Robert St. John, executive chef and owner of the Purple Parrot
Cafe, Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar of Hattiesburg, MS
Thirty years ago I visited my first cousin in Virginia. While
hanging out with his friend, the discussion turned to popular
movies of the day.
When I offered my two-cents on the authenticity and social
relevance of the movie Billy Jack, one of the boys asked, in all
seriousness; "Do you guys have movie theaters down there?"
To which I replied, "Yep. We wear shoes too."
Just three years ago, my wife and I were attending a food and wine
seminar in Aspen, Colo. We were seated with two couples from Las
Vegas. One of the Glitter Gulch gals was amused and downright rude
when I described our restaurant as a fine-dining restaurant.
"Mississippi doesn't have fine-dining restaurants!" she demanded
and nudged her companion.
I fought back the strong desire to mention that she lived in the
land that invented the 99-cent breakfast buffet.
I wanted badly to defend my state and my restaurant with a 15-
minute soliloquy and public relations rant that would surely
change her mind. It was at that precise moment that I was hit with
a blinding jolt of enlightenment, and in a moment of complete and
absolute clarity it dawned on me -- my South is the best-kept
secret in the country. Why would I try to win this woman over? She
might move down here.
I am always amused by Hollywood's interpretation of the South. We
are still, on occasion, depicted as a collective group of sweaty,
stupid, backwards-minded and racist rednecks. The south of movies
and TV, the Hollywood south, is not my south.
This is my south:
My south is full of honest, hardworking people. My south is the
birthplace of blues and jazz, and rock n' roll. It has banjo
pickers and fiddle players, but it also has B.B. King, Muddy
Waters, the Allman Brothers, Emmylou Harris and Elvis.
My South is hot. My South smells of newly mowed grass. My South was
the South of The Partridge Family, Hawaii 5-0 and kick the can.
My South was creek swimming, cane-pole fishing and bird hunting.
In my South, football is king.
My South is home to the most beautiful women on the planet.
In my South, soul food and country cooking are the same thing.
My South is full of fig preserves, cornbread, butter beans, fried
chicken, grits and catfish. In my South we eat fois gras, caviar
In my South, our transistor radios introduced us to the Beatles and
the Rolling Stones at the same time they were introduced to the
rest of the country.
In my South, grandmothers cook a big lunch every Sunday.
In my South, family matters, deeply.
My South is boiled shrimp, blackberry cobbler, peach ice cream,
banana pudding and oatmeal cream pies.
In my South people put peanuts in bottles of Coca Cola and hot
sauce on almost everything.
In my South the tea is iced and almost as sweet as the women.
My South has air-conditioning.
My South is camellias, azaleas, wisteria and hydrangeas.
In my South, the only person that has to sit on the back of the bus
is the last person that got on the bus.
In my South, people still say, "yes, ma'am," "no ma'am," "please"
and "thank you."
In my South, we all wear shoes.... most of the time.
My South is the best-kept secret in the country. Please continue to
keep the secret.... it keeps the idiots away.
**thanks for the contribution Timm**