Behind the Stove
10 Dishes with Celebrity Chef John Currence
The award-winning Oxford, Mississippi, chef and author of ‘Big Bad Breakfast,’ tackles our speed round of questions.
After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “So, ‘guilty’ pleasure implies shame and there is little I feel ashamed of from a consumption standpoint. I stand solidly behind Miller High Life, Sour Patch Kids, Baskin-Robbins chocolate with a peanut butter ribbon, Pringles Pizza Flavor (or preferably Frank’s RedHot Sauce flavor) or the absolute greatest pleasure leftover, Popeyes (green beans and red beans are an added plus).”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “Nope. But I refuse to put fucking food into a Martini glass. Just cut the shit out, people. Seriously, you want a mashed potato bar at your wedding and that crap in a stemmed glass? Enjoy those memories over Kardashian reruns.”
All-time favorite spice. “Cumin, cumin, cumin...and curry leaf. If you have never smelled fresh curry leaf in hot oil, you haven’t lived.”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “Clash, G&R, Stones (1968-1980), Pixies, Ramones, Replacements, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Wilco, Jason Isbell, Fishbone, Emmylou Harris, Aretha, Elton John, ZZ Top, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, The Meters, Tom T. Hall, Springsteen (1972-1982), Tom Petty, Buckcherry, Earth Wind & Fire, Elvis Costello, The Jam, Toots and the Maytals, The Fratellis, Solomon Burke, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Allen Toussaint, Alabama Shakes, Frank Sinatra, Minor Threat, Beastie Boys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, etc. But not necessarily in that order.”
Did you grow up cooking as a kid? “Somewhat.”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “River Road Cookbook, The Plantation Cookbook, Charleston Receipts, Cooking Up A Storm: Recipes Lost and found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, David Rosengarten’s The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook, Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking, The Edna Lewis Cookbook. Joy of Cooking is indispensable. I think Zahav is gorgeous and I am floored by Michael Solomonov’s passion. I love both of Franks Stitt’s books and am in awe of his nuance. I love Pépin’s La Technique and Giuliano Bugialli’s Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible is genius.”
After all these years working in restaurants do you still enjoy going out to eat? “More than life itself.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “I have been fortunate to have cooked beside some of the greats. Some were more of a joy than others. There are few things that bring me more joy than cooking with Kelly English on Sunday nights. I love hanging out in the kitchen with few people more than my little brother, Richard. He is late to the kitchen, but has turned on to cooking like few non-pros I have ever known. He is a bottomless pit of curiosity, whip-smart and dangerously good at what he does. I just fed friends at the beach his gumbo last night for dinner. I adore being next to Vish Bhatt and Floyd Cardoz. Their food is explosive and full of soul. I never cease to be amazed watching Leah Chase cook. She makes everything look effortless. Ashley Christensen and Steven Satterfield coax beautiful flavor from everything they touch. Rodney Scott, Sam Jones and Pat Martin are as fun to cook with as anyone can ever imagine, but my mom and dad are who I have to say, I’d give anything for one more night in the kitchen with…”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A sous chef. Are you kidding, I’m nothing without someone who actually knows what they are doing.”
James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence runs City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, as well as several other acclaimed restaurants. He is also author of Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day.
Interview has been condensed and edited.