Southern Blog – Big Jones and Virginia Wills

When I think of Southern Cuisine in Chicago, I immediately think of Paul Fehribach, executive chef and co-owner of Big Jones. Chef Paul’s lifelong interest in history and geography imbues his work to preserve and resurrect dishes from a wide variety of Southern cuisines. He grew up in rural southern Indiana, eating fresh farm produce in Southern dishes and cooking whenever he could. He didn’t necessarily think of the food he was eating as Southern, but later realized that it was. The thing I find interesting about his Southern heirloom cooking is that he fully embraces the rich and diverse heritage of and influences on Southern cooking. I also appreciate his dedication to the slow food movement with his focus on sustainably grown heritage and heirloom crops and livestock and sustainable seafood (click here to read a great interview Chicago Magazine did with him last month).

I am really excited about the upcoming dinner on June 24 at Big Jones which will feature acclaimed Southern cookbook author Virginia Willis. She has recently authored a cookbook called Lighten Up, Y’all, which celebrates the vegetable-centric Southern table and updates classic Southern recipes into healthy and wholesome recipes that you can eat all the time. I LOVE Southern food -- fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, gumbo, shrimp etouffée, shrimp and grits, red velvet cake, etc. – but I can’t eat it all the time because quite frankly it isn’t that healthy for you. But to know that there is a cookbook that allows me to eat all this deliciousness without damaging my health... all I can say is "Yeah!"  I can’t wait to meet her and discuss Southern Cuisine. I also can’t wait to taste all the great dishes on the menu – they all come from her cookbook. To learn more about Virginia Willis, visit her website

I also am excited to talk to both Virginia and Paul about Southeast Ark of Taste produce. I have tried some things on the list like the American Persimmon, Chiltepin Pepper, Pawpaw (also native to the Midwest), and Wild Gulf Coast Shrimp, but there are so many cool varietals that I can’t wait to hear about and understand how she uses them in dishes. White Velvet Okra, Seminole Pumpkin, Sea Island White Flint Corn, Red Wattle Hog, Pilgrim Goose – don’t these sound amazing? To learn more about the foods in the Southeast Ark of Taste, click here.

If you want to have a great evening and pick the brains of two amazing Southern Cuisine specialists and eat some great food, join us for our special Slow Food Dinner on June 24 at Big Jones. To find out more information, click here.  It is going to be a great evening!

Carrie Schloss
Slow Food Chicago Board Member