Talk with John Currence and you get the feeling the chef behind City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., is a straight-shooter who is passionate about cooking and Southern cuisine. So it's no surprise Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, the co-founders of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, asked him to work with them as a member of their Founders Council to create seminars, demonstrations, tastings, and events to support the festival's Southern focus.
Chef Currence's tell-it-as-it-is style makes for good conversation. In this interview he discusses why Southern cuisine isn't just the flavor of the month, Holeman & Finch's David Chang-esque approach to the burger, and why cooking competitions aren't 'crap.'
What does it mean to participate in the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival?
Well, you know, I can’t say how excited I am about putting together what could ultimately be the real highwater food event in the South. Largely because the organizers are trying to focus on the intellectual part of the food that’s going on in the South rather than the simple sells.
What’s your event all about?
We’re doing a dinner on Friday. Me, Besh, Donald Link, and Scott Serpas, at his eponymously named restaurant Serpas True Food. We’re all from Louisiana, so it’s a Louisiana boys’ dinner. Saturday morning there will be a biscuits and gravy demo. And on Sunday afternoon there will be Mississippi Delta tamales.
So what will all these demos and events entail?
You know I can’t remember what the rest of the guys will be doing. I know it’s going to be outstanding. I have nothing but tons of respect for them. I’ll be doing a “temporary version” of pickled duck, the meat is pulled from the bone, then you compress it in a Cryovac, press it, and cut into cakes. I’m serving it with, well, I can’t remember what the sides are. But we’re going to do that and then I’m doing sort of a Louisiana citrus gastrique.
Any spots you’re looking to hit in Atlanta while you’re in town?
Always. I love what Hugh Acheson is doing at Empire State South. I think the burger at Holeman & Finch may well be the best burger I’ve had anywhere in my entire life. I anticipated tasting that burger for the first time for a year and a half to two years. And usually, anticipation can ruin anything. And let me tell you, it was everything I’d dreamed it would be and more. Taqueria del Sol — I always stop in there. I’ve got to go check out what Annie is doing at Abattoir — just for charcuterie, whiskey, and innards — that’s my favorite stop on the planet.
I’ve heard about Holeman & Finch's burger for a year, what’s it about?
You know, I don’t typically dig that David Chang-esque approach to food — that potentially adversarial relationship with food that you have before even putting the fork in your hand. But it’s a cool scene, like the craziest food auction ever. There’s a frenetic energy in the room.