By Julian Rankin
This Sunday, we take a moment to reflect on the family meal. Like the kind that Nick's mother, Susie, made for us one weekend. Cornbread and fish and chicken and beans and vegetables and mac and cheese. While Nick Wallace's food is executed with classical technique and modern flair, these types of dishes are the inspiration and source material from which all the others spring forth. But it's more than just riffing on the old fashioned to create a new menu item; it's taking the spirit of community embedded the family meal, elevating it, and translating it for restaurant diners. So that even if they are sitting in front of a white tablecloth, they still feel the same home cooked love as if they were grazing from the stove top.
Nick learned to cook from a young age when he would feed his sister and cousins while his mother was at work. When Susie Wallace was home and cooking, he watched attentively from her side.
"I had no idea he was cooking like he was," said Susie. "No wonder I always had to go to the grocery store. I'd say gosh, where is the sugar, where is the flour."
"It was all gone," Nick said.
Nick and I made plates and went outside on the patio. We ate on our laps in the afternoon shade. "This stuff right here matters," he said. "And I'm glad I could share it with you."
That's the true purpose of cooking. To share it with someone else. It's the reason Susie Wallace herself learned to cook back when she was eight years old. "We’d have dinner done when mama would get home," she said. "And I’ve been at it ever since. I raised five nephews along with my children. And then when they became teens they had their girlfriends and boyfriends. My house was full all the time. The kids got bigger and bigger. And so my pots got bigger and bigger."
Nick has taken those home cooked lessons, transcended the small family kitchen, and brought his creative and sophisticated take on Mississippi food to the most discerning of palates. But he still knows where he'd most like to be for a weekend meal. Mom's kitchen.
"Do you think you could out cook Nick?" I asked Susie.
She laughed. "Not new school. I'm not new school. But Southern, old fashioned. Yeah, I still got him there."
And that's the only way Nick would have it. No one makes it like mom.