As a kid growing up in Gulport, Mississippi’s Bayou Bernard community, Christopher Freeman developed a passion for food. He learned to hunt and fish and take vegetables from his father’s garden to add to his grandmother’s gumbo. He says Southern flavors and his California experience will season his next big adventure, but not before heating up Byron Knight’s Sneaky Beans’ kitchen for a special event this Sunday.
“Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring” is a jazz brunch conceived by Freeman and Knight over several months of talks – and, in Freeman’s words, “simply incredible” cups of Paul Bonds’ Bean Fruit coffee. Sunday’s brings Napa Valley to the south and Tyler Kemp and Hagan Curls’ Dime Bros jazz funk to the Bean’s front porch.
Freeman describes Sunday’s menu as “beautiful and gourmet-esque.” He’ll start with a brined, locally-grown chicken breast, marinate it in rosemary, garlic, olive oil and onions and top it with cracked black pepper. Brussel sprouts, a California winter dish, will be cooked until bright, simmered in bacon lard, carrots, onions, thyme and parsley. A potato puree with garlic and a roasted chicken jus will finish off the dish. For dessert, Freeman will macerate Louisiana strawberries and put them over shortcake with a whipped topping. If you’re so inclined, you can enjoy Mimosas made with Mumm’s Champagne.
Where does the idea for a menu like this come from? For Freeman, it’s in years of experience all over the country. For Knight, it’s trying something new, especially with past food pop ups being so well loved. “You gotta get involved with other people,” Knight says of his association with guest chefs. “If I just sold coffee, it wouldn’t be as fun. With me doing breakfast on Saturday, people know I do a little food.” And when guest chef breakfasts like January’s “Mom My Breakfast Don’t Look Like It Used To” went so well, Knight says it made him want to do more food stuff. (Chef Jesse Houston plans a Star Wars themed breakfast in May).
Knight tells us there’s another part to this: it brings new people in to his coffee shop who haven’t been there before. “Hopefully they like it and come back,” he explains. “Christopher is meeting new people, I’m meeting new people. His food crowd may not know we’re here. After this, they will.”
Freeman left Fondren in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina dropped a tree in the middle of his place on Eagle Avenue. But, he says, this is home. “When I left, I said I was coming back,” he tells us. “Gumbo, fried shrimp po boys, friends, family, hunting and fishing spots: that’s where it’s at. I am from Mississippi.”
At 42, his experiences have taken him across the Carolinas, Florida, and Louisiana. He was a demo chef at the New Orleans Culinary School. In California – Napa Valley to be exact – Freeman was entremetier at The Wine Spectator Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. He also served as Sous Chef at Go Fish and while there, the restaurant received their Michelin recommendation, a coveted designation for any restaurant. Since then, he’s been a restaurant consultant in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, and, now, back in Jackson. Freeman offers private chef and catering services here and has partnered with other big name restauranteurs on several gigs.
After a world of experience, Freeman hopes to bring some of what he has learned back to his home state. He calls for camaraderie and the embracing of all things local. “If we can all grab on to everything that’s going on and support what’s happening in Jackson, that would increase everything here,” he says. Freeman would like to see more local farmers getting their crops into restaurants. “Seeing them supported would help tremendously. I’d like for everything in Fondren to be completely local.”
On the list next, a Mississippi-sourced food truck and a commissary run by Freeman that will play host to other food trucks. Details are still being ironed out. For now, he’s busy meeting other chefs who are doing great things for Jackson’s food scene and challenging himself to do something new. “I’m more passionate now about food than I have ever been,” he says. “My way to make a difference is with food. And I know what it takes to make it great. What’s my next adventure? It’s what I live for.”