Chef’s Table is our look inside the mind and palate of notable chefs and bartenders throughout the South. This month we meet Justin Ferguson, sous chef at Hattiesburg’s Purple Parrot Café.
Ferguson was born in Hattiesburg and raised in Long Beach, Miss. A 10-year veteran of Crescent City Grill and Purple Parrot, he enjoys novels, rock ‘n’ roll music and high-rye, bottled-in-bond bourbons.
WHICH FOOD REMINDS YOU OF…
- …Thanksgiving with your family?
I’m lucky to have come from a family that actually cooks, and cooks well. Since I’ve become a professional cook, I’ve come to associate Thanksgiving with collaborating with my mom, whose enthusiasm for trying new things in the kitchen has grown along with my own interests. Her tastes, like a fondness for funkier foodstuffs — olives, cheeses, and pickles, for example — have majorly influenced my own. But really, Thanksgiving is a day in which I DON’T have to cook, which can be nice.
- …struggling to make a meal out of odds and ends?
At work, no matter how lofty our culinary ambitions, we must be especially mindful of maximizing the use of product. What leaps to mind are the heritage-breed hogs we get from folks in the area we’ve come to know. There is a special pressure there to make sure you do right by this wonderful pig and the person who raised it. It can be a struggle, even if it’s a labor of love, but fortunately we can lean on the accumulated culinary wisdom of the chefs before us — terrines, pâtés’, sausages, cures, chops, shoulders, loins for braising, roasting, and frying. One of my favorite dishes I’ve done was a duck dish, a favorite mostly because we’d get the whole duck, and neither odd nor end of that bird was excluded from the plate.
- …your first mind-blowing culinary experience?
Braised beef short-rib osso bucco. I’d been working at the restaurant for over a year, and had always taken pride in my work, but I wouldn’t have called cooking a “passion.” Linda Nance (now Roderick), the chef d’ cuisine at the time, was heading up a sort of Mediterranean-themed tasting menu for Cat Cora. A “Chefs for Humanity” event in the Parrot, and the first big dinner like that I’d been a part of. It’s not like I was sitting down to eat, but I got to try everything. When I tried that perfectly-braised beef, super tender, rich and fatty, with a sauce made from the jus it was braised in, it was a “eureka” moment which I rarely have. I knew I wanted to know how to make that, and, generally, that I was happy to cook for a living. I saw it for the unique craft that it is, with all sorts of arcane techniques, ingredients, and cuisines that I could essentially “nerd out” on, just as I have with every other field of study I’ve taken up.
You can find the fruits of Ferguson’s nerdery scattered throughout the menus of both the Purple Parrot and Branch.