State chefs host Mexissippi, celebrate immigrant workers Friday

Posted on Apr 6 2017 - 7:30pm by Emily Hector and Madeline Weinstein

John Currence and 12 other chefs will host a “Mexissippi Supper,” an event celebrating Mexican-American men and women who are the key ingredient to the success of the restaurant industry.

In 2015, Currence founded Move On Up, Mississippi – a nonprofit organization aimed at fighting childhood hunger and promoting nutrition in Mississippi. For its second year, the fundraiser will host a ticketed event that will consist of several Latin-inspired recipes from acclaimed Mississippi chefs.

Currence said he came up with the Mexissippi idea based on the current political standings that ostracize workers who make up a significant percent of the restaurant world.

“(The) Latin Americans or Asians or African-Americans, any minorities that are working in our kitchens, they never get the real credit for what they do,” Currence said.

The event was created with the goal of being a place for everyone to unite and celebrate those in the food industry while spreading the “Move On Up, Mississippi” message. In hopes of hosting a credible event, Currence said he encourages his minority staff members to come out to it.

“We do our best to screen everyone we hire to make sure they are documented,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter how long someone works for us. These folks are scared right now because of what’s going on in our country.”

Currence is passionate about supporting his employees in every way he possibly can.

“Every little thing we can do to show that there is love here, unlike our leaders lead us to believe,” Currence said.

Olivia Lyberg, communications and foundations director of Currence’s City Grocery Restaurant Group, said Move On Up was made to help the state continue progressing.

“(The goal) is to move Mississippi forward and up on the list, so for this we really wanted to pick known chefs from around the state that John (Currence) likes and respects. We wanted to add a roster of people from different parts of the states with different foods,” Lyberg said.

Chef Michael Greenhill of Walker’s Drive-In of Jackson said he is looking forward to showing people at the event the great food that is coming out of Jackson. Although only a few of the restaurant’s employees will be at the event, Greenhill credits the restaurant’s success to its diverse cooking and wait staff.

“It’s all for a good cause,” Greenhill said. “We have a big diverse cooking and wait staff. We all seem to get along and have a good time. We’re family.”

David Crews, a private chef, culinary school teacher and founder of the Delta Supper Club, is a longtime friend of Currence. Crews said he plans to incorporate flavors from the Delta, which have large immigrant influence, in his dishes for the event.

“I’m from the Mississippi Delta, so one of the things I wanted to do was pay homage to the cuisine in its entirety,” Crews said.

Crews said he sees a need for different cultures in the culinary world.

“Believe it or not, most of the time in an actual restaurant setting, the backbone is the Mexican labor,” he said. “Whether it’s dishwashers, line cooks, the people that are actually producing the foods, (they) are immigrants.”

Bill Chandler, executive director of Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, has been involved with rights of immigrant workers since the 1950s.

Chandler, an expert on immigration policies, credits the common illegal immigrant trafficking issue to the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. The trade agreement had a devastating effect on the small farms in Mexico, as well as migrant workers here in the states.

“The sad part about it is that these folks are here basically escaping situations that are life threatening,” he said.

“Events like this are paramount for us to be able to grow as chefs and as a society,” Crews said.

The event will take place at National Guard Armory Pavilion on University Avenue from 7-10 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $55 for general public and can be purchased at here.

This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.