Top to Bottom: Timothy Pakron (Mississippi Vegan)

Photos and interview by Alexander Lawrence

Top to Bottom with Mouthfeel is back for a very special interview with the incredible Timothy Pakron (a.k.a Mississippi Vegan). In preperation for his Spring Supper this May, Timothy gave Mouthfeel an all access pass to his Brooklyn apartment where he cooks and photographs his one of a kind dishes. While feasting over some homemade gumbo, shiitake bacon, and Rosé we discussed everything from good creole food to the slaughterhouse videos that pushed Timmy towards veganism. 

Alexander Lawrence: While growing up in Mississippi what was your exposure to cooking? Did your parents cook?

Mississippi Vegan: My mom was always in the kitchen and she exposed me to everything she knew. With her background stemming from growing up in New Orleans and cooking cajun and creole food, that’s what I learned! I will always remember waking up to the smell her cooking the holy trinity (a creole version of mirepoix) with loads of cayenne pepper, paprika, and bay leaves. There is nothing like waking up in a house filled with the smell of true creole cooking.

AL: From my experience I would say food is a very important part of Southern culture, would you agree?

MV: It’s an intergral part. And each part of the south has different traditions and styles. Growing up on gulf coast, there is a strong influence from New Orleans, which definitely shaped how I cook. My time in Georgia and South Carolina was influential of other southern styles and dishes like casseroles, barbeque, and low country cooking.

                                                                                          photos by Alexander Lawrence

                                                                                          photos by Alexander Lawrence

AL: What are some of the most memorable dishes and recipes you remember from your childhood in Mississippi?

MV: We were always eating gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice, which are staples in creole cuisine. My mom also would often make things like apricot chicken with pecan rice and my dad would stick to breakfast, cooking grits, biscuits, and omelettes. Oh, and po’ boys.

AL: When did you realize you loved to cook and that you were good at it?

MV: I knew as a young teenager. I was always making cookies for my teachers and was the only child out of three who asked my mom how to make gumbo step by step. I went to boarding school in North Georgia around the time I hit puberty. While attending, I began to cook for my friends and their families.

AL: Did you stay in Mississippi after you graduated from high school?

MV: Hell no! I went to college in Charleston, SC for Studio Art, which was a very big moment for me. Charleston is a liberal sanctuary in the South and it was a really eye opening place for me to be at that point in my life.

AL: What brought you to New York?

MV: I came to New York because I knew that it was the only place where my career could take off. But I loved living in Charleston and I could for sure see myself moving back there in the future.

AL: When did you start to develop “Mississippi Vegan” on social media?

MV: I started Mississippi Vegan a year and a half ago. The seed for this idea was planted when I attended the Woodstock Fruit Festival, which was very inspirational experience for me. There were so many people there who had created careers for themselves online, basically talking about health and plants. I was finally interacting with people who were doing everything I wanted (being creative while also being passionate about eating). Following the festival I really began to put all of my energy into this idea, and it just took off on social media. People have been really receptive and supportive of what I am creating.

AL: What prompted your move to veganism?

MV: It really started as a response to videos online of factory farming. The videos of suffering and slaughtered animals was incredibly eye opening for me and it really changed my perception of food.

AL: Do you miss the good old days of eating whatever you want?

MV: Honestly? No. Because I do eat whatever I want. But what I view as food has changed.  My goal is to create food that celebrates the plant kingdom in the most beautiful and delicious way possible. And I have no problem creating vegan dishes that not only mimic animal based products in name, but also in flavor and texture. Because it’s not the dead animal or their by products that that I’m after. It’s about recreating the experience of flavors and textures that made them taste good in the first place. I want people to take a bite of my gumbo or my shiitake bacon and never question if it has animal products because it delicious and that’s that!

AL: What’s next up for the Mississippi Vegan?

MV: So much! I have been doing a lot of collaborative work with different companies involving recipe development and food styling, as well as my own NYC based pop-up dinners. My next one is entitled ‘Spring Supper’ and it takes place on Tuesday, May 10th at Rockin’ Raw in the West Village. It's going to be a really special night!

