Q&A 2017-08-29T18:28:14+00:00

Feel free to utilize these quotes from the authors in any article or feature publicizing A Mississippi Palate.

RSJ: This might be our best book, yet. We felt it was going to be hard to top An Italian Palate, but I think we might have done it. We are two of Mississippi’s biggest cheerleaders. We love this state and the people of this state, and that made it a very easy project. It’s sort of a love letter home, even though we’ve never left.

We have these great friends in Italy. They are in Florence and Milan. For six years we have been talking to them about coming over here and visiting Mississippi. They have yet to make it. Wyatt and I wanted to create a book that would accurately portray Mississippi to someone who had never been here, and I think we accomplished that, This book looks, feels, and tastes like Mississippi.

WW: For me it has been a chance to portray the different regions of the state and say some things that I personally feel about Mississippi. My father taught Mississippi history and would drive us around the state and explain the sights and their historical significance. At the time, I imagine it was not that interesting, but I have found as I have grown those stories inform my paintings. I have heard it said that everyone has a book inside of them. It is the story of their lives. This is more specifically that story of my life. I hope people find those things that they can identify with in our book. I hope they can see their lives as well. It is a shared history and I believe it is what helps connect us.

RSJ: When we worked together on our first book, A Southern Palate, we had just met each other. We had a lot in common— musical interests, family backgrounds, childhood memories and the like— but we were two guys without a work history.

Today, we are best friends who have been collaborating for over 17 years. It’s way, way better. I think the work is better and we have more fun working with each other. I love collaborative projects. There is a point where you reach when you’re working in a type of shorthand and a lot goes unsaid and unspoken. It’s familiar in a good way.

I think a lot of people get bored and want some type of change in that situation. But I have found just the opposite. We have a blast hanging out with each other and working together. We have driven all over Mississippi for years, with the radio turned up way too loud, and we still encounter people places and things we have never seen before.

Now there is this television project we’ve been working on and it has added another level of fun.

WW: I’m older. No, really, when you are on the road to somewhere, while you are traveling you don’t turn around because you are not there and go back. That’s how I feel about this. Robert and I have been on this journey a long time and we get further down the road and sometimes its discovery and sometimes its rediscovery but it is stimulating to work alongside him. I have always liked collaborative projects. I like working with someone who knows something I don’t.  Someone who does something I don’t. He has a generosity of spirit that makes it not seem like the work that it is. And it is work. The projects we do together are discovery. This time it is a discovery of who we are as a state. The paintings are only my interpretation of that idea but I think we all have something to contribute to that collective view. We all have something to share. I’ve been painting a long time and I believe that every painting is practice for the next. It is about trying to get better. I don’t want to stay the same so this is the latest version of what the best I can do is. The thing that has most changed for me is my awareness of this place I call home.

RSJ: No way. We love Mississippi. We love the people of Mississippi. We both loved growing up in Mississippi, and I plan to die here. There is a lot of material within these borders. I think we’ve just begun to mine all of the good stuff.

WW: No. As I get older I have a longer and deeper view of our history and place. I remember following behind tractors that had just tilled the soil looking for arrowheads. Every year it seemed like someone would plant new arrowheads to replace the ones I found. That’s the way Mississippi is. It is always showing me something new about herself. Sometimes it is more that I have changed and I just see it differently. That is also one of the things I like about painting. I’m searching and trying to discover those things right in front of me. I try to peel the onion and reveal the layers.  Sometimes it makes me cry but it has a flavor that keeps me coming back.

RSJ: It all started as a suggestion by one of our restaurant customers. She had been bugging me for months about writing a cookbook. I had no interest in writing a book, but she persisted. One day she was sitting in the restaurant with a man and called me over to the table. She said, “Robert, this is so-and-so with so-and-so publishing company. Tell him about your cookbook.”

I had no cookbook and, seriously, had never ever thought about doing a cookbook before that moment. So, trying to think quickly on my feet, I said, “If I were to do a cookbook, I would have recipes I have developed here at the restaurant over the years, stories like in my newspaper column about the south, growing up in the south, and food in the south, and watercolors by Wyatt Waters.

Without missing a beat, the publisher said, “Well, if you get Wyatt Waters, you’ve got a deal.” The problem was that I didn’t know Wyatt. I was a big fan of his work and the two books he had released at that time. So, the next day, I hopped in my car, drove to Clinton to his gallery, introduced myself, and told him that I had an idea for a book that would be like a coffee table cookbook, and a publisher willing to publish it. We hit it off, and here we are.

