Forget the food pyramid: John Currence’s brand-new cookbook, which came out last week, is named after his three favorite food groups, Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. And the James Beard Award-winning chef says that “whiskey is number-one of those three. It makes everything else bearable.”
For more than 20 years, Currence has been dedicated to improving the culinary scene in Oxford, Miss. The college town (it’s home to the University of Mississippi, AKA Ole Miss) has an impressive reputation in foodie circles, thanks largely to the chef’s original City Grocery restaurant and the four other establishments he operates today, including Snackbar, Bouré and Big Bad Breakfast.
Currence was born and raised in New Orleans, but his family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, when he was 10 and took advantage of the opportunity to travel around Europe. This is reflected in Currence’s cuisine, which marries Southern ingredients with classical French technique—the book features fried oysters and catfish right alongside pork pâté and duck confit.
However, the chef’s taste in drinks is straight Dixie. “I’m a bourbon-rocks lover,” Currence says. Like many whiskey connoisseurs, his top choice is Pappy Van Winkle, which he says “exists on a plane of its own,” though his everyday drink-at-home is W.L. Weller Special Reserve. He also enjoys Willett and Bulleit.
But Currence admits he was a bit of a latecomer to the mixology movement. “I’ve never been a huge fan of frou-frou cocktails,” he says. “When the craze first hit and cocktails started this renaissance, I wasn’t really taken by them.” Until, that is, New Orleans bartender Chris Hannah made him a Last Word. “That was my gateway drug into cocktails,” he says.
Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey’s first chapter is devoted entirely to tipples, and its Last-Word Fizz is a tribute to Hannah, a sweet-sour-frothy mash-up of the Last Word and Big Easy standard the Ramos Gin Fizz.
But Currence’s very favorite drink in the book is The Volunteer, which was created as a thank-you to the thousands who came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help clean up and rebuild. (Currence himself spent almost two years back home assisting with the reopening of Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the Treme.) The Margarita-inspired beverage adds a sweet-and-spicy jalapeño-and-melon puree to the traditional formula, along with a quick-pickled cucumber garnish.
One thing that makes Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey truly unique is that each recipe is paired up with a song; you can download the whole playlist on Spotify. “I thought wine pairings in cookbooks were always disgustingly pretentious,” he says. “Why not pair songs that folks could actually turn on and walk around in my head a little bit?”
We’ll drink to that—with “Kiss the Sky” by Sean Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra paired with the Last-Word Fizz and “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman paired with The Volunteer.
(Photo courtesy Angie Mosier)