Jackson— As a new catering duo in the metro area, the father/son team of Autrey Catering may also be the dynamic duo of food preparation. Dan Autrey and his son, Devin Autrey, have been cooking together since Devin was about five years old, but started their catering business in August when Devin returned from school and work in San Francisco. They hope to introduce a level of seasonal freshness in catering to the Jackson area.
“I got that love of cooking from my dad,” Devin said. “I grew up spending time with him in the kitchen.”
That’s why the family was supportive when Devin decided to leave the University of Alabama for culinary school in San Francisco. He chose that California city because he believes it’s one of the best cities in the world for food. He was there for four years and graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 2001. After that, he worked with several renowned chefs including Ron Segal who was the first American chef to win the Iron Chef award in Japan. Segal is now executive chef at San Francisco’s Ritz Carlton.
“There is a level of produce, quality of fruits and vegetables and outstanding food purveyors that are available year round there that makes it an outstanding city for food,” Devin Autrey said. “I wanted to bring that back to Jackson. I’ve learned it’s not impossible to do here — there’s just not a demand for it.”
The 25-year-old Autrey has located small farmers in Mississippi who produce the quality of food essential to the kind of cuisine he wants. Clyde’s Farm in Poplarville and Blackwater Farm in Meridian are two that are raising pasture-fed chicken, grass-fed beef and pork and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables that have not been tampered with through the years.
“We’re finding great fresh produce and organic products and building relationships throughout the area with suppliers,” he said. “There’s definitely a market for it here, and the demand is growing. We’re trying to introduce people to it, and it’s being accepted. It’s all about the freshness and quality of the produce.”
The Autreys say seasonal is the cornerstone of French and California cuisine, and they believe it can be done in Mississippi. “People are extremely surprised by it and that it’s not turnip greens and cornbread,” Dan Autrey said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with turnip greens and cornbread.”
In fact, the father of this team says his role is to add a little Southern flavor to their culinary creations. The Autreys meet with clients to determine needs, wants, number of people to be fed and budget. “It’s what the client wants. We take that and incorporate it into the menu,” he said. “The clients usually are open to suggestion although they may have a vision. We discuss it with them and bring back a plan.”
He adds that they are not a typical catering service and have no set menus. Each menu is tailor made for the client whether it’s for five people or 100. An example is the eight-course dinner paired with wines the Autreys catered for a private party. Blackwater Farm organically raised pork was used for the entrée of peppercorn crusted pork chops with sweet potato gnocchi.
There was also a green eggs and ham course featuring eggs from heirloom birds that lay tiny, green eggs. The eggs were removed from the shells and cooked with squash, then returned to the shells for serving with a dollop of crème fraiche on top.
“The diners had never experienced anything like that,” Dan Autrey said. “Portion sizes were small so they could enjoy all of the courses.”
Everything served at that dinner party was grown in Mississippi, including the seasonal figs used for a dessert of glazed black mission figs.
For four weeks this chef team recently provided lunches for 80 Salvation Army disaster workers at the divisional headquarters here. Beth Autrey, wife of Dan and mother of Devin, is regional director over three states for the Salvation Army. After doing some catering and owning two restaurants in Atlanta, Dan retired and moved to Jackson when Beth accepted the position. He waited for Devin to return from San Francisco to don his chef’s jacket again.
The Autreys can provide place settings or work with clients such as the woman who used her 16 different china patterns for a bridge luncheon. Dan Autrey says his son is a master at presentation and doesn’t just put food on a plate.
Father and son decide ahead of time who will do what. They work together so smoothly they don’t even have to do much talking once preparations get underway. Each anticipates what the other will need. “We do a lot on the front end and work well together,” Dan Autrey said. “We have all sides covered and have no problem working together.”
Devin Autrey recommends that diners try to experience everything about food. “The way we cook is the healthiest anywhere,” he said. “There are no cans or packages. Those are the things that cause problems. We use organic, seasonally fresh food.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.