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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

The Mississippi Culinary Hall of Fame

November 21, 2005

Mississippi’s literary history is well documented and recognized nationwide, from Mr. Faulkner to Walker Percy, Willie Morris, Eudora Welty, and John Grisham.

The blues were invented here and musicians from Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, and Robert Johnson have called Mississippi home. The father of Country music, Jimmy Rogers, along with Faith Hill, Charlie Pride, Conway Twitty, and Tammy Wynette were all born in the Magnolia state. Artists from the classical and jazz disciplines such as Leontyne Price, Mose Allison, and Cassandra Wilson, were born here. There’s Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a small-town kid from Tupelo named Elvis.

Mississippi is fertile ground for creativity. Legendary radio commentator, Paul Harvey, once said of Mississippi, “No state can point to a richer per capita contribution to the arts and letters.” That, Mr. Harvey, is truly the rest of the story.

However, I think the Academy Award-winning actor and Mississippi resident, Morgan Freeman, said it best. While singing Mississippi’s praises on a recent national television broadcast, Freeman stated, “I’d live here for the food, alone.”

Mississippi has two music halls of fame, a blues museum, and three world-class art museums. It’s time our cuisine got its due. The time is right for a Mississippi Culinary Hall of Fame.

Therefore, I submit for you approval, one man’s list. The 2005 Inductees into the Mississippi Culinary Hall of Fame:

Culinary Innovator Award— Fred Carl, manufacturer, philanthropist, Viking Range Corporation, Greenwood— Carl invented the commercial cooking-equipment-for-the-home segment. He owns the majority of that market and his ventures deeper in the hospitality industry add up with each passing year. His tireless work in helping to save downtown Greenwood is representative of what is best about Mississippi— we take care of our own.

Best Chef Award- North Mississippi— John Currence, City Grocery, Oxford— Thirteen years manning the stove at what has consistently become one of Mississippi’s finest and most recognized restaurants.

Best Chef Award- Central Mississippi— Nick Apostle, Nick’s restaurant, Jackson— No one works harder or longer displaying such outstanding commitment to consistency and quality. Apostle still works restaurant hours that would kill a 22-year old.

Best Chef Award- South Mississippi— Linda Nance, Purple Parrot Café, Hattiesburg— If this were a real Hall of Fame I would have to bow out of this vote with a conflict of interest. Nevertheless, I am confident that the jury would unanimously vote Chef Nance in— if not for the excellence shown in her weekly five-course tasting menu, alone.

Humanitarian Award— Cat Cora, Food Network Iron Chef, Jackson native— The network’s first and only female Iron Chef, Cora founded the charitable organization Chef’s For Humanity to aid with Tsunami relief. Since Hurricane Katrina, Cora has worked tirelessly to raise money to help aid victims in her home state.

Restaurateur of the Year— Bill Latham, Amerigo restaurant, Char restaurant, Jackson— Latham is the embodiment of a true food-service professional. His 25-year track record of excellence and success speaks for itself.

Food Awareness Award— Carol Daily, The Everyday Gourmet, Jackson— In addition to The Everyday Gourmet— the culinary epicenter of Mississippi— Daily runs the Viking Hospitality Group, and consults with hotels and inns. Mississippians have been eating better home-cooked meals since 1981 thanks to Daily.

Food Writer Award— John T. Edge, Oxford, food writer, author, culinary historian— A multiple James Beard Award finalist with six books under his belt and more on the way, Not to mention he single handedly gave the country The Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization where he also serves as director.

Lifetime Achievement Award— Leatha Jackson, Leatha’s BBQ Inn, Hattiesburg— This humble, gracious, and charitable lady’s 70 years in the kitchen and fall-off-of-the-bone ribs are a living testament to all that is good in Mississippi.

Culinary Heritage Memorial Award— Craig Claiborne (September 4, 1920 – January 22, 2000), New York Times food editor and critic, cookbook author, Sunflower— Even in death, he’s the best-known and most respected food writer in America, Claiborne encouraged Americans to broaden their tastes and experiment in the kitchen. Over the course of his career, he wrote more than 20 books, including brilliant The New York Times Cookbook.

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