By Jim Dees – Oxford’s solid literary reputation is impeccable, from Faulkner to the present-day Poet Laureate of Mississippi, but how did our little square corner of the world become a renowned food destination? My contention is it began in 1992 with the opening of City Grocery by Chef John Currence.
It’s easy to forget there was a time when shrimp and grits were new – and exotic – to much of the dining public. Think back to the first time you tasted it. Your taste buds felt like Dorothy opening the door from black-and-white to technicolor. The dish made perfect sense – surf and turf plus garlic. The revolution was on.
Currence and his adventurous cuisine have earned accolades (including a 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South) and press coverage that has put a warming light on Oxford. He owns five restaurants in town plus a catering service – a “dine-asty,” as one reviewer called it – with expansion plans for other cities.
In appropriate Oxford literary fashion, Currence has managed to serve some of his magic onto the printed page. His first cookbook, Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey showcased, as he put it, “three of my favorite food groups.” His newest is a paean to his favorite meal, Big Bad Breakfast – The Most Important Book of the Day (Three Rivers Press). It includes his Ten Commandments of Breakfast (No. 4: “Thou Shalt Embrace Butter.”) It also includes a hair-of-the-dog concoction for sports fans everywhere: “The 11 AM Kickoff.”
His recipe for apple butter is so mouth-watering it made me want to eat the book. There’s a recipe for “comeback sauce,” not because it’s necessarily a breakfast food but because, “it kinda goes on everything.” Amen.
There’s also a BLT recipe that includes a fried egg. If you think that’s heresy, just remember the day that shrimp met grits. Currence has taken breakfast – a meal some have reduced to a milkshake or an afterthought to be wolfed down behind the wheel or on our feet – and returned it to its rightful status as a beautiful sunrise for our stomachs.
Read this book, say the blessing and pass the apple butter.
John Currence will discuss and sign copies of Big Bad Breakfast – The Most Important Book of the Day on The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6 pm at Off Square Books. Admission is free.
Radio: WUMS 92.1 FM (Oxford)