Wyatt Waters and I are in the middle of the busiest year we have ever experienced. During this this twelve month period, we will have led three tour groups through Tuscany, and will lead one upcoming group through Venice, Bologna, and Milan. We took a television crew to Italy and filmed eight episodes of the second season of our television show, Palate to Palette (Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Thursdays, 7pm), and just finished traversing our home state from Oxford to Ocean Springs, finalizing the first season of Palate to Palette, which is airing now. We are also taking our film crew back with us to Italy the day after Thanksgiving to film another season of Palate to Palette, during the aforementioned Northern Italy jaunt.
Being busy is a blessing. I am in the middle of opening two new restaurants in Hattiesburg, with two on the drawing board in the Jackson metro area. Waters compiled a 2018 calendar of his favorite paintings that is on sale now, and in record time, completed a massive consignment project of filling the walls of one of our restaurants, the Purple Parrot, with his beautiful artwork. Additionally, Waters was managing his gallery in Clinton— simultaneously traversing the state, painting on location almost every day— while I was overseeing an operation with four restaurants, two bars, and 250 employees.
It may sound hectic to some, but it is the life that both of us have worked towards. We are having a blast! It’s the busiest year we’ve ever had, and neither of us would have it any other way.
There are a lot of irons in the fire, it’s true. But none are more fun, rewarding, and challenging as the book business. While all of those other things were happening, Waters and I wrote a new book— my 11th, our fourth together as collaborators and friends— A Mississippi Palate.
Of all of the books we have written, this— by far— has been the most challenging, yet also the most rewarding once we finally turned in the final proof. Waters and I love Mississippi. We take more pride in our state than the most-verbose and braggadocios Texan could ever take in his or her home state. We are two of Mississippi’s greatest cheerleaders. For us, it’s almost a crusade. Though one thing we have learned during this book-writing process, is that the amount of love and adoration for a state, it’s people, and its culture puts a heavy burden on co-authors when trying to relay that love through food and art. At the risk of sounding arrogant and overconfident, I think we nailed it.
A Mississippi Palate is our best book yet. It’s only fitting. The subject we love the most— in the place we love the most— has turned out to be the book of which we are most proud.
One of the greatest aspects of my working relationship— and friendship— with Waters, is that we have travelled the world over the past 17 years. We have been to some amazing places, and have met wonderful people. But in the end, it doesn’t compare to Mississippi. The scenery might be better in the mountains, and the sunsets may be better on the beaches, but the people and innate culture of Mississippi can’t be topped.
My editor at Hyperion once told me that 70% of the people that buy cookbooks, never cook from the cookbook. That statistic might even be a little higher in the case of the four books Waters and I have written. His watercolors are always beautiful and vivid, and each one tells a story. In this latest book, they the story of our home state. Seeing Mississippi through Waters’ eyes is always a treat.
In every cookbook I have ever written there are always two or three recipes that are my go-to representatives of the book. In A Mississippi Palate, there are several, but one of my favorites is a Deer Sausage and Duck Jambalaya. It’s a recipe that sums up an entire region. It’s 100% Mississippi Delta.
When I visit my brother’s farm in the Delta, we duck hunt in the morning and deer hunt late in the afternoon. My favorite rice grower in the Delta, Mike Wagner of Two Brooks Rice, grows the perfect rice for this dish.
So the new book is about to launch and Waters and I are hitting the road visiting local independent bookstores, and having a blast doing something we love to do— meeting people and talking about food and art in Mississippi.