Vishwesh Bhatt’s Southern Table

From okra chaat to tandoori-spiced catfish, chef Vishwesh Bhatt shares the flavors of his Mississippi story in I Am From Here


Bhatt with a bounty from the farmers’ market, at his home in Oxford.


Age: 56

Home base: Oxford, Mississippi

Known for: Vishwesh Bhatt is the executive chef of Snackbar, where he deftly melds the foodways of the American South with the flavors and preparations of international cuisines, including those of his native India. Some of his most beloved recipes, and the stories behind them, are collected in his gorgeous new cookbook, I Am from Here, which comes out in August.

Prep work: “I grew up the youngest in a big family in Gujarat, India, and would get home from school early while Mom was cooking. She gave me small tasks to keep me busy—peel this potato, measure out the rice—and the quicker I worked, the quicker I got to eat.”

Southerly view: “When you’re an immigrant, you get asked, Where are you from? I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else, and this place made me who I am. I’m a Southern chef, and this is my home.”

Spice life: “I maybe use spices more liberally. I love field peas with toasted cumin. I like fried chicken, but sometimes with curry and coconut milk. I know the delicious things these flavors can accomplish.”

Pod people: “Okra is also very popular in India and one of my favorite vegetables. Recently, a famous Nashville person came into Snackbar and said she’d never eaten okra. I thought she must really be from Pennsylvania.”

High on the cob: “In India, ‘monsoon corn’ was sold by street vendors just for a short time each year. Here corn is everywhere, and so many things can be done with it. I mean, maque choux, that’s good food.”

Pack a fork: “I’m a curious traveler, and I love discovering regional foods in different areas of the South. My biggest transition has been eating meat, because I grew up vegetarian for twenty years. And seafood was a whole new world, too.”

For the win: “We chefs are egotistical, so being named best chef in the South for 2019 by the James Beard Foundation was a form of validation. The best result is drawing attention here. Culinary focus is on New York and California, but a lot of interesting things are happening in small towns in the middle.”

Educated palates: “I don’t think I could have done this if I weren’t in a college town. When an institution attracts people from elsewhere, they bring foods that make them feel comfortable. First just in their homes, but then they get shared. That’s one way cuisines develop.”

Back to the future: “Even adventurous chefs are now interested in reviving traditions such as heirloom rice, because when you make those local connections, you refocus on neighbors and family. This is about realizing that we are connected and need each other.”