By Susan Marquez
“Pomegranate lacquered salmon with an herb and onion salad + baked minty Beaulah Land rice with feta, and olive, pomegranate, walnut relish.”
“Coq au Vin with gruyere and herbs de Provence rice gritsotto + roasted Brussels sprouts glazed with Carol Puckett’s fig jam and sherry vinegar.”
“Crispy chicken thighs with olives and garlicky croutons + jeweled Delta Wild rice.”
I consider myself to be a decent home cook, but I don’t turn out meals like the ones LeAnne Doss Gault prepares every weeknight in her northeast Jackson home. Her meals deserve Michelin stars and serious accolades, and her son, Noah, agrees. Noah lives and works with LeAnne and often pitches in to cook. Both enjoy the fruits of their labors each evening as they contemplate the next night’s culinary creation.
A native of the Mississippi Delta, LeAnne’s dad sold farm equipment. She lived in Yazoo City during her elementary school years, Indianola during middle school and in Greenville during high school. The oldest of four girls, LeAnne first learned about food in her family’s kitchen. “My mom was a good cook but a little predictable. She had a few dishes she cooked well, and it became country fried steak on Mondays, meatloaf on Tuesdays and so on, always accompanied by peas and cornbread. My dad cooked ‘big foods’ on weekends, like spaghetti and gumbo. He cooked those dishes at his hunting camp as well, and everyone loved my dad’s cooking.”
LeAnne loved to watch Julia Child on television on Sundays. “I never had all the ingredients she used, but her show inspired me to jazz up spaghetti by adding new ingredients and make fancy salads.”
As LeAnne matured in the kitchen, she wanted to prepare more sophisticated foods, like lemon chicken or salmon. While attending Delta State University she cooked for three roommates. “I was a vegetarian at the time, so that created a bit of a challenge,” she recalls. During college, she gained some restaurant experience when she worked at Ruth & Jimmy’s in Cleveland, a bait shop that sold plate lunches.
After college, LeAnne moved to Hattiesburg, where she worked at Fourth Street Grocery. “We served fifty-cent oysters.” From there, she moved to Athens, Georgia, where she worked as a nanny. “The mother left me recipes to cook for their dinner. The recipes came from cookbooks I’d never seen – Laurel’s Kitchen, Moosewood and Julia Child. I loved it. I just carefully followed the recipes and learned so much in the process.” While living in Athens, LeAnne had her first son.
Her next stop was Oxford, where LeAnne’s cousin owned Bottle Tree Bakery. She worked there and at Proud Larry’s. “I realized I loved food, and I loved working in restaurants.” After having a second son, LeAnne moved to Greenwood with her husband and two boys. She taught school for a few years, fourth-grade drama and eighth-grade English. Fred Carl opened Viking Range in Greenwood, manufacturing restaurant-style ranges for the home. LeAnne’s husband got a job as a chef at Giardina’s in Greenwood, and it was there that LeAnne met Fred Carl. “I told him I wanted to work at Viking, and he asked me to send him a writing sample and resume. I sent him two poems and an article I had written for Southern Folklife.” She got the job.
Carol Puckett came on the scene at Viking Cooking School “in a big way,” says LeAnne. Carol advocated for LeAnne to be promoted, and soon she oversaw sponsorships and chef relations. “That job afforded me some incredible opportunities,” she says. “I went to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), the James Beard Awards and to Southern Foodways symposiums. I was exposed to some incredible meals.” As a mom, LeAnne wanted to give her children the world, and the best way she knew how was to try to recreate the dishes she had enjoyed while out of town.
Now her boys are grown, and she lives in Jackson, where she works for a communications startup, Edge Theory. On the weekends, she is back in Greenwood, where she teaches classes at the Viking Cooking School. “That’s a ton of fun for me. I love meeting people, pouring them wine and showing them new cooking techniques.”
She plans her meals each week using recipes she has collected from The New York Times, Food52.com and Bon Appetit. “I plan what I’m going to cook the next week each Wednesday. I tweak the recipes and make shopping lists on Thursday and Friday.” She drives to Greenwood after work on Friday, and on Sunday morning, she drives back to Jackson, where she shops up to five or six separate places for ingredients for the coming week’s meals. “I go to grocery stores and to Indian and Asian markets.”
Sunday afternoon, she spends time prepping food for the week. “I’ll also do so
me of the techniques I’m not real familiar with, such as simmering and braising. The rest of the week, I can put together a dish fairly fast.” The photography she does of her food really stands out on the Facebook group, "Cooking and Coping: Gathering Around the Virtual Dinner Table," which she helped start as an offshoot of Malcolm White and Carol Puckett’s Deep South Dining radio program on MPB.
When asked about her beautiful food pictures, LeAnne says her secret is a plant light. “A friend gave me an herb-growing set-up a few years ago that had a plant light. The herbs didn’t make it, and I stuck the light in a closet. I remembered it last year when we started the Facebook group, and it works perfectly to light the food when I am taking photos.”