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  • Bob Arnold

Wesson's premier chef & restaurateur

By Bob Arnold

Wesson's premier chef & restaurateur

Chris McSweyn came to Wesson in 1993 to play golf for Co-Lin, but his destiny was to become the town's premier chef and restaurateur.

For more than 25 years, McSweyn was the primary chef at Porches Restaurant in Wesson. He moved the Porches' menu for a year to Le Soul in Hazlehurst after closing the restaurant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and returned to Wesson as Executive Chef at Aladdin Campus Dining at Co-Lin.

Growing up in Pearl, Mississippi, McSweyn had two passions -- cooking and sports.

"I grew up in a cooking family, and I loved preparing dishes for meals at home," McSweyn recalls. "When I left the kitchen, I went to the golf course or to the soccer field. Between school, playing golf and soccer at Pearl High School and cooking at home, I also squeezed in a job at the Pearl Donut Factory, where I made the donuts and other pastries."

After graduating from high school and heading for Wesson to play golf, it was only natural for McSweyn to enroll in Co-Lin's culinary classes taught by Kay Woodrick at the time -- his first step towards his destiny.

When his parents -- Al and Cele McSweyn -- visited their son in Wesson, they took the next step on his behalf -- buying a house in town with a large kitchen and enough space to feed a lot of people if that was your inclination. "Mom and Dad were looking to get out of the Jackson area," McSweyn recalls. "Dad had retired after a career at Bell South and working in accounting and as a computer software specialist. Mom had worked for years at Carter's Jewelry in Jackson." After lunching with Chris, they drove around town, and it was love at first sight when they spotted the Victorian home on Highway 51 that happened to be for sale.

The next step was turning the lovely old house his parents purchased into a restaurant. "I needed to intern at a restaurant as part of the Co-Lin culinary program," McSweyn recounts. "I got a job, but not enough working hours at the Inez Hotel restaurant in Brookhaven. So dad suggested I start my own restaurant in my parents' home to meet the course requirements, and Co-Lin agreed."

McSweyn and his mom and dad brought their love of cooking and Chris's Co-Lin studies to what they anticipated would be a four-month project, but they had no real restaurant experience outside of Chris's work at the Pearl Donut Factory.

Then came the fourth step that sealed McSweyn's career destiny. A food columnist from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger heard about the small luncheon restaurant in Wesson called "Porches" where McSweyn and his parents served small plates and daily specials featuring southern cooking with an imaginative flare. He visited the eaterie, liked what he tasted there, and wrote a column about the experience. "Business boomed," McSweyn recounts. "We were generating 40 to 50 customers for our daily lunches, and traffic tripled. My parents and I said to each other: "Let's make it go.'"

Over 25 1/2 years, Porches became known nationally, consistently ranked by travel and tourist guides among Mississippi's top ten restaurants, and drawing customers from throughout the South, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and as far away as Florida.

COVID-19 forced Porches to start serving its meals on a takeout only basis, and McSweyn decided to shut it down so his parents could finally enjoy the retirement they had anticipated in the old Wesson house they bought in the 1990s. McSweyn took his Porches' menu to Le Soul in Hazlehurst in 2020 and 2021 and then accepted the job with Co-Lin's food service.

At Co-Lin, McSweyn continues to cook the dishes he perfected at Porches and served at Le Soul. He says his vision is making the college a food service venue for the wider community beyond the student population and a stop for the same regional customers who came to Porches, with Sunday brunches, and movie nights, a detective theater and other special events to complement his food. As he works towards this goal, he is also finding more time to spend with his family -- his wife Tonya, a judge in a cooking competition he met at Co-Lin and now a food service manager for Brookhaven Public School; and two daughters, Carrie, 22, a nursing student at Co-Lin; and Katie, 19, who is studying elementary education at Mississippi State.

What are your hobbies? I enjoy my new found time with family, still play golf, cook meals that are not associated with my job, do yard work and get some sleep when I can.

Are you a reader?

I like science fiction -- Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Marvel, Lord of the Rings.

Do you enjoy movies or theater?

When I have time, which is rare, I follow the same science fiction I read. And I like cooking movies, such as Chef.

What would you do with lottery winnings if you were so lucky?

I would invest it.

How would you change the world? With internet technology, we've lost the closeness to other people that comes for talking and playing. The internet may be our best and worst invention. We have to get back what we've lost.


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