WW: When Robert showed up at my gallery for our first book, he explained he wanted to use food, stories, and art to better explain who we are. More than a cookbook, I thought of it as a cultural statement that showed how we feel and live. This is even more specific and personal to this area where we live. In studying history, when you want to figure out how a people thought you look at these things. The food, the stories they told, and the art. That is what says who we are. Robert invited me to his restaurants and I saw how he does everything in such an excellent way. That happens to be my favorite definition of art. Something done in an excellent way. It was a direction I was already pursuing with my painting. But on a more personal level, I just like Robert and thought it would be fun and challenging.

RSJ: I tumbled with this one for a while. In all of my— and our— other books I have known going in what the structure would be like and how the recipes would be listed by chapter. I didn’t know on this project until we got into the recipe-testing phase of the thing.

I wanted to have heritage recipes that reminded me of my childhood, but I also wanted up-to-date preparations. Ultimately, I chose things that were, “Mississippi to me.” I’m happy with the end result.

WW: The process we have is friendly, unconscious, and natural. I don’t think we think of it as work most of the time. We drive and visit and talk about ideas. The project is the most important thing not whose idea it is or is not. Sometimes the view while driving is the inspiration and I’ll just say “stop.” I get out, walk around and try to listen to what interests me. I believe in working on location and we went to a lot of places and spent real time mining the choices for this book. I like the authenticity of being there for the one on one with my subject. I believe that deep down people are looking for the real thing so why wouldn’t you want to give that? They are also looking for the best and why wouldn’t you want to give that too? One thing that fuels my work are the things that happen and people you meet while location painting. They share stories about an area or subject and provide a humanity that keeps the paint from being just a rendering.

WW: I listen to myself and let my intuition guide me as much as possible. For me, painting is more about discovery than saying what I know. Trying to be a conduit and allow the subject to speak through me helps me to have something to share with an audience. I try to listen to my first impulse.

WW: Yes, a little over twenty. I want to always feel bad about having to leave some paintings out instead of “inventing” paintings to meet a quota. I want to give the best of my best.

RSJ: Shoot, that’s an everyday thing for us. I’d love to take groups across the state to all of the dives, holes-in-the-wall and undiscovered places that we love. That’s kind of what we’re doing with the television show.

These Italy tours have been— like most successful things in my life— completely and totally unplanned. I never sought out to be a tour guide. But while we were on book tour with the Italian book, people at book signings ad events kept saying things like, “I wish y’all would take us over there to all of these places in the book, and the places you wrote about in the newspaper column.” It sounded like conversation filler and small talk at first, and then people kept asking us. So, finally one day, I made a test-the-waters Facebook post to see who might be interested in travelling to Tuscany with us, and the trip filled up in a day. Three tours and a TV show later, we are still doing it.

At 55 years old, I am finally learning that if I can just “stay open minded” to new ideas, good things happen. I fell into the restaurant business after flunking out of college. I started cooking professionally after firing a chef on opening night. I never planned on writing a newspaper column, publishing a book, or hosting a TV show. It seems like all of that has just kind of “happened.” I’m a blessed guy. I get to work alongside my best friend and meet all sorts of interesting people. Not too bad for a kid who just wanted to grow up and be an advertising executive like Darren Stevens on “Bewitched.”

WW: It could be interesting. For me, it would be a tour of what I found while getting lost. That’s a personal philosophy I have. I think I find the most when I’m lost. It’s all new that way. I am the product of this place and I am continuing to search the places and myself to see what that means. The evaluation is something I begin to do a little bit while painting but most of it happens after I have done the painting. That’s the only time I can really tell what has been done. If a Mississippi tour with me happened it might be titled “Finding Yourself While Lost in Mississippi.” It would be an attempt to use the very familiar to show how we all see.

RSJ: We actually started working on a television show immediately after the first book was released. In the wake of that crazy success, we filmed a pilot entitled, “A Southern Palate.” Our buddy Bill Dunlap served as a narrator, and our other friend, Malcolm White, was the first guest. It was a cooking-art-travel thing very similar to what the new show has become.

I had a development deal with the Turner South Network at the time that came about after they purchased the rights to a thing I wrote that they ended up using in their imaging and branding. Wyatt and I went over to Atlanta to show them the pilot we had filmed, and they went nuts for it. We were in the process of negotiating a deal when Fox purchased Turner South and turned it into all sports programming. Food and art didn’t fit into that mix.

