Chef Nick Wallace isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of his craft. A born-and-bred Mississippian, he is cooking up new ways to serve Southern cuisine while paying homage to Jackson’s storied, vibrant, and complex history.

Originally from Edwards, Mississippi, Nick grew up on rural farmland, with his family using much of the fresh produce grown in the soil outside their house in their daily cooking. Watching his grandmothers, Queen Morris and Lennel Donald, work in the kitchen inspired Nick to pursue the culinary arts, and he has since become one of the state’s most recognized and awarded chefs.

Nick has placed Jackson on the national culinary stage through numerous media outlet and Food Network appearances, including Comfort Nation, Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped (Winner, Season 34), and competing on Top Chef. With a steadily growing restaurant and catering empire, he’s evolving what it means to cook with soul in his city.

“Before she passed, my grandmother emphasized the importance of maintaining your voice in your cooking,” Nick said. “Working in Jackson, I’ve found that soul food often gets stereotyped. I love soul food, but my goal is to also try and break those stereotypes. I want to open people’s eyes to what being an African American chef in Mississippi means and how we can cook a variety of foods—foods that rely on preservation and our past.”

Nick recognizes that much of the origins of Southern foodways lie within the complicated histories of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, with foods aiming to nourish during times of survival. The creativity of coaxing flavors from limited resources has fueled Jackson’s creativity in restaurants—and beyond.

“I believe the Freedom Movement serves as our anchor and guide in Jackson; if not the food itself, then it’s a building that you want to turn into a restaurant,” Nick said. “We feel a deep connection to those backstories behind so many of our public spaces. The attachment to the Freedom Movement is unmissable, even in something as simple as
a street name. Every corner, whether in South Jackson, West Jackson, or elsewhere, is intertwined with its legacy. That’s one of the things I love and respect about our city.”

At his restaurant, Nissan Café by Nick Wallace, located at the Two Mississippi Museums, Nick has taken the stories from the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and infused them into his menu as a homage to those who lit the way for himself and so many others.

“I appreciate our museums because they don’t shy away from hard truths; instead, they offer a platform to use them as building blocks for the future,” Nick said. “Our state’s history has inspired my creations, particularly my Mississippi gumbo, which I never would’ve thought to serve had I not been surrounded by these stories. They propel us forward, especially when we understand their significance.”

In his latest move as a leader of the inaugural Jackson Food & Wine Festival, Nick is looking forward to showcasing the city’s diverse food scene—including Asian, Indian, Jamaican, African, French, and more—to incoming chefs from around the nation.

“Jackson is a beautiful mixed bag, and I don’t want to hide away from our stories,” Nick said. “I can use those stories to build my future. I can use them to build my service. I can use them to build my food.”