When he talks about fishing with his dad off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf, you can hear a faint hitch in the voice of James Beard award-winning chef John Currence, a New Orleans native and owner of the acclaimed City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi.
It’s not about catching fish, he says.
“To be with my dad, where my phone doesn’t work, I don’t have to answer to anyone, and I’m truly free from the tether of responsibility,” Currence says, sounding slightly road-weary after an eight-week-long traveling and cooking stint. “And to be able to do that in a place I find more peaceful and beautiful than anywhere on the planet?
“I flew in a helicopter from Grand Isle to New Orleans once, and it had my heart so welled up inside, it’s that outstandingly beautiful, I was near tears. I love it so much.”
We hear about the Gulf as a resource so often — that it’s a living, local pantry supplying our country with most of its seafood — it’s easy to miss the other role this giant body of water plays in the lives of the people who live along it. The Gulf is, well, it’s kind of like church; a place for peaceful contemplation and respite from the grind of daily life.
Currence grew up fishing the Gulf with his father and still goes out every chance he gets. But those trips are few and far between these days.
“My father is getting on in years, so I think my time on the water with him is significantly more profound now than it was as a youngster,” Currence says.
But Currence is never too far from the water. Gulf seafood is a fixture on his menus, even more so now in the dog days of summer and on the tail end of a long cooking competition circuit that revolved around all things pork.
“I declared a moratorium on pork in the restaurant. No more bacon!” Currence announces. “Just produce and seafood! The body cries out for veggies and seafood in the summer.”
Seafood is summer because it’s light, but more importantly, simple, says Currence. It means less time spent in a hot kitchen needlessly fiddling around with too many ingredients.
“I sautéed some fish at home recently, and just hit it with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice,” Currence says. “That’s what seafood needs: it needs nothing.”