We shelved the idea of a TV show and got busy doing other things. But we have always continued to talk about it.

The current show is called “Palate to Palette” and it has been a blast. We filmed eight episodes over in Tuscany this past spring and have just finished six episodes here in Mississippi which will begin airing this fall on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Our friend Anthony Thaxton wears many hats, and is the director/editor/goat wrangler. It’s Wyatt and me having fun, eating too much, listening to music too loud. He’s painting, I’m cooking and eating, we are visiting off-the-beaten-path places and unique people. Generally, it’s a blast. I think people are going to enjoy it, but there’s no way anyone will have as much fun watching it as we have had during the filming.

WW: It’s us doing what we do except we have a camera going. What you will see is what you get.  It’s been and continues to be fun and interesting. My goal has always been to paint and to be able to continue to paint so I could grow. When I was younger I wanted to paint in such a way that I would still want to be doing this at fifty. Now that I’m 62, I have the same goal except it is to paint in such a way that I will want to keep on painting. Painting has given me so much. Anthony Thaxton is a great videographer and shoots much, much more than we use. Anthony and I worked on many attempts at instructional painting videos but this is our first fruit to grow. When I was a kid I watched a show called “Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy.” It was the first commercially broadcast television show and was syndicated for years. It was not a bad show and taught me how to conceptualize the world into simple forms for drawing. I want our show to entertain but I also want to show people how we see and feel. If the audience learns something along the way, more the better. It is primarily a record of our experience of not just an area but how we work together. And how we work is something that is tied our passion for what we do. Robert’s is food, and mine is painting. Hopefully it will show how we combine them.

RSJ: We have a couple of projects we have been talking about. This TV thing has a lot of possibilities. We will definitely keep taking people to Europe on food/art tours, and we have talked about a potential New Orleans book sometime in the future. I have no interest in slowing down anytime soon. In a way, we’re just getting started.

WW: The New Orleans book idea is something I want to do. It’s a place of food and art and it’s familiar yet somewhat removed enough to intrigue me. It’s close yet faraway. It’s very European and they have great coffee. I want to continue TV because it can be a way to connect with a larger audience. As long as we can be honest to who we are and what we do I like it. I think it is. But what do I know? Tune in and see for yourselves.

RSJ: This might be our best book, yet. We felt it was going to be hard to top An Italian Palate, but I think we might have done it. We are two of Mississippi’s biggest cheerleaders. We love this state and the people of this state, and that made it a very easy project. It’s sort of a love letter home, even though we’ve never left.

We have these great friends in Italy. They are in Florence and Milan. For six years we have been talking to them about coming over here and visiting Mississippi. They have yet to make it. Wyatt and I wanted to create a book that would accurately portray Mississippi to someone who had never been here, and I think we accomplished that, This book looks, feels, and tastes like Mississippi.

WW: For me it has been a chance to portray the different regions of the state and say some things that I personally feel about Mississippi. My father taught Mississippi history and would drive us around the state and explain the sights and their historical significance. At the time, I imagine it was not that interesting, but I have found as I have grown those stories inform my paintings. I have heard it said that everyone has a book inside of them. It is the story of their lives. This is more specifically that story of my life. I hope people find those things that they can identify with in our book. I hope they can see their lives as well. It is a shared history and I believe it is what helps connect us.

RSJ: When we worked together on our first book, A Southern Palate, we had just met each other. We had a lot in common— musical interests, family backgrounds, childhood memories and the like— but we were two guys without a work history.

Today, we are best friends who have been collaborating for over 17 years. It’s way, way better. I think the work is better and we have more fun working with each other. I love collaborative projects. There is a point where you reach when you’re working in a type of shorthand and a lot goes unsaid and unspoken. It’s familiar in a good way.

I think a lot of people get bored and want some type of change in that situation. But I have found just the opposite. We have a blast hanging out with each other and working together. We have driven all over Mississippi for years, with the radio turned up way too loud, and we still encounter people places and things we have never seen before.

Now there is this television project we’ve been working on and it has added another level of fun.

