To get to know a place, you should try the food.
Even in a state as big as Mississippi, the cuisine in each area reflects the gastronomy of different cultures and traditions, from seafood and Cajun to local takes on more worldly dishes. Here are some unusual culinary experiences to help your groups sample the best of what Mississippi has to offer.
Oxford Food Tours
Oxford is known as the Little Easy, a sibling to New Orleans because of its similar architecture and focus on Cajun cooking. Visitors to Oxford can get a sample of the city’s cuisine through Oxford Food Tours’ Taste of the Historic Oxford Square, or Booze and Bites Cocktail tours. The company, founded in 2018, takes guests to five to seven eateries and bars throughout the square while guides entertain them with stories of the town’s past.
At each stop, restaurant owners and chefs address the groups, telling them about the history of the restaurant, their vision for creating the eatery and the types of ingredients they use to prepare their culinary specialties.
“Oxford has a great food scene,” said Jonathan Smith, co-owner of Oxford Food Tours with his friend, Darryl Parker. “It is a cool town, funky and smaller, with only 50,000 people, counting students [at the University of Mississippi]. It’s unique in the sense that you don’t have many towns of this size that people travel to for food.”
At the different bars, bartenders will come out and talk about how they create their specialty cocktails and give some samples. The walking tours include two complimentary drinks.
To get restaurants to participate, Oxford Food Tours asks them to “give our customers the best representation of your restaurant, a bite-size portion that will entice them to come eat here,” Smith said. “You have a chance to wow people who are coming into your restaurant who may not normally come there.”
He said it is fun for the restaurants to do, and “we want to make sure we are giving our customers the best experience and want the restaurants and bartenders to know we value their time.”
The company plans to add a literary booze or food tour of Oxford, the home of William Faulkner, and a tour of hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are excellent but often overlooked.
Farmer’s Table Cooking School
Livingston has a history dating back to the early 1800s. The once-thriving town had a courthouse and jail, a Masonic Lodge, a post office and a Methodist church. Once the railroad bypassed the town, however, people moved away, and the town was nearly empty by the time the Civil War took place.
Fast-forward to 2006, when the Livingston town property was purchased by a developer who wanted to rebuild the historic area. He built a mercantile store, a gas station and a restaurant. He also asked Bridget Engle, owner of Farmer’s Table Cooking School, to open a cooking school on the newly refurbished town square. A farmers market was started to bring people to the area, and over the past five years, Livingston has built its reputation as a food, art, literature and music destination.
Farmer’s Table offers hands-on cooking classes with a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Participants get a glass of wine and an appetizer before they put on their aprons and prepare a three-course meal with dessert, said Engle.
One of the school’s most popular classes focuses on Delta soul food like fried chicken, red beans and rice, and gumbo. The school hosts group events for up to 30 people.
Chef Danie Cooks
Danie Rodriguez has been a chef for 30 years and is something of a Biloxi celebrity, hosting her own weekly cooking show on a local television station. A former Italian restaurateur, Rodriguez has spent the past five years teaching gourmet culinary classes on everything from pasta, tortellini and lasagna to local Gulf Coast cuisine and Thai delicacies.
“Mississippi has a unique food culture,” Rodriguez said. “Flounder, shrimp or blue crab — those are some of the local things we’re known for here.”
Many groups come specifically to learn about Southern cooking.
“We get a lot of people from out of town,” she said. “Foodies like to go to classes to learn about food. A lot of interesting people have come through and learned about the local food here.”
Rodriguez’s classroom has portable cook tops on every table so groups and couples can cook their meals together. People love them because “they are learning to do something together, working together to create your meal,” she said.
Her approach is hands-on. While she is not averse to giving cooking demonstrations, she believes people learn better by doing.
“I get them with their hands in the dough, mixing and cooking, and then they get to sit down and enjoy the meal they just created,” she said.
The Elms has been in Esther Carpenter’s family since 1878. The beautiful mansion, built in 1804, is now a bed-and-breakfast that also hosts weddings, dinner parties and other special events. Carpenter has been a chef for 40 years. She trained at the Culinary Institute in New York and also studied cooking in France.
After her mother passed away in 2005, Carpenter moved back to her family home. She renovated the house and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast.
One of the Elms’ signature events, the Grand Soiree Dinner, is a joint evening hosted with her concert pianist neighbor across the street. Guests first visit Joseph Stone’s home for a classical piano concerto and a tour of the Stone House. Then they walk across the street to the Elms for a four-course meal on the home’s wrap-around porch under the old oak trees.
A sample menu could include an appetizer of shrimp cakes with a jalapeno tartar sauce and a small salad; a rack of lamb or rare breast of duck; and homemade dessert. Carpenter makes her own bread and ice cream.
Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum
Though it isn’t a place where folks can sample the local cuisine, the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum is a great place for foodies to visit to learn about the history and legacy of the seafood and maritime industry on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.
Seafood was king in the area as early as the 1800s. By the early 1900s, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi was the No. 1 producer of seafood in the world.
“We’re not the largest in the world now, but the industry is still significant,” said Corey Christy, outreach program coordinator for the museum. “We still have processing factories and lots of fishermen. You can still go to the harbor and get shrimp off the boat.”
There are also seafood markets on every other corner in Biloxi, selling fresh-caught Gulf seafood.
Visitors learn how the industry worked back then, with fishermen doing oystering, crabbing and fishing and bringing back their catches for processing at the seafood factories, said Christy.
Visitors can examine the boats and tools used in the seafood industry, including one of the first shrimp-peeling machines, invented in 1941.