(Tickets are available on mississippivegan.com)

For more Top to Bottom features: Phillip BasoneHes CarvalhoGus ReckleJon FanceyVan Kuch

 

Roman Udalov's Anti-Food Photog Anthem: Blak Früt

Roman Udalov is adorable and extremely talented. The Los Angeles-based photographer has a knack for just about every photographic practice; his portraits are haunting and eccentric, his still lifes are one-of-a-kind and he's made his mark in the world of food photography with beautiful and delectable images, but his most impressive project to us has got to be Blak Früt.

 

We spoke to the world traveller about LA, vomiting and the antithetical nature of Blak Früt.

MF: What's your earliest food memory?

I had to think about this one for a while. I was super young. I was at some weird day care in a woman's garage. I was eating a hot dog, and i bit into this huge rubbery piece that i had no idea what it was, but it was the grossest thing ever. I freaked out and threw up everywhere. I haven't eaten a hot dog since. My second food memory is at my family's dinner table. My mom had made ratatouille and my brother said the name meant Rat Tails and Brains. I threw up at the dinner table. Not surprisingly, i have a complex relationship with food as an adult.

MF: What's your favorite cuisine?

I love Italian food. Pizza and pasta, mostly. Seriously, i could eat pesto with some version of pasta every single day (and often, i do). I feel super obese whenever i do though, so, it's a conundrum. But whatever, bears are in, right?

MF: What's the sexiest thing a guy can eat?

Ice cream on a cone. Not nearly enough adult men eat ice cream this way. They always opt for a cup. There's something so innocent and child like (but like, a sexy child) just standing there licking an ice cream cone. When I lived in Provincetown i remember biking down the street and there was this total leather daddy (in full on harness, chaps, and boots) just standing there licking an ice cream cone. i stopped and chatted with him. It makes someone approachable. Vulnerable, almost. Who could be a jerk while eating ice cream on a cone? it's basically a sign saying "i'm a decent person, come talk to me!" and what's sexier than approachability?

MF: What's the least sexy?

Hot dogs. With ketchup. i can't make out with anyone who's had either hot dogs, ketchup, or worse.. both.. for AT LEAST an hour after i see that. And i have to see them wash it down with some sort of liquid. I get grossed out by the thought of kissing someone who's had hot dogs and ketchup in their mouth. I should just call that a deal breaker. It pretty much is.

MF: Favorite restaurant in LA?

There are so many! I have all kinds of favorites. I even have a favorite "vegetarian indian place" that you have to ring a bell and be buzzed in but the decor is awesome and it's always packed. it's like a secret, and i like it just for that reason. The food is just ok.  But my all-around favorite is Milo and Olive in Santa Monica. The food is awesome, the wait staff is super friendly and lot of fun, and they don't take reservations. It used to be this tiny place that seated maybe 15 people but they expanded while keeping the same feeling. I love everything about it. It's my absolute go-to if i'm on the west side.

MF: Favorite meal to cook at home?

I don't have any staples (except pesto pasta, but that's not really "cooking"). I much prefer to blindly cook with a friend- where I bring some ingredients and they bring some and we get together and just make something with what we got. Those have been my favorite meals, and they're rarely repeated. We don't even know what we are doing but it always comes out well. One of my favorite ingredients to cook is garlic- it just smells so good while being sautéed or roasted. a kitchen that smells like garlic is always inviting and smells like home.

MF: Tell us about Blak Früt. What inspired it? (I see a lot of food "art" photography and this is by far one of the most striking takes I've seen).

I had been shooting food regularly for maybe a couple years and a lot of it was feeling the same. I was in a rut. I wanted to do a food shoot on my own, so i just thought about what i wanted to see. The idea just came to me one day to do an all black food photo shoot. Other than that, there was no real inspiration.  I asked a couple of my creative friends (Danny Dolan & Dare Williams) to help out, and they really helped the idea move forward. I knew i wanted still life shots of the food but also portraits where people were interacting with food in some way. It was all very natural for us. Out of this shoot, our creative collective VOMIR was born. We've worked together ever since.

MF: What relation do you see between the commercial food photography you produce and the art-food photography like Blak Früt?

Commercial food photography is always selling you something. it's usually selling you something that's better than reality. When i shoot food for clients, i often ask that they present it how it will be presented in real life. I usually work with high-end clients with visionary chefs who make beautiful dishes so that's not too hard to do. But Black Früt wasn't selling you anything. In fact, it made everything inedible, or destroyed it all together. It was, in a way, an anti-food shoot. I'm very much an "anti" person. I go for weird and sad before i go for pretty.

