By Ginna Parsons
TUPELO – The Rev. Paul Stephens was almost 40 when he felt called to the priesthood, but he found his niche in the kitchen much earlier than that.
“My mother had rheumatoid arthritis and often it was debilitating and she couldn’t do much,” said Stephens, 58. “As the oldest of three children, I learned to cook to help her around the house. The first time I cooked the family’s Thanksgiving dinner I was 13, I think.”
He had his first recipe published in a church cookbook in the 1960s.
“I loved cooking when I was young,” he said. “It was a way to be together at the table with family. It was a way to show hospitality.”
Once he got to Mississippi State University, where he earned his accounting degree, he didn’t do much cooking, nor did he while he was in law school a few years later at Ole Miss.
But once Stephens and his wife, Martha, settled in Jackson, where he practiced law for 16 years, he started cooking again.
“For date nights, we’d go to Everyday Gourmet and take cooking classes,” he said. “I began to learn technique and I started reading cookbooks. Cooking, for me, is a creative process. I just kind of open the fridge and see what’s in there and make something up.”
In 1999, Stephens left his law practice, took a month-long camping trip out West with Martha and their two children, and then moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, for seminary. He has been the rector at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo for almost six years.
Stephens figures he cooks at least four times a week, usually with Martha as his sous chef.
“Often times, we either cook a dish we’ve done before or we’ll find a recipe in one of our cookbooks to try,” he said. “For our anniversary, Martha gave me a cookbook from the restaurant Daniel in New York City. We did a recipe from it for steamed cod with a shrimp mousse. I’m not afraid to try stuff like that.”
About two years ago, the Stephenses decided to adopt a gluten-free diet. Martha had developed a gluten intolerance and he jumped on board to be a good sport.
“And we both feel better,” Stephens said. “We got an app on our phones so at the grocery store we just scan the bar code on a product and it tells us whether that product has gluten. We eat gluten-free pasta and bread and we stay away from canned items, which often use gluten as a thickening agent. We haven’t found a good gluten-free pancake mix yet – we love to do pancakes in the summer with fresh blueberries – but we’re still looking.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.