Written by Jamie Dickson | Photographed by Paul Wolf
While an empanada stuffed with South African-spiced chicken, apricots and a peanut sauce might not sound like traditional “Southern food,” chef Enrika Williams of Fauna Foodworks puts forth a convincing case.
“Food brings us together, and the South is filled with people from all over,” she says over a cup of ginger limeade as the lunch rush ebbs in Cultivation Food Hall.
Williams beams as she discusses the history that led her to be head chef and owner of Fauna Foodworks. Born in West Point, Miss., her family moved around a good bit during her childhood. As an adult, she worked in hotels and in “faceless, big-box retailers” before heading to culinary school in Atlanta. She has been cooking professionally since the year 2000, and opened Fauna Foodworks when Cultivation opened its doors this year.
The menu at Fauna is small but eclectic, featuring vegetarian-friendly options such as roasted cauliflower with crushed pistachios, and more decadent fare, like a crab rangoon-stuffed grilled cheese and the Fauna Festival Street Dogs—two beef hotdogs topped with housemade chorizo, queso and pico de gallo. “That one’s my favorite,” Williams chuckles.
“A lot of our menu is plant-based, but there’s obviously room for meat-eaters, too. I draw inspiration from people I meet and experiences I’ve had. My hope is that our food is familiar and accessible to people, but also helps them expand their palate,” she says.
Williams loves talking with customers about flavors they are not familiar with or helping them see how something they are used to eating in one way could be used differently. “Most folks around here have had sweet potato pie,” she says, “so they know what sweet potatoes taste like. They might not have thought about it being the base flavor for a soup, though. It’s approachable, but it’s also different.”
This intersecting of cultures and experiences and flavors seem to drive Williams’ creative streak.
She says that watching PBS and MTV in the 80s has a lot to do with her wide-ranging tastes, and this makes a good deal of sense. Shows like Sesame Street were revolutionary in their mixed-race casts normalizing diversity, and during MTV’s early days, one would experience Michael Jackson’s Motown-inspired pop in the same hour as weird prog-rock like Devo.
Williams herself embodies this—a woman of color who has broken into the chef-owner world dominated by white men, yet is entirely comfortable there.
Looking at the Fauna Foodworks menu offers a similar different-yet-comfortable experience.
“Fauna is the study of animals, their behavior and migration,” Williams says.
For her, people can migrate with their minds, with their bodies, or in the case of her menu, with food because “eating is a way of seeing different worlds without leaving the table.”
Williams closed her Cultivation Food Hall location in the summer of 2018. She said at the time, “We are taking a much-needed rest and reset to push Fauna into the next phase of its development. As much as we will miss seeing your beautiful faces, we will still be available for catering and promoting upcoming Fauna festivities certain to sprout up all over (J)ackson (and beyond).”