Natchez still nourishes the ‘foodie’ in us all

Published 10:00 am Sunday, July 23, 2023

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Family lore says that I was a picky eater as a child. Spaghetti and meatballs, hot dogs, roast beef, fried shrimp, macaroni and cheese (the Yankee kind) – simple, consistent mainstream fare filled my childhood plate and nourished me through college.

And then, I moved to Natchez, and my culinary education began in full.

From crawfish boils to tiny buttered biscuits, chicken tetrazzini to chicken salad (true – my Yankee parents never served the stuff), homemade fried chicken to West Bank fried pickles, my exposure to good food, good spirits and the joy that both can bring unfolded.

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I credit late nights sitting in a favorite booth at the old Scrooge’s restaurant, an adopted godmother named Sissy Eidt and a supper club with Selah Lambdin Willard with introducing me to the life of a “foodie.”

Aunt Sissy sparked the earliest interest in cooking, and I still treasure several of the cookbooks she frequently recommended. Her recommendations for easy appetizers and simple desserts served me well over the years, drawing rave reviews from folks in Alabama who never met the treasure behind the recipe.

And Selah’s family shares that same culinary gene – from her mother, the late Bethany Overton, to her daughter Sarah Beth Willard, who now operates NOM with another great Natchez culinary talent, Liza Sharp. Many a night was spent in the kitchen with Selah, sharing a glass of wine and watching her cook – soaking in the techniques and tricks she knew so well. And many a memorable meal was shared at restaurants in Natchez and surrounding areas.

Thanks to my work with The Democrat, I have a cookbook autographed by Julia Child from her visit to Natchez for a food and wine festival that also brought the Robert Mondavi family folks to town.

I still have clippings of recipes shared by the late Christina Hall, as well as a recipe for chess squares served at an open house long ago at One of A Kind, and I can still remember the grilled pork chop dish I ate at the former Brother’s Restaurant the night of the first Mississippi Lottery drawing. The infamous Samburger remains the epitome of a hamburger in my mind, and po-boys eaten outside with a view of the sunset by the Natchez Bluff is the quintessential way to wind down a busy week.

Today, the Miss-Lou boasts updated twists on familiar favorites thanks to Wayne Bryant and world-class bakers like Molly Manning Robertson; culinary stalwarts like Regina Charboneau and up-and-coming chefs like Ashley Allen; and ethnic fare as well as familiar favorites. There is something magical here in the combination of cultures, the river and hospitality that fosters chefs (and plain ol’ good cooks) and nurtures folks who appreciate them.

That’s why it’s so exciting to see the return of the Natchez Food and Wine Festival. Started several years ago by a small group of locals seeking to lure in visitors during the slow summer months, the festival was in hiatus for several years. Now, it returns to educate participants about culinary trends and introduce diners to the wonderful food our region has to offer.

The festival takes place next week, July 27 to July 29, and includes a “Tastings Along the River” event on Friday; a Friend of James Beard Benefit on Thursday; the Saturday Farmer’s Market; Wine and Cheese tastings; mixology events; educational demonstrations; Bocce, Blues and Brews; and the formal Invitation to the Natchez Table, feature a four-course meal with wine pairings.

So, whether your tastes run high or low, the event has something to offer.

It also offers the chance to indulge yourself, meet some of the finest chefs our region has to offer, and experience the hospitality that makes our community unique. It’s fine fodder for a foodie of any age.

Tickets for many of the events are still available, and you can find out more about the event by calling 601.445.4611.

I hope you’ll make the time to take part in the festival. And, if your schedule doesn’t accommodate, please continue to support the multitude of chefs, restaurants and eateries in the Miss-Lou. These people who share their talents and who nourish us so well deserve our continued support and thanks.

And as for the culinary future of Natchez? I’m proud to say that a new generation of family foodie is being nurtured along, one chicken finger and one po-boy at a time.

Stacy G. Graning is regional editor for The Democrat. Email her at