susan offers this advice, “Find some cookbooks or blogs you like and start cooking. You don’t have to go vegan all at once.  You can start out by finding a few vegan recipes you like and incorporating them into your diet.”

She adds, “Going vegan all at once can be overwhelming so for most people, I recommend easing into it, learning how to replace animal products with vegan ingredients as you go. You will be amazed at how easy it is to replace ingredients that you previously thought were essential, such as eggs in cakes. And you’ll be impressed with how delicious vegan dishes can be.”

FatFree Vegan Kitchen
http://blog.fatfreevegan.com

Leaving His Mark: How this 7-ft. tall Masterchef contestant towered above the competition

eatdrinkmississippiDEC2012

eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
December 2012 / January 2013

Mississippians are known for their abundant hospitality, soulful blues music, and most importantly – delicious home cooking.  Delta tamales, Gulf coast seafood, Cajun and creole influences, and even Grandma’s fried chicken have all played a role in cultivating the Southern food culture.

Mississippi has influenced several well-known celebrity chefs, including twenty-five-year-old Josh Marks.  Earlier this year, Marks became the second contestant from Mississippi to compete on Fox’s competitive cooking reality show Masterchef.  Poplarville-native Whitney Miller took home the winning title on the show’s first season in 2010.

Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Marks came to Mississippi to play basketball for Tougaloo College.  However, it was during his time off the court that he began to discover another talent – cooking.

His reason for taking up the skill is simple.

“You have to eat every day,” he said.  “College was my first time being out on my own.  I started cooking by trial and error and realized that I was good at it.”

Marks has had plenty of inspiration, from his Panamanian father that developed his love for curries, to his Southern roots that taught him an appreciation for comfort food and Creole and Cajun cuisines.

After graduating cum laude in 2009 with a degree in economics, Marks decided to make Mississippi his home and took a job as a contract specialist for the U.S. Army in Vicksburg.  While he still continued to cook for family and friends, it wasn’t until he took a trip home to celebrate his sister’s birthday that he considered making it a career.

“A friend called me up while I was in town and said, ‘Hey, there is a casting call for the show Masterchef.  Are you going?’” recalled Marks.  “I stayed up all night cooking and preparing my dish.”

The next day, Marks, who stands 7-feet tall, towered –both literally and figuratively – above 30,000 other hopeful competitors.  His shrimp etoufee impressed the judges enough to help him win a spot on the show.

Season three kicked off on June 11, 2012, in Los Angeles.  For the next three months, Marks would face several challenges, such as preparing a meal for over 200 Marines and cooking with offal, a term used to describe the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal.  While he was initially eliminated in Episode 12, he would win a special challenge two episodes later, earning him a spot back in the competition and eventually becoming one of the top two finalists.

Since the show, Marks has made several public appearances at food-related events across the country and is working on a business plan to open a recreational cooking school in Chicago.  While he admits his time on the show was stressful, it was also a lot of fun.  Adds Marks, “It really inspired me to become a chef and pursue cooking as a career.”

In the Bloglight: Supermom Chef

eatdrinkmississippiDEC2012eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
December 2012 / January 2013

Mandy Davis has been cooking since before she was old enough to see over the top of her grandmother’s kitchen counter.  As a young girl, Mandy helped her grandmother prepare meals for the children she kept in her home during the week.  Mandy’s task – making cornbread.  It was a staple at every meal and like most Southern dishes passed down from generation to generation, there was no recipe.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that, mix everything together and bake.  After being put in charge of such an important responsibility, Mandy knew she had her grandmother’s approval and the confidence to continue cooking.

Mandy launched her blog, “The Supermom Chef,” in 2010 so that she could combine her love of photography with her love of cooking.  She and her husband Matt live in Canton with their three children – an 8 year-old-boy and two girls ages 3 and 6.  Seven years ago, Mandy quit her full-time job to care for her son, who has been diagnosed with a rare disease that has required numerous surgeries and a lot of time in the hospital.  Despite the situation, Mandy still manages to keep an upbeat attitude while caring for her family, resulting in her being given the nickname “Supermom” by her close friends and family.  Since cooking is also a passion, the title “Supermom Chef” just seemed like the perfect fit.

However, Mandy is quick to point out, “I am, by no means, a trained chef. I have absolutely no formal culinary training. I’m simply a busy mom who enjoys preparing delicious food for my family and sharing my recipes with everyone else.”

Mandy hopes her blog will inspire more people to make dinner at home.   “This day in time, as busy as most families are the dinner table suffers,” she says.   “So many families think they don’t have time to make meals at home.”  Mandy tries to share recipes that are delicious, easy to prepare, and contain ingredients that are easy to find.  She also enjoys posting recipes from her past that her grandmother shared with her.

