Chef John Currence always had a love affair with breakfast. Whether it was scrambled eggs and toast before school with his family, his grandmother’s box mix pancakes with Louisiana cane syrup, bacon and egg sandwiches with his dad at Allgood’s diner in Uptown New Orleans or Sunday brunch at Commander’s Palace in the Garden District, the first meal of the day was always a driving forcing in our founder’s life.
Currence was born and raised in New Orleans, where food is, “as much a part of life as air or water,” says John. “I grew up surrounded by it. Food was part of everything, if not at the center of, everything we did. Go to church: on the way there all we talked about was where we were going for lunch. Fishing or hunting trips: who was cooking the gumbo or beans. Folks coming over to watch football: who’s bringing the stuff for burgers. At a funeral: whether or not so-and-so’s housekeeper made fried chicken. At lunch as Galatoire’s: inevitably, where we were having dinner.”
Food was part of everything, if not at the center of, everything we did.
Chef had his first job cooking the summer he graduated from high school. He cooked for the crew on a tugboat working the oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico. His love for the job was born in the tiny galley kitchen on that boat and that passion propelled him through job after job in kitchens during his college career in Virginia and North Carolina. Currence ultimately ended up back in New Orleans, where he immersed himself completely in his profession. He worked through rigorous training and mentorship with Larkin Selman at Gautreau’s on its opening and then into the hands of the Brennan family at several of their restaurants before settling in Oxford, Mississippi to open his first restaurant of his own, City Grocery.
In 2005 he was nominated for his first James Beard Award for Best Chef South and again each year before winning in 2009. He has been published writing about numerous topics in Garden and Gun, Food and Wine, Saveur, Bon Apetit, etc and has written two James Beard Award-nominated cookbooks, Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey: Food From My Three Favorite Food Groups And Then Some and Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book Of The Day.
Everybody talked about how much they loved the meal, but nobody had put their name on it.
In 2008, a peculiar little location became available and Chef Currence snatched it up with the idea that he could take the “most important meal of the day” and elevate it to be deserving of that moniker. “At the time, nobody in the circle of chefs I traveled amongst had addressed breakfast in that manner. Everybody talked about how much they loved the meal, but nobody had put their name on it. No one had yet applied the same attention to quality of food product and service in a breakfast setting that we all just took forgranted that you HAD to for lunch or dinner, if you wanted to survive’” says John.
“So we went to work on a space that would feel like the places I remembered loving as a child: the lunch counter at Walgreens or K&B Drugstores of the late 1960’s, Allgood’s Diner, Camellia Grill, The Lamplighter, The St. Charles Tavern. And we went to work on a menu. We wanted to make everything we could from scratch, our biscuits, jellies, bacon, sausage, etc. We had our grits ground especially for the store. For our bacon we sourced the leftover pepper mash from Tabasco that we blended with dark brown sugar for the cure before we smoked a perfectly sweet, spicy, smokey strip of the best bacon ever. We would carry a simple egg plate to a new level and create dishes that would challenge and excite our guests who wanted more.”
“But more than anything, I wanted to recapture the flavors of my childhood memory. Things don’t taste the same now with the degree of processing and preservatives/stabilizers added to food,” says Currence. “I wanted people to taste the flavors of my grandfather’s patty sausage and my great grandmother’s biscuits. So that’s exactly what we did.” At first the BBB team worked diligently over recipes with available products and heirloom proteins to achieve the flavors they wanted, but as time has gone on, they have dived even more deeply into different varieties of hard and soft wheats for their flour to determine which make the tastiest biscuits, pancakes and waffles.
More than anything, I wanted to recapture the flavors of my childhood memory.
It was a success from the minute the doors opened. Steady crowds, regular waits, outstanding experience and extremely happy customers prompted the interest of long time friend Nick Pihakis to offer Chef the opportunity to grow his concept. In 2013 they partnered and opened a second location on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, where the concept would really take wings. “The first Birmingham location became our “laboratory” store, with Nick overseeing operations and under the guidance of our local operating partner and chef, we began to hone the edge of this young concept and turned it into an unbelievably well-oiled machine. Service was tuned up and the food exploded with vision and ambition. In two years we covered as much ground as we had in the first five.”
The name “Big Bad Breakfast” derives from the title of the book of short stories written by Currence’s close friend, the late Larry Brown, Big Bad Love. “Larry was one of the most wonderful people to walk the planet and he wrote like Godzilla stomping the the Garden of the Month,” says Currence. “The irony is that Larry’s writing schedule kept him up until 5 or so every morning, so while breakfast was his favorite meal of the day, he never got to eat it because he was always asleep at breakfast time.”