Making the world smaller through food

Two Mississippi chefs will bring a taste of the Deep South to Astoria as part of Chef Outta Water, a program to expand cultural horizons by cooking

For a short time this month, Astoria will take on a taste of the Deep South as it welcomes two Mississippi chefs for a southern family-style dinner. It’s part of Chef Outta Water, an international consortium aimed at exposing chefs to other cultures.

Chef Chris Holen of Astoria’s Baked Alaska restaurant and Australian economic development executive Simon Millcock founded the group about three-and-a-half years ago.

“Chef Outta Water is a bit of a social enterprise,” Holen said. “We want to get chefs out of their comfort zone. It can be a monotonous profession, so we travel and work with other chefs in other states and countries. The idea is when you go home you are inspired.”

Chef Chris Holen (middle) put on a dinner with Delta Supper Club chefs Stewart Robinson (left) and David Crews in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 2018. On March 14, he will welcome them to Astoria for RIVER2RIVER, a Southern family-style dinner that is part of an effort aimed at exposing the world’s chefs to diverse cultural experiences.  Photo by: Rory Doyle 

Holen and fellow members have worked with chefs in countries including Iceland, Saudi Arabia, China, Mexico, Korea, and Portugal, visiting the foreign locales and bringing chefs here.

“We took seven Chinese master chefs on a road trip in Australia,” Holen said. “They wanted to see where their beef was coming from. We met in Melbourne, flew to Adelaide, and rented a big car and trailer and drove back. It was awesome. What we’re trying to do is make the world a little bit smaller through food and get people out of their normal routines.”  

The March 14 gathering, dubbed RIVER2RIVER, features Mississippi chefs David Crews and Stewart Robinson. Steve Azar, Mississippi cultural ambassador and Delta soul musician, will provide after-dinner entertainment. Crews and Robinson head the Delta Supper Club, a nonprofit, members-only “social culinary circle.” With an enthusiastic membership roster, the supper club has a mission of raising awareness of food and culture in Mississippi.

Tickets are $80 for dinner and the show, and $20 for Azar’s show only. Holen is having a custom Korean-style wood-fired barbecue built for the dinner, which is still being fine-tuned. An early menu includes dishes such as Mississippi Delta hot tamale; whipped pimento cheese fondue with puffed port rinds; grilled catfish with grits, sausage and crawfish cream sauce; braised collard greens; and smoked pork belly with slaw and black-eyed pea salad.

This particular dining tale begins in 2018, when Azar was doing a show in Astoria. Holen and Azar cooked together for a nonprofit fundraiser and got to talking. “I said, ‘I’d love to come see you in Mississippi,’” Holen recalled. In short order, Azar helped make that happen, with a collaboration between Chef Outta Water and the Delta Supper Club.

Delta guitarist Steve Azar will perform following the March 14 dinner in the Astoria Armory.

“We flew to Atlanta and drove across Alabama to Mississippi right in the heart of the Delta,”  Holen said. They set up a 3,000-square-foot tent and a big kitchen trailer in Greenwood, population 14,000. “We just popped up in the middle of a park, featuring a globally inspired menu using the ingredients of the Mississippi Delta and there was live entertainment,” Holen said. “It was really enlightening. The RIVER2RIVER dinner is Chef Outta Water returning the favor.”

In keeping with the Supper Club’s focus on historic locations, the RIVER2RIVER dinner will be held in the Astoria Armory. The chefs’ work will start earlier in the day, when they meet with students at the Job Corps, a Chef Outta Water partner.

“We’ll do a po-pup lunch with culinary students as our cooks, and then we’ll have a four- or five-item limited menu, like a food truck. We don’t have prices; people can pay what they want,” Holen said. “We give 100 percent of that to a charitable organization.”

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