Story and Images by Michele D. Baker
Chef Taylor Bowen-Ricketts is easy to be around – she exudes artistic energy, but in an unruffled, everything-will-get-done manner. In the brief pause between the lunch crowd and the dinner rush, she relaxes in a vinyl and chrome kitchen chair at a yellow Formica table. The dining cubicle is tucked into the middle of her latest culinary adventure: Fan and Johnny’s.
The downtown Greenwood restaurant, located just half a block from the picturesque Yazoo River, has been serving delicious food since 2016. The architecture and furnishings are industrial chic, with 15-foot exposed brick walls, skylights, poured and stained concrete floors, and artwork by both Bowen-Ricketts and her chef/artist husband, Darby Ricketts, adorning the walls. Like colors on an artist’s palette, no two tables are alike – the yellow and gray Formica table perches near a formal wooden dining table and six shield back chairs. Further along, a standard restaurant booth with double benches squats beneath a mounted quilt-turned-artwork. Hanging lamps made from jelly jars and milk bottles illuminate each carefully considered space, almost as if each table is the focus of its own personal dining room. A wooden hutch with a marble top and leaded stained-glass inserts holds menus, mints and a stack of local magazines.
Bowen-Ricketts was clearly born an artist, and now uses both pigments and foodstuffs with equal flair to express her values and ideas. At Ole Miss, she studied art, created beautiful art, curated art shows and sold her artwork. “After graduation, I needed something to do every day, so I started working in a restaurant. Everyone worked together as a team and they showed art on the walls – it was a family,” she remembers. “I’ve always loved food, hospitality and entertaining. I worked in several fun restaurants – very well run – that served real food prepared with proper techniques. It was another medium for creativity.” As proof, a cozy round booth in the back houses just one of Bowen-Ricketts’ awards, a ceramic plate bearing the proud moniker: “James Beard Award Nominee 2016.” Several large canvases lush with bold strokes, vivid colors and remembered stories, hang next to her accolades.
Fan and Johnny’s, her seventh restaurant in a nearly 30-year career, is named for her maternal grandparents, a natural continuation of her artistic and culinary career. Her Cajun grandparents’ kitchen, always full of locally sourced, seasonally available “real food,” was an early inspiration for the chef, and one of the culinary themes that has followed Bowen-Ricketts from the Yocona River Inn early in her career, to The Hoka (a whole food restaurant), through her time working at Viking and Delta Fresh Market, to the present restaurant.
Open for lunch and dinner, starters here include a thick Caribbean black bean soup with cornbread croutons, oranges and onions; black-eyed pea cakes with baby greens and remoulade; and lemon pepper fried shrimp. Po-Boys are served on Gambino rolls, including The Hoka BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy with mayo, tomato and spring mix; Nashville Hot Chicken tossed in hot sauce butter with homemade pickles and ranch dressing; fried catfish with bacon tartar, cabbage and crispy onions; and a ginger pecan chicken salad with oranges and lettuce. Decadent desserts are also available to put the finishing touches on any meal: bread pudding, hot fudge pie and blueberry crisp, all homemade and served with local gelato, are sure to please.
She credits her long success with the people, opportunities and experiences – both good and bad – working in high profile positions at Viking. “My friend Martha [Foose] had moved to Greenwood,” she explains. “She thought I might do well at Viking, and I had many opportunities through that connection. I attended the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa, took weeklong continuing education classes to learn more about cooking techniques, and cooked for executives and visitors from around the world. I had access to the Food Network, and one of my colleagues there nominated me for the James Beard [Award].”
Fully immersed in the Delta now through her children, her restaurant and her art, Bowen-Ricketts is a staple ingredient in this community. “People followed me from Delta Fresh Market and The Hoka, asking me, ‘When are you going to open another restaurant?’ Well, I finally did, and I can do what I want now. I’m only open about 15 hours a week, so I can do other things, too.”
Pointing to the cabbages and herbs in a large container garden in the cobbled alleyway beside Fan and Johnny’s, she explains further: “This is where we set up the long tables for about a hundred people,” says Bowen-Ricketts. “We do a fundraiser for ArtPlace Mississippi, a nonprofit dedicated to creating access to the arts for everyone in Leflore County. And I finally have time to tell my girls to slow down, because it all goes so very fast.”