“When I prepare these recipes, it takes me back to her kitchen when she was right beside me,” she says.

So far, the response has been positive.  Mandy loves hearing from readers who have tried her recipes and come back to tell her how much their family enjoyed it.  She’s even gained a little notoriety.  “I had a friend tell me that a girl she was talking to saw me and said, ‘Oh my gosh! That was the Supermom Chef!’ Things like this blow me away because I never realized I’d be recognized like that.”

As for the future of this supermom, she hopes to one day turn her blog into a cookbook.  “I can’t imagine how it would feel to have all of my photos and recipes on paper and actually walk into a book store and see my book on a shelf,” she adds.  “Until then, I’ll continue making delicious recipes and sharing them with all of my faithful readers because that is what makes me the happiest!

One Man Show: Ro Chez

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
September / October 2012
Article and photos

If you have ever cut through the Jackson Street District in Ridgeland, you may have noticed the small, one-story, salmon-pink wooden storefront on the corner of West Jackson and North Wheatley Streets.  The 1930’s-era building, with its hand painted signs in the windows, tin roof, and wraparound porch stands out among the modern New Orleans-inspired brick and mortar buildings across the street.  While Ró Chez Dining may look a little unassuming compared to its surroundings, any die-hard foodie will tell you that when it comes to finding the best place to eat, never judge a book by its cover.

Cooking has always been in Chef James Roaché’s blood.  His very first job was as a bus boy at a Steak and Ale in his hometown of Carrollton, Ga.  However, his employer had a hard time keeping him out of the kitchen.  As soon as Roaché finished cleaning tables, he would slip into the kitchen whenever he could to help with the cooking.

For the last six years, Roaché – who has worked under such notable chefs as Emeril LaGasse — has been single-handedly changing the way Jacksonians experience eating out.  By single-handedly, we mean he is the chef, the bartender, the waiter, and the maître-d.  Three nights a week, he treats diners to a five course meal.  The menu changes weekly and usually has a theme related to a specific food or region.  He refers to himself as a “McGuyver” cook, taking ordinary ingredients that one might think would never go together and turning them in to something extraordinary.

When someone makes a reservation at Ró Chez, the goal is to make them feel like they are eating at someone’s home.  Guests get that vibe as soon as they walk in the door.  The atmosphere – from the music playing in the background, to the mismatched furniture, to the rustic wood floors and eclectic art on the wall – is laid back and relaxed.  Roaché warns that his restaurant is not for people who are looking to get in, eat, and get out in a hurry.  Taking the time to relax and enjoy the food and the company of other diners is part of the experience.  Every course is cooked right before it’s served and nothing is made beforehand.  While Ró Chez’s does not serve alcohol, he does encourage diners to BYOB.

Back in the kitchen, things are heating up – literally.  If you are lucky enough to be invited back into his kitchen, you may notice one thing is missing – the lack of conventional electric appliances.  No food processors, no microwaves, not even a modern range.  Roaché chops all of his ingredients by hand and does all the cooking over a 100-year old wood burning stove.  Before the first diners arrive, Roaché stokes the fire in his stove by adding logs that he cut himself behind the restaurant just a few minutes earlier.  On a warm evening, the wood burning stove can cause the temperature in the kitchen to get quite hot.   An array of cast iron skillets in every size are stacked near the stove with a few heating up over the flames.  Roaché stands at the counter and a rapid tap, tap, tap like machine gun fire sounds as he runs a knife through fresh vegetables he purchased from the farmer’s market earlier that day.

That’s something else he says you won’t see at his restaurant – a food services delivery truck.  That’s because Roaché only uses local ingredients.  All of his beef is sourced from a farmer in Crystal Springs.  All his vegetables are locally grown.  Even his butter, milk, and mushrooms come from a farmer he has formed a relationship with.

“Once a year, I spend a day at the farm of every farmer I do business with,” he explains.  “I work on their farm, I get to know their practices and I see how they handle their food.  I have a relationship with them.”

Diners with specific food requirements or allergies should not hesitate to make a reservation.  Roaché says he is glad to adjust his menu to meet a diner’s specific needs.  In addition to serving dinner, he also hosts a cooking class on the second Tuesday of every month.  Ró Chez’s also hosts special events around the holidays, such as Thanksgiving dinner and private Christmas parties.

When he looks back on his career from his humble beginnings as a bus boy to the chef of his own restaurant, Roaché admits he is pretty fortunate.  “I am very lucky,” he says.  “This kind of restaurant has always been my dream and I am living it.”

Ró Chez Dining
204 West Jackson Street
Ridgeland, MS 39157
(601) 503-8244
http://www.rochezdining.com
Reservations only
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
6 p.m. and 8 p.m. seatings