The inaugural Mississippi Food & Wine, June 13-15 in Jackson, will toast a culinary hot spot and open palates to possibility.
Building off the Mississippi Craft Beer Festival, now entering its fifth year and serving as event’s Friday night anchor, the food and wine fest will spread over three days and extend the tasty draw with a suite of private chef dinners and a Grand Tasting finale.
“To me, one of Jackson’s greatest assets is its food tourism industry. It has made such a big name for itself in recent years,” says Jim Wilkirson, special events coordinator with Fondren Renaissance. With hotel construction in the eclectic Jackson neighborhood, infrastructure is in place to support a bigger spotlight on eateries there and beyond.
The festival’s schedule promises two private chef dinners on Thursday, June 13, at Lou’s Full-Serv in Belhaven and The Cedars in Fondren, and another two on Friday, June 14, at Albert’s at Parlor Market (the restaurant’s private dining room) downtown and at Brent’s in Fondren. Also June 14 is the Mississippi Craft Beer Festival, under a tent on Duling Avenue. The Grand Tasting finale is Saturday, June 15, also under a tent on Duling Avenue.
The Mississippi Craft Beer Festival has hit close to capacity since its start, drawing 1,000 to 1,100 people to Fondren to sample a booming selection of brews. “That industry continues to grow so much,” Wilkirson says, “and (beer distributors) Capital City and Southern Beverage are always expanding their product line in that market. … Each year there’s all this new product that’s introduced, so it’s never the same thing, and I think that’s what keeps everybody’s interest.” Each year, more than 100 different craft beer varieties from more than 30 different breweries are available for sampling.
The Mississippi Food & Wine Festival aims to promote the food tourism so prevalent in the area. Fondren and, to a larger extent, Jackson, embrace a diverse collection of cuisines and concepts — a microcosm of what’s available throughout the state.
Preview events last fall tested the local waters and convinced organizers they were on the right track. Wilkirson, who spent time in the kitchen at private chef dinners, was struck by what he saw. A spirit of camaraderie, rather than rivalry, ruled. “You would think there would be so much competition between these chefs — private philosophies and their secrets. I’m always amazed by how much they like to gain knowledge from each other and how much they enjoy working with each other. They really do have a great time!”
It’s a chance for peers to work side by side, and to let their creativity run wild. “The public just really embraced that. It was really fun. The dinners themselves, I think, are the highlights because it’s that unique time to meet and really experience those chefs and what they want to create when it doesn’t have to be sold on a menu. They like to go outside of the box.” Vintners, too, can broaden tasters’ horizons.
Limited to 90 people each, the festival’s private chef dinners will feature five courses, along with wine pairings. Noted Jackson chefs chair each private dinner — Derek Emerson, Alex Eaton, Louis LaRose and Jesse Houston — and have reached out to peers across the state and the South for teammates. Other participating chefs include Hattiesburg restaurateur and author Robert St. John, Jackson pastry chef Alejandra Mamud and Oxford chef and recent James Beard Foundation Award winner Vishwesh Bhatt. Cristom Vineyards, Crimson Wine Group, International Wine and Magnolia Barrelhouse will do the wine pairings.
“There’s a great pull from the South for this, but our hope is that it grows far past just what Jackson has to offer,” Wilkirson says.
Support for food industry nonprofits ties in, too. A portion of proceeds will benefit a charity selected by participating chefs and restaurants.
Find the full list of events, participating chefs and links for tickets at msfoodandwine.