WW: I’m older. No, really, when you are on the road to somewhere, while you are traveling you don’t turn around because you are not there and go back. That’s how I feel about this. Robert and I have been on this journey a long time and we get further down the road and sometimes its discovery and sometimes its rediscovery but it is stimulating to work alongside him. I have always liked collaborative projects. I like working with someone who knows something I don’t.  Someone who does something I don’t. He has a generosity of spirit that makes it not seem like the work that it is. And it is work. The projects we do together are discovery. This time it is a discovery of who we are as a state. The paintings are only my interpretation of that idea but I think we all have something to contribute to that collective view. We all have something to share. I’ve been painting a long time and I believe that every painting is practice for the next. It is about trying to get better. I don’t want to stay the same so this is the latest version of what the best I can do is. The thing that has most changed for me is my awareness of this place I call home.

RSJ: No way. We love Mississippi. We love the people of Mississippi. We both loved growing up in Mississippi, and I plan to die here. There is a lot of material within these borders. I think we’ve just begun to mine all of the good stuff.

WW: No. As I get older I have a longer and deeper view of our history and place. I remember following behind tractors that had just tilled the soil looking for arrowheads. Every year it seemed like someone would plant new arrowheads to replace the ones I found. That’s the way Mississippi is. It is always showing me something new about herself. Sometimes it is more that I have changed and I just see it differently. That is also one of the things I like about painting. I’m searching and trying to discover those things right in front of me. I try to peel the onion and reveal the layers.  Sometimes it makes me cry but it has a flavor that keeps me coming back.

RSJ: It all started as a suggestion by one of our restaurant customers. She had been bugging me for months about writing a cookbook. I had no interest in writing a book, but she persisted. One day she was sitting in the restaurant with a man and called me over to the table. She said, “Robert, this is so-and-so with so-and-so publishing company. Tell him about your cookbook.”

I had no cookbook and, seriously, had never ever thought about doing a cookbook before that moment. So, trying to think quickly on my feet, I said, “If I were to do a cookbook, I would have recipes I have developed here at the restaurant over the years, stories like in my newspaper column about the south, growing up in the south, and food in the south, and watercolors by Wyatt Waters.

Without missing a beat, the publisher said, “Well, if you get Wyatt Waters, you’ve got a deal.” The problem was that I didn’t know Wyatt. I was a big fan of his work and the two books he had released at that time. So, the next day, I hopped in my car, drove to Clinton to his gallery, introduced myself, and told him that I had an idea for a book that would be like a coffee table cookbook, and a publisher willing to publish it. We hit it off, and here we are.

WW: When Robert showed up at my gallery for our first book, he explained he wanted to use food, stories, and art to better explain who we are. More than a cookbook, I thought of it as a cultural statement that showed how we feel and live. This is even more specific and personal to this area where we live. In studying history, when you want to figure out how a people thought you look at these things. The food, the stories they told, and the art. That is what says who we are. Robert invited me to his restaurants and I saw how he does everything in such an excellent way. That happens to be my favorite definition of art. Something done in an excellent way. It was a direction I was already pursuing with my painting. But on a more personal level, I just like Robert and thought it would be fun and challenging.

RSJ: I tumbled with this one for a while. In all of my— and our— other books I have known going in what the structure would be like and how the recipes would be listed by chapter. I didn’t know on this project until we got into the recipe-testing phase of the thing.

I wanted to have heritage recipes that reminded me of my childhood, but I also wanted up-to-date preparations. Ultimately, I chose things that were, “Mississippi to me.” I’m happy with the end result.

WW: The process we have is friendly, unconscious, and natural. I don’t think we think of it as work most of the time. We drive and visit and talk about ideas. The project is the most important thing not whose idea it is or is not. Sometimes the view while driving is the inspiration and I’ll just say “stop.” I get out, walk around and try to listen to what interests me. I believe in working on location and we went to a lot of places and spent real time mining the choices for this book. I like the authenticity of being there for the one on one with my subject. I believe that deep down people are looking for the real thing so why wouldn’t you want to give that? They are also looking for the best and why wouldn’t you want to give that too? One thing that fuels my work are the things that happen and people you meet while location painting. They share stories about an area or subject and provide a humanity that keeps the paint from being just a rendering.

WW: I listen to myself and let my intuition guide me as much as possible. For me, painting is more about discovery than saying what I know. Trying to be a conduit and allow the subject to speak through me helps me to have something to share with an audience. I try to listen to my first impulse.

WW: Yes, a little over twenty. I want to always feel bad about having to leave some paintings out instead of “inventing” paintings to meet a quota. I want to give the best of my best.

RSJ: Shoot, that’s an everyday thing for us. I’d love to take groups across the state to all of the dives, holes-in-the-wall and undiscovered places that we love. That’s kind of what we’re doing with the television show.

