“The ideas I have in my head will take a long time to catch up to,” says Zacchaeus Golden, a twenty-eight-year-old chef with a New Testament name, a wrought-iron frame, and a headlamp-bright smile. “This is my laboratory,” he says of Southern Soigné, which opened in Jackson, Mississippi, last December. “This is where I’m trying to figure things out.”
Set in a Victorian cottage three blocks from the state capitol, on a street lined with the offices of the Mississippi Asphalt Pavement Association and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, the tasting-menu restaurant is run by Golden with only one other person—his mother, Margie.
She works the door, walking guests down the wide hall and through the four dining parlors, beaming with pride over the modern art her son displays on the walls and presents on the plates. He works the kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven, a ceramic-lined Japanese box grill, a sous vide getup, and a four-burner electric stove that looks like it was pulled from a college rental unit.
Conceived to serve twelve diners each night, the seven-to-twelve-course, $95 menu pinballs from dishes like fried chicken on a stick topped with caviar and served on a strip of chicken wire folded to recall a coop, to wood-fired lozenges of red Wagyu swaddled in redeye gravy, to candied butternut squash crowned with a mascarpone bouffant. Though tasting-menu restaurants have long been associated with expense accounts and bucket lists, more approachable ones like Soigné have become vogue among young Southern chefs with big ideas and small budgets, including Alex Perry and Kumi Omori of Vestige, down-state in Ocean Springs. And while dinner here can reveal faults—the overhead lighting beams runway bright, and the menu sometimes veers into top-everything-with-caviar baroqueness—spend a night in Golden’s company and you will witness a special alchemy: the power of youthful obsession, the promise of Black genius, and the possibilities underdog cities present.
“I could have never done this any other place,” says Golden, who grew up an hour away in Belzoni, speaking of the low rent and the local farmers and artisans who root for him. Jackson gives. But it also takes: Around 25 percent of citizens here live in poverty.
That challenge inspires Golden, who was in his late teens when he won his first restaurant job, flipping burgers at a Sonic, and has since cooked at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia and the French Laundry in California. He wants to make Southern Soigné into a destination restaurant like those places, one that generates pride in place and helps spur economic development.
He says his restaurant can be a step forward for a city that is now showing new energy. But he also recognizes the value gained by leveraging the past. In homage to Leah Chase, the late grande dame of Creole cuisine, he cooks a verdant gumbo of mustard greens, turnip greens, and beef neck-bone meat, topped with seared foie gras and served with a side skillet of cornbread. To pay tribute to his grandmother Dorothy Ingraham, he refashions the banana pudding she made when he was a boy, folding vanilla wafers into panna cotta to make the custard, and torching the meringue tile on top like a s’more.
In every dish he cooks, Golden broadcasts the creativity and idealism of an early-career Sean Brock or Patrick Clark, jousting at windmills and pretensions. If he figures out how to figure this out, and if Jackson throws its support behind this bold experiment, Mississippi, and the South, will be better for the effort.