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Southern Soigne is Carefully and Elegantly Designed

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI

By Susan Marquez

Southern Soigne is perhaps one of the most unique restaurants in Jackson. It’s more of an experience than a restaurant. “Southern,” because it is located in the heart of the South with a perfect view of the gilded eagle atop the dome of the state capitol building through a dining room window. “Soigne,” (swan-yay) is word borrowed from French and means carefully or elegantly done, operated, or designed. Owner/chef Zacchaeus "Zach" Golden has created a restaurant that is intentional and non-pretentious. Built as a home in the mid-1800s, the fully renovated space has three dining rooms and a foyer lounge area.

An alternate meaning for soigne is well-groomed. And Golden delivers. With his pressed and starched white chef’s coat and clean-cut good looks, he presents himself as capable and confident. Raised in Belzoni, where farm-raised catfish is king, Zach and his mother lived in his grandmother’s home. “My grandmother had a convenience store with a small restaurant that served coffee, breakfast sandwiches, smothered pork chops and such for nearby farm workers,” recalls Golden. “I spent much of my childhood there, but the only thing food related I did was to watch food shows on TV.”

While in high school, Golden moved with his mother to Mobile, Alabama. “I got my first restaurant job at the local Sonic Drive-In.” He liked the work, and was a fast learner. “I wanted to be good at everything. I car hopped, and I cooked. I got close to the manager, and he taught me to do different things.”

When it was time to go to college, Golden chose the culinary program at Bishop State Community College in Mobile. “I knew I wanted to do something hands-on, and I wanted to be taken seriously,” he remembers. While in college he worked at various upscale casual restaurants around Mobile. “I was fortunate to have a good mentor at the college,” he says.

After graduating, Zachary Engle hired Golden to cook at Shaya in New Orleans. “I began to learn modern cooking techniques, and different ways to manipulate ingredients. I began thinking about ways to take Southern food and elevate it,” he says. “I was inspired by the New York style, and haute cuisine presented as art.”

After working at a few more restaurants, Golden used the money he saved to move to San Francisco with dreams of working in a Michelin star restaurant. “Those were tough times,” he recalls. Golden worked in various restaurants around San Francisco then headed back South to New Orleans, where he worked at Palace Café and Redfish Grill, then with Nina Compton: “She ran a tight ship,” he says. All the while, Golden was sending his resume and job applications to French Laundry in Napa Valley, where getting a job is harder than getting a reservation. Finally, he got the call he’d been waiting for.

“Thomas Keller is one of the best chefs in the country,” says Golden. “He put forth a culture at The French Laundry that is so unique. Everyone there is mentored.” Soon, Golden was offered an opportunity to stage there, which is like a working interview. “I was put to work as a commis, or prep chef, where I learned to cook in the classic French style,” he recalls. After leaving The French Laundry, Golden did a brief stint at another Michelin three-star restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington in D.C., before heading back to his Mississippi roots.

On the heels of the COVID pandemic, Golden achieved his goal of opening his own restaurant: Southern Soigne opened in December 2021. Reservations are a must at Southern Soigne. “I like to keep it at around twelve people,” Golden says. Dinner consists of several courses, and typically lasts about three hours. The food is served by Margie, Golden’s mother. “She makes sure the train arrives at the station on time,” he laughs.

And while his life experiences have been vastly more sophisticated than hers, Margie, who often admits she has no idea what is on the plates she is serving, is extremely proud and supportive of her son, whom she refers to as Chef. Striving to go above and beyond on execution, Golden puts his heart and soul into his food. “I wouldn’t want a heart surgeon to put forth a halfway effort,” he says. “I’m here to satisfy people. I take it seriously.”

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