Do you want to try Mississippi Masala? Now you can in Oxford, Mississippi. Snackbar is an atypical restaurant in an otherwise archetypical Southern town. Owned by John Currence and cooked for by Vishwesh Bhatt — or Vish, as everyone calls him — this restaurant is making headlines everywhere from Southern Living to NPR.
Although this upscale restaurant bills its fare as Southern and French fusion food, there is an unexpected twist that is not advertised.
Many of the dishes are heavily influenced by Vish’s memories of cooking in his mother’s kitchen in India.
What is Indian, French, and Southern Fusion?
Think garam masala home fries, daal hush puppies or his signature dish: okra chaat. However, Snackbar owner Currence tells NPR, Bhatt never wanted to be an Indian chef.
He says, “Vish’s sort of stock reply was, ‘But I don’t ever want to be the cliche Indian guy in a small Southern town in a little bitty Indian restaurant.'”
Still, early on, Indian flavors began finding good company with more traditional Southern ingredients.
Currence tells NPR that,“And it was at that point that people started talking about that restaurant as a place of significance.” This ‘significance’ has helped gain Snackbar a fan group. It has also helped Bhatt gain notable recognition.
A Winning Combination
By the age of 51, Bhatt was a three-time finalist for the James Beard Awards. These awards are often considered the Oscars of the food world. According to NPR, this is still a surprise for the chef who only began cooking in college as “a matter of survival.”
Currence says that despite his unorthodox start, Bhatt is what happens when “an individual becomes a chef.”
His fusion of familiar flavors with new ingredients helps define American cuisine – a cuisine that has evolved from the melting pot of our nation’s cultural identity.