Catfish Row Museum to host chef Enrika Williams

Published 7:09 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

By Jim Beaugez

Could the ingredients of an authentic Southern dish be less important than the memories they conjure? Jackson-based chef Enrika Williams thinks so.

“If I’m frying chicken, I’m going to think about the time I had chicken at a gas station in Louisville and what the gas station smelled like, and the potato log,” she said. “So, I would figure out a way to recreate that and also have it spark the recall of, ‘I see where she was going with that.’ 

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I don’t stray away from the things people expect — I just try to (provide) another voice and another perspective on that thing.”

Instead of a standard dish like fried chicken and rice, then, she might fry the chicken skin and put it on a deviled egg to recall memories of picnics, family gatherings or a fellowship meal at church. 

“My signature is that I cook with a lot of intention,” she said. “Even if it seems very simple and straightforward, there’s still lots of reason behind it.”

The West Point native developed her culinary instincts while studying the discipline at the Art Institute of Atlanta before embarking on a professional journey that has taken her around the continent. 

She was part of the opening team at the fine-dining InterContinental Buckhead hotel in Atlanta, and worked with celebrity chef Richard Blaise and Sean Brock in Charleston, S.C.

During a chef residency stint in La Crosse, Wis., Williams picked up a greater appreciation for farm-to-table preparation, thanks to the abundance of fresh, local ingredients from beef and milk to organic produce. 

Williams returned to Mississippi to open Fauna Foodworks at the former Cultivation Food Hall in Jackson, and evolved her business into a catch-all for her culinary aspirations and expressions. 

Fauna Foodworks, she said, is “literally a playground,” and “a way for me to play with food at every opportunity given,” whether the gig is consulting, catering or curating dinners, or using food as a medium to tell a broader story at a museum event.

As part of Catfish Row Museum’s annual Summer Chef Series, Saturday at 2 p.m., Williams will demonstrate and discuss her approach to Southern food with a take on maque choux, a sautéed corn dish similar to creamed corn thought to combine the traditions of Creole and Native American cooking. One of her twists, though, is the inclusion of shrimp. 

“When people hear that I’m from Mississippi, or they hear that I’m from the country, I think they automatically have this idea of what they feel like my food should encompass,” she said. “My food has the roots, absolutely, but I’m also more creative.”

Southern cuisine isn’t just about barbecue ribs and chicken or catfish, she notes, although those staples are very much in the mix of her vision. “It’s also farming. It’s also bread making. It’s also people who raise hogs and cows. It’s fermenting and pickling and foraging, and indigenous cuisines and grains.”

Now in its second season, the Catfish Row Museum Summer Chef Series will also feature programs such as a kids’ cooking class by Nutrition Matters on July 20, a demonstration by Jackson chef Nick Wallace on July 27, and an event with Geno Lee from Jackson’s Farish Street staple the Red Apple Inn on August 10.

“I always try to really honor and give gratitude and appreciation to the things that inspire me in the food that I make,” Williams said. “That’s me in a nutshell. I play with food for a living and I love it.”