Vishwesh Bhatt is the executive chef of Oxford, Mississippi’s Snackbar and the 2019 James Beard Best Chef in the South winner. His newest accomplishment to add to his resume is author. “I …
Vishwesh Bhatt is the executive chef of Oxford, Mississippi’s Snackbar and the 2019 James Beard Best Chef in the South winner.
Now he is an author with the release of “I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes From A Southern Chef,” this week.
On Wednesday fans can meet him at a signing event at Page and Palette in Fairhope.
This is not just a cookbook; it is a book filled with stories from Bhatt’s life.
“I think it was time for someone like me to tell my story, because there are lots of other stories out there but there are very few voices, especially in the south, of folks like me,” Bhatt said. “People tend to forget how diverse this place is, and we always get that look from outside as if everything is just black and white. It’s not, and I wanted to highlight that as well. There are all sorts of people living here doing all sorts of things.”
Bhatt grew up in India but moved to Austin, Texas, with his parents when he was 18. The family then moved to Kentucky where he attended the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he studied political science. He again followed his parents to Oxford, Mississippi, where he remains today.
His cooking journey began as a youngster, helping his mother, but his journey into the profession didn’t happen until he was 28. He credits his love of eating to leading him to his profession.
“I really like to eat food and then try to figure out what is in it and cook it. That is where it started,” Bhatt said. “The more I worked in the kitchen, the more I liked it and the more I enjoyed the lifestyle and comradery. I was fortunate to be in a kitchen where there were four of five talented folks at City Grocery at the time who were really good at what they did, but also very good at teaching.”
Each chapter of “I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes From A Southern Chef,” is dedicated to an ingredient and shows readers the connections between where Bhatt grew up and the place he lives now.
“For a very long time I have been telling people that there are a lot of connections between the place I grew up in and the place I live as far as food goes,” Bhatt said. “I thought, I keep telling people that, but what if I demonstrated it? That is why the recipes are laid out the way they are, starting with something that is a lot more Indian to something that is more classic and things people may have seen before.”
One such recipe is Bhatt’s version of his mother’s tomato soup. The recipe includes ingredients and spices you may never have thought of using like ginger, cinnamon stick and cloves.
“You are going to taste the spices, but you are also going to know it is tomato soup,” Bhatt said. “It is a little peppery because it is heavy on the black pepper, but I like that combination. If you are having soup as a soup and sandwich kind of deal where you want the soup to stand out, then this is really going to do that. In the end it is about the tomatoes. Right now, when tomatoes are at their best, it is a great time to make it.”
The ingredients highlighted by chapter within Bhatt’s debut cookbook include rice, peas and beans, okra, tomatoes, eggplant, corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes, peanuts, greens, shrimp, catfish, chicken and pork and lamb. Each chapter is filled with recipes that are approachable for any home cook and worthy of a dinner party or family gathering. Bhatt even included a “What Should I Make” section which suggests recipes by occasion like brunch, picnic, weeknight quick fixes and one-pot dinners.
Get to know the author:
What is your must have road trip snack?
“Peanuts. I always stop at gas stations and get all the different flavors of peanuts that I can find.”
What is your go-to breakfast?
“That is a tough one because I am not a huge breakfast person. When I do, I love a nice sourdough toast with salted butter. It has to be salted butter.”
What is your favorite meal from childhood?
“My mom used to make pizza from scratch. It was very rare that she would make it, but I remember that very vividly because of the flavors. She put some red pepper flakes and sliced garlic in the sauce.”
What are your refrigerator staples?
“Milk, cheese, a bottle of wine, yogurt and there is also something like a pimento cheese or hummus.”
Beach or mountains?
“That is a hard one because it depends on the time of the year, but I am going to say beach.”
What is your sweet treat?
“Chocolate, especially the one you get around Christmas that has a little orange in it.”
What is your must have holiday dish?
“It ends up being the sides. I love green bean casserole, mash potatoes and potatoes au gratin and greens. My wife makes a fun sweet potato casserole, it is her dad’s recipe, and it is sort of savory and sweet and it is really good.”