MF: For me, there's clear cues to fetish, leather, etc in Blak Früt. Where does fetishism connect here?

I really wasn't thinking that at all, but i can totally see that. We were laughing a lot during the shoot about how silly some of the shots were. But there definitely is a dark side to it all. One of my favorites is the one of Dare turned away from the eggplant. It's the rejection of an offering. That resonates with me a lot. Interpret that as you will.

MF: What are all the foods in the series?

Anything i could get my hands on at the 99¢ store, which is the cheapest, lowest quality food in the world. Don't ever shop there! I did focus on things that had structure, that would look identifiable when painted black. Like, a watermelon wouldn't work at all, but they work in regular food photography, they're so graphic. I also had to consider what would fit on a plate. Bananas, grapes, tomatoes (on a vine).. those kinds of things, you can tell what they are by their silhouette, and that's what i was going for.

MF: What is the plate ware?

Just things i thought were interesting from the thrift store. i don't think i paid more than $1 for any one thing. Thrift stores are great for that kind of thing. I wanted some fancy vintage and antique borders and textures and that was super easy to find. I was actually super impressed with the variety i was able to pick up in just one place. It all worked out really well for me.

MF: What are you working on now?

VOMIR just shot a story that we are editing and would love to get it out soon. That's my baby right now. The shoot was super fun. I am also just shooting some stuff here commercially and there but nothing really worth mentioning. I really just want to push VOMIR as often as i can. I don't care if it doesn't make me any money. I love it. It's creative freedom. I want the world to see me at THAT guy.

More Blak Früt:

Rolling Stone's 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time (Gay Division)

Rolling Stone posted their list of the 40 greatest punk albums of all time and while there are some questionable choices throughout, we can absolutely get behind the queer punks who made the cut. 

We won't say being gay automatically makes you punk, but it certainly reframes how you look at things. 

The Germs:

Sleater Kinney:

Hüsker Dü 

The Buzzcocks:

(and sort of) The Stooges:

 

The Full List:
40. Dead Kennedys, ‘Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables’ (1980)
39. Devo, ‘Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!’ (1978)
38. White Lung, ‘Deep Fantasy’ (2014)
37. Blink-182, ‘Enema of the State’ (1999)
36. Crass, ‘Penis Envy’ (1981)
35. Fugazi, ’13 Songs’ (1989)
34. Joy Division, ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979)
33. The Slits, ‘Cut’ (1979)
32. The Misfits, ‘Walk Among Us’ (1982)
31. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Fever to Tell’ (2003)
30. Sonic Youth, ‘Evol’ (1986)
29. The Replacements, ‘Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash’ (1981)
28. The Germs, ‘(GI)’ (1979)
27. Minor Threat, ‘Complete Discography’ (1989)
26. Flipper, ‘Generic’ (1982)
25. Mission of Burma, ‘Vs.’ (1982)
24. The Jam, ‘All Mod Cons’ (1978)
23. Pere Ubu, ‘Terminal Tower’ (1985)
22. Bikini Kill, ‘The Singles’ (1998)
21. Richard Hell and the Voidoids, ‘Blank Generation’ (1977)
20. X-Ray Spex, ‘Germfree Adolescents’ (1978)
19. Bad Brains, ‘Bad Brains’ (1982)
18. Green Day, ‘Dookie’ (1994)
17. Television, ‘Marquee Moon’ (1977)
16. Descendents, ‘Milo Goes to College’ (1982)
15. New York Dolls, ‘New York Dolls’ (1973)
14. Sleater-Kinney, ‘Dig Me Out’ (1997)
13. Hüsker Dü, ‘Zen Arcade’ (1984)
12. Patti Smith, ‘Horses’ (1975)
11. The Buzzcocks, ‘Singles Going Steady’ (1979)
10. Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’ (1991)
9. X, ‘Los Angeles’ (1980)
8. Black Flag, ‘Damaged’ (1981)
7. Minutemen, ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’ (1984)
6. Wire, ‘Pink Flag’ (1977)
5. Gang of Four, ‘Entertainment!’ (1979)
4. The Stooges, ‘Funhouse’ (1970)
3. The Sex Pistols, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols’ (1977)
2. The Clash, ‘The Clash’ (1977)
1. Ramones, ‘Ramones’ (1976)

Read More: Rolling Stone lists the 40 greatest punk albums of all time