City Grocery was born out of the frustration of its co-owners, John Currence and Palmer Adams. When a search of Oxford, Mississippi yielded no restaurant offering the fine flavors and subtle sophistication they yearned for, they decided to open that restaurant themselves. So these two young urban New Orleanians opened City Grocery to satisfy their own need, and in the process fulfilled the wishes of many, many more.
John Currence is a New Orleans native, but his cooking was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There under tutelage of one of the founders of regional American cooking, Bill Neal of “Cook’s Corner”, he learned classic French techniques and traditional Deep South American Cuisine. In 1985, he left Neal’s employ to assume the pasta chef position at the upscale “Aurora” in Chapel Hill to expand his repertoire, and studied the basics of Italian preparation.
Four years later in 1989, at the request of his future partner, Palmer Adams, then General Manager of Gautreau’s in New Orleans, Chef John moved to New Orleans to become sous chef at Gautreau’s under Larkin Selman (who by the way was only one of three chefs, in 30 years, to stand up the Great Chefs team).
Eighteen months later in 1991, Chef Currence took the executive sous chef position at Ralph and Cindy Brennan’s soon-to-be opened Italian restaurant, “Bacco’s”. In preparation for his position at “Bacco’s”, he spent eight months training at two of the Brennan’s other restaurants, “Mr. B’s Bistro” and “Commander’s Palace”, learning management skills and the art of running a high volume and highly skilled kitchen.
Although the decision to leave the Brennan family was troublesome, the lure of private ownership pulled, and in the spring of 1992 Currence and Adams opened “City Grocery” in Oxford, Mississippi and have seen the establishment’s fame grow as the years have passed.
1996 was a good year for Chef John Currence. In May of 1996, the Great Chefs team showed up in Oxford to tape John preparing a Soft Shell Crab entrée for their Great Chefs of the South series (episode #13), and a Smoke Oysters Timbale appetizer for their Great Chefs of America series (episode # 109). Later that year in October, Chef Currence married Susanna Gee.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he came back to New Orleans to help 90 year old Willie Mae Seaton rebuild her Willie Mae’s Scotch House (honored by the James Beard Foundation), with the help of other chefs, as well as Southern Foodways Alliance and actor Morgan Freeman.