These Italy tours have been— like most successful things in my life— completely and totally unplanned. I never sought out to be a tour guide. But while we were on book tour with the Italian book, people at book signings ad events kept saying things like, “I wish y’all would take us over there to all of these places in the book, and the places you wrote about in the newspaper column.” It sounded like conversation filler and small talk at first, and then people kept asking us. So, finally one day, I made a test-the-waters Facebook post to see who might be interested in travelling to Tuscany with us, and the trip filled up in a day. Three tours and a TV show later, we are still doing it.

At 55 years old, I am finally learning that if I can just “stay open minded” to new ideas, good things happen. I fell into the restaurant business after flunking out of college. I started cooking professionally after firing a chef on opening night. I never planned on writing a newspaper column, publishing a book, or hosting a TV show. It seems like all of that has just kind of “happened.” I’m a blessed guy. I get to work alongside my best friend and meet all sorts of interesting people. Not too bad for a kid who just wanted to grow up and be an advertising executive like Darren Stevens on “Bewitched.”

WW: It could be interesting. For me, it would be a tour of what I found while getting lost. That’s a personal philosophy I have. I think I find the most when I’m lost. It’s all new that way. I am the product of this place and I am continuing to search the places and myself to see what that means. The evaluation is something I begin to do a little bit while painting but most of it happens after I have done the painting. That’s the only time I can really tell what has been done. If a Mississippi tour with me happened it might be titled “Finding Yourself While Lost in Mississippi.” It would be an attempt to use the very familiar to show how we all see.

RSJ: We actually started working on a television show immediately after the first book was released. In the wake of that crazy success, we filmed a pilot entitled, “A Southern Palate.” Our buddy Bill Dunlap served as a narrator, and our other friend, Malcolm White, was the first guest. It was a cooking-art-travel thing very similar to what the new show has become.

I had a development deal with the Turner South Network at the time that came about after they purchased the rights to a thing I wrote that they ended up using in their imaging and branding. Wyatt and I went over to Atlanta to show them the pilot we had filmed, and they went nuts for it. We were in the process of negotiating a deal when Fox purchased Turner South and turned it into all sports programming. Food and art didn’t fit into that mix.

We shelved the idea of a TV show and got busy doing other things. But we have always continued to talk about it.

The current show is called “Palate to Palette” and it has been a blast. We filmed eight episodes over in Tuscany this past spring and have just finished six episodes here in Mississippi which will begin airing this fall on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Our friend Anthony Thaxton wears many hats, and is the director/editor/goat wrangler. It’s Wyatt and me having fun, eating too much, listening to music too loud. He’s painting, I’m cooking and eating, we are visiting off-the-beaten-path places and unique people. Generally, it’s a blast. I think people are going to enjoy it, but there’s no way anyone will have as much fun watching it as we have had during the filming.

WW: It’s us doing what we do except we have a camera going. What you will see is what you get.  It’s been and continues to be fun and interesting. My goal has always been to paint and to be able to continue to paint so I could grow. When I was younger I wanted to paint in such a way that I would still want to be doing this at fifty. Now that I’m 62, I have the same goal except it is to paint in such a way that I will want to keep on painting. Painting has given me so much. Anthony Thaxton is a great videographer and shoots much, much more than we use. Anthony and I worked on many attempts at instructional painting videos but this is our first fruit to grow. When I was a kid I watched a show called “Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy.” It was the first commercially broadcast television show and was syndicated for years. It was not a bad show and taught me how to conceptualize the world into simple forms for drawing. I want our show to entertain but I also want to show people how we see and feel. If the audience learns something along the way, more the better. It is primarily a record of our experience of not just an area but how we work together. And how we work is something that is tied our passion for what we do. Robert’s is food, and mine is painting. Hopefully it will show how we combine them.

RSJ: We have a couple of projects we have been talking about. This TV thing has a lot of possibilities. We will definitely keep taking people to Europe on food/art tours, and we have talked about a potential New Orleans book sometime in the future. I have no interest in slowing down anytime soon. In a way, we’re just getting started.

WW: The New Orleans book idea is something I want to do. It’s a place of food and art and it’s familiar yet somewhat removed enough to intrigue me. It’s close yet faraway. It’s very European and they have great coffee. I want to continue TV because it can be a way to connect with a larger audience. As long as we can be honest to who we are and what we do I like it. I think it is. But what do I know? Tune in and see for yourselves.