Andy's Rest. Scorecard: Chef John Currence - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Andy's Rest. Scorecard: Chef John Currence, City Grocery, Oxford, MS

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By Andy Wise - bio | email

OXFORD, MS (WMC TV) - CHEF OF THE WEEK:  Chef John Currence, The City Grocery Group (City Grocery, Boure, Snack Bar, Big Bad Breakfast), www.citygroceryonline.com.

20 years ago, Chef John Currence launched his flagship City Grocery, 152 Courthouse Square, and introduced a sophisticated cuisine that had been missing from historic Oxford.

"20 years ago, what was missing in Oxford was the only thing I was capable of providing, which was technique and ingredient-driven cuisine," said Currence. "Creole-French, traditional French, and then the food of the Deep South."

His niche of bringing "...Southern food from the barn to the white linen table" earned him a shot as a contestant on the third season of the Bravo TV's Top Chef Masters (http://www.bravotv.com/top-chef-masters/season-3).

"There's nothing like him here," said customer Tom Freeland. "He is committed to the community and to local ingredients in cooking."

Currence said his cooking is a reflection of his life's journey -- with restaurant stints in North Carolina and New Orleans, culinary training in France and his grandparents' Virginia farm.

"My mother's parents operated a huge family garden that I spent a month of indentured servitude every summer," he said. "I learned about ingredients very young.

"For me, the food of my grandparents' dinner table or the Sunday supper after church was the food eaten at those times and places, and I later thought it lacked a certain sophistication. It wasn't until about seven or eight years into the game when I was in France doing some work with a young chef, and he brought in this pot of okra. We made boiled okra, stewed okra and tomatoes, pickled okra, fried okra, green gumbo with okra.

"Then I started craving everything I was growing in my garden back home."

Back home in Oxford, Currence and his wife Bess have cultivated their own garden. It's the source of City Grocery's freshest raw materials - vegetables, chickens and the eggs they produce (Currence said the eggs are "crazy delicious" - I took a dozen home!).

It all ends up on Currence's menu, especially the brilliantly innovative daily lunch specials.

"Sweet potato hash with wild mushrooms and boar sausage and a fried egg that's from one of the chickens in John's yard," ordered Freeland.

"He makes the best grits," said Alexis Chernak of Clarksdale, MS.

Not just grits. The best grits, paired with Creole shrimp, mushrooms and a spicy relish.

Bon Appetit magazine named his Big Bad Breakfast's chili recipe as one of the nine best in the country.

"My flavors really are a reflection of my life's journey," said Currence. "These are things that, to me, go back to my childhood, and that's very much a part of what we do."

Root for Chef Currence when he premieres on Top Chef Masters April 6 on Bravo TV.

WHAT ANDY LIKES ON CURRENCE'S MENUS:  Shrimp & Grits, Grilled Skirt Steak Sandwich, Cornbread Dressing-Stuffed Chicken Breast, Yukon Gold Potato/Horseradish-Crusted Salmon

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