HOLLY SPRINGS — What does gumbo have to do with economic development in North Mississippi?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
African-American chef LaMont Burns will soon be launching a new cooking show on Turner South television called “LaMont’s of Holly Springs.” And a whole economic development program that mixes cooking with Southern history, tourism and black entrepreneurship is being built around the new cooking show.
Burns and local tourism and economic development officials have no less a goal than reinventing the image of Mississippi while turning Holly Springs into a living history community akin to Williamsburg, Va.
“This is an economic venture unlike anything we have ever experienced,” said Holly Springs Mayor Andre DeBerry.
Burns sees packaging cooking and historicalcultural tourism as “a new Southern frontier”.
“This is a very significant event where one can take a whole city and turn its imagery and history into a marketable enterprise,” said Burns, who considers his role as storyteller as important as the culinary aspects of the venture. “We want to take the City of Holly Springs and do with it what has been done with Williamsburg, Va. Lamont’s of Holly Spring will be about the South: it’s food, history and music.
“Southern ethnic foods evolved from black cooks in antebellum kitchens. It is indeed the American cuisine created by the people who mastered the kitchens of that time. Someone has to take this wonderful story out to the world and build wonderful products around it. It is a real pleasure and honor to be able to represent the State of Mississippi, and an awesome responsibility to go out and tell the story correctly and represent the state to the world.”
Burns uses recipes that have been passed down through his family for four generations. His great grandmother, Lucinda Macklin, worked in the early plantation kitchens of the Old South 150 years ago. Her sauces and marinades made her a local cooking celebrity.
Now those same sauces are sold in grocery stores such as Kroger’s, Sam’s and Wal-Mart under her great grandson’s label. LaMont’s Food Products markets Authentic Southern Marinade and Authentic Southern Barbeque Sauce with a picture of Lamont with a Southern antebellum mansion in the background.
This isn’t Burns first venture in broadcasting. He has appeared as a guest chef on the nationally syndicated PM Magazine television show and had a nationally syndicated cooking show while living in California. He also previously owned Southern barbecue restaurants in California which received acclaim as “one of the 100 best barbeque restaurants in the country.” And he is the author of the Doubleday book “Down Home Southern Cooking.” He plans to revise that book, tie in the history of Holly Springs, and republish it.
Currently $7 million is being invested in building a 20,000-square-foot antebellum-style Southern mansion in Holly Springs for a television studio, tourism center, restaurant and headquarters for the cooking and tourism operations.
“The success of this whole venture will allow Holly Springs to be recognized around world due to the cooking show, books and e-commerce,” Burns said.
Burns said Holly Springs’ natural resource is history, and the projects being envisioned will take that history, package it and sell it.
Mayor DeBerry said in terms of Civil War cultural and historical assets, Holly Springs is probably second to none. The city has 63 antebellum homes, and the first black senator in the U.S., Hyrum Revels, is buried in Holly Springs. LaMont’s project is about re-emphasizing Civil War history.
“The Civil War is a period of history that we have basically run away from, especially in the South,” Deberry said. “The LaMont’s of Holly Springs basic concept is re-emphasizing Civil War history, looking at how American cuisine was born out of the Civil War from the kitchens of slaves. This isn’t to glorify or vilify slavery but to show how we developed American cuisine: Southern cooking. We’re giving the state the chance to show the rest of country we’re doing things you say we aren’t capable of doing, making real success stories of our own people. We’re not the segregated racist state that you claim, but are making business opportunities to help minorities actually become successful in our state.”
Charles McKellar, executive director of the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority, said the project represents a huge opportunity for Holly Springs.
“The cooking show obviously is just one part of the picture,” McKellar said. “We are working with Rust College and possibly Ole Miss regarding developing a culinary school, and this provides a whole new opportunity for tourism in Holly Springs and this part of the State of Mississippi.”
“It is a sort of undiscovered area,” McKellar said “The management company working with LaMont has a vision to make Holly Springs another living history opportunity. And there is a great deal of private investment coming in to restore homes. One individual has invested over $2 million in restoring one of antebellum mansions, Walter Place, that will be open to the public.”
Lifestyle Ventures, the management company, plans to arrange for five daily buses that will go on tours of historic Holly Springs homes before eating lunch or dinner at Lamont’s of Holly Springs restaurant, where they can view the cooking that will be on the Turner TV cooking show. Until the new restaurant and headquarters are complete, Burn’s downhome Southern cooking can be sampled at the Kirkwood National Golf Club.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.