Catfish Row Museum begins work on demonstration kitchen

Published 1:58 pm Friday, April 28, 2023

The Catfish Row Museum on Washington Street will soon offer more than displays and programs about the area’s history and culture — cooking and nutrition will take center stage.

Construction workers are in the process of building a 1,500-square-foot demonstration kitchen that will serve as the site for classes on good nutrition and the area’s culinary heritage.

“Grandma was right, ‘We are what we eat,’” Catfish Row founder and Executive Director Linda Fondren said. “There is limited access in Vicksburg and Warren County, and currently very few places doctors can send their patients to learn how food choices directly affect our health. The demonstration/teaching kitchen wants to solve the community’s lack of nutrition education by helping put the doctor in the kitchen.”

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The idea for the kitchen began in 2020 when a steering committee was formed to build on the success of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize; a national award that recognized Vicksburg’s efforts to improve the health and well-being of its residents. Vicksburg was one of eight cities to get the award.

During discussions on the kitchen, the committee requested assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Foods, Local Places program to identify the best practices for fostering a healthy community and vibrant downtown.

With the information gathered from community conversations, the committee prepared an action plan that united two established local nonprofits, the Vicksburg Farmers Market and Vicksburg Community Garden, in a downtown food hub to create a demonstration kitchen and educational center in the Catfish Row Museum, making health a shared value.

“Thanks to the Vicksburg Medical Foundation, the city of Vicksburg and the Warren County Board of Supervisors, the demonstration/teaching kitchen can help solve the community’s lack of nutrition,” Fondren said. “The Museum will offer a series of cooking classes with supplemental instruction in exercise and behavior change designed to move the needle forward to improve our community’s health and well-being.”

The programs will demonstrate how to create an enjoyable, affordable, healthy way of eating for individuals and families. The program offered by Ali Hopson, Fondren and United Way of West Central Mississippi will teach practical, repeatable techniques from a dietitian, chef and health coach.

“Participants will learn, laugh and eat through four- to six-week hands-on training and cooking classes,” Fondren said.

She said the nutrition and living classes with doctors, the United Way and other community agencies will be continuous with special programs and cooking demonstrations featuring guest chefs and authors being held periodically.

“The cooking classes are for people of all ages and interests, including anyone who wants to add more flavor and good nutrition to meals; anyone interested in learning more about food heritage and culinary history; friends wanting to start a cooking club; teens and preteens just learning how to cook; anyone who wants to learn to cook African heritage foods; and seniors craving a trip down memory lane and a taste of the old ways of cooking,” Fondren said.

Besides benefitting the community, she said, the demonstration kitchen will enhance the tourist experience by allowing them to learn and understand the roots of Southern cooking and how the diversity of past foods are cooked today.

“To improve the visitor experience, teaching and cooking demonstrations by food authors and chefs from different parts of the state will help provide the opportunity for a culinary tourism pathway, giving visitors a taste of the Mississippi Delta’s foodways and the Mississippi River,” she said.

Fondren said the museum will work with city officials and the river cruise lines to allow a stop for passengers to participate in the art of Southern cuisine, hands-on learning techniques, tools, tips and local flavors from local culinary experts.

“The plan is to have the kitchen completed in early June,” Fondren said. “Our first event will be a ribbon-cutting celebration and a community tour of the demonstration kitchen and exhibits.

“Our second event will be a special luncheon honoring the lives of Medgar and Myrlie Evers and commemorating 60 years since the assassination of Medgar Evers,” she added. “At the request of Ms. Rena Evers, there will be a special presentation on the collection of Patrick Kelly, thanks to Jackson State University.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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