“If it’s not your idea, it’s not original, why do it?”

When Cotton Blues, in Hattiesburg Mississippi first opened in 2012, chicken and waffles were a fast-growing food trend for restaurants around the country.

Cotton Blues owner, Chris Ortego says they had a few requests for chicken and waffles, but a large chain restaurant opened across the street and they had chicken and waffles on their menu.

“I could not bring myself to put chicken and waffles on the menu, says Ortego. “It seems like it was a copycat idea. We get it, we get the sweet and savory contrast, but if it’s not your idea, it’s not original, why do it?”

Hitting that Sweet & Savory Spot

Being an ambassador of Southern Cuisine, Ortego wanted to find that same sweet and savory flavor profile but make it their own. They floated around several ideas and one of their managers tossed out the idea of pulled pork and pancakes.

“It sounds weird when you first hear about it. But we eat pulled pork sandwiches all the time, so why not eat it on a pancake.”

Chris Ortego, Cotton Blues Owner

“It’s one of those things that people see on the menu, and they get curious about it right away,” says Ortego. “It sounds weird when you first hear about it. But we eat pulled pork sandwiches all the time, so why not eat it on a pancake.”

Ortego says that there’s something about the tangy and spicy bbq pulled pork blending with the syrup and the sweetness of the pancake. “Customers love them.”

“It just couldn’t have fit us any better. We were already doing pancakes for brunch. We had a perfect pancake recipe, and we already had pulled pork.”

Weighing in at right under three pounds.

The portion of the pulled pork and pancakes are over the top. “Only a hand full of people that have eaten the entire dish,” says Ortego.

The pork and pancakes combined with a side come in at just under three pounds of food.

Ortego says they have not turned eating the full dish into a challenge yet. But he is willing to throw in a free dessert to whoever can finish the dish while at the restaurant.

Don’t think you can finish? The good news is that the pulled pork and pancakes microwave well the next day.

All Rights Reserved. Cotton Blues 2012-2019.

Strawberry Icebox Pie — Lemon Icebox Pie’s Evil Twin

The Strawberry Icebox Pie is one of the best selling desserts at Cotton Blues Restaurant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It’s light, creamy and bursting with fresh strawberries. But this amazing dessert almost failed to make it out of our test kitchen.

It has to be exact, or it doesn’t work

Chris Ortego Cotton Blues
Chris Ortego – Owner, Cotton Blues

Cotton Blues Owner, Chris Ortego, has a theory when it comes to cooking and baking.

“Cooking is an art, and it’s a flair,” says Ortego. “Baking is a science, and it has to be exact, or it just doesn’t work.”

Mississippi pastry chef, Shaun Davis who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas has been working with Ortego for seven years, and he’s responsible for executing all the desserts at Cotton Blues.

“You need acidity, you need alkalinity, you need air,” says Davis.

In 2013, Ortego wanted to add some new desserts to the menu. At the time, the popular Mississippi restaurant was already well known for their Lemon Icebox Pie, and they were hoping to convert that success into a strawberry icebox pie.

Ortego says they found a recipe for a Strawberry Icebox Pie online, but it called for making it with gelatin, an ingredient neither Ortego nor Davis were fond of using.

So Ortego asked Davis, how does a Lemon IceBox Pie work?

Davis said “Sweetened condensed milk is the main ingredient of it, so it needs something to thicken it. In Lemon Icebox it’s the acidity of the lemon juice that cooks part of the eggs and makes the condensed milk a lot thicker.”

Unfortunately, strawberries don’t have an acidic quality, so creating a strawberry icebox with the same methodology is nearly impossible.

Never say never

Cotton Blues Pastry Chef
Shaun Davis – Cotton Blues Pastry Chef

Alway up for a challenge, Davis spent some time brainstorming on how to make a strawberry icebox pie a success.

“He starts looking around, and he comes back with a bottle of red wine vinegar,” says Ortego.

Davis mixed the vinegar into the condensed milk to give it an acidic agent.

And it worked!

“We try it, and it’s wonderful!” says Ortego. They were ready to put it on the menu.

A punch in the gut

The next day, Ortego and Davis come back in and the pie is swimming in two inches of strawberry juice.

The strawberries bled out and ruined the pie.

“I was so disappointed,” said Ortego, “I told Shaun that this was such a good dessert and that it stinks that this isn’t going to work.”

If at first you don’t succeed…

Shaun just said, “Give me some time.”

“It needed a little bit more thickening power,” said Davis.

So Davis tried tossing the fresh chopped strawberries in cornstarch. And Voila!

“That [the cornstarch] keeps all the strawberries from bleeding out, said Ortego. “Combine that with what Shaun did with the vinegar and it’s pure brilliance!”

“As popular as our lemon is, I think the strawberry is a little bit better, but it just shows that this stuff doesn’t happen by accident, says Ortego. “That Strawberry Icebox is a Shaun Davis original, and it’s fantastic!”

All Rights Reserved. Cotton Blues 2012-2019.

Dedication and Determination

Jordan Creel did not always know he wanted to be a chef. In his early 20s, Creel worked in a few chain restaurants in Hattiesburg, where he says he grew tired of opening up bags of sauce and throwing them in the microwave. Creel wanted more, “If I’m going to do it, I might as well go somewhere and learn to cook and really do it,” says Creel. So in 2013, he applied as a line cook at Cotton Blues, which specializes in southern cuisine in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Five years and a lot of determination later, the young cook climbed his way to top. He’s now the top chef at TripAdvisor’s number one restaurant for local cuisine in Hattiesburg.

Cotton Blues owner, Chris Ortego, says Creel is the best chef the restaurant has ever had. “One of his biggest assets is his work ethic and professionalism,” says Ortego. “From day one, he outworked his coworkers, and he eventually started outworking his chef predecessors. So, when it was time for a change in the kitchen, the whole crew knew that it was Jordan’s time.”

Thanks to crowdsourcing apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp, Ortego knows Cotton Blues has an opportunity to showcase southern cuisine. Many of their guests are people traveling to New Orleans or the beaches in Florida.

“It’s really apparent during the summertime. I think because we celebrate the southern kitchen we get an opportunity to represent the great food South Mississippi has to offer,” says Ortego.

Southern Food Hattiesburg Mississippi

Started From the Bottom

When Creel began at Cotton Blues in 2013, he started with what he already knew, the deep fryers. But he couldn’t sit idle.

“I had kinda made up my mind if I was going to come over here, then I was going to try to learn to cook, so I just started watching whatever I could.”

Creel observed the veterans in the kitchen. Men and women who have been working in professional kitchens for decades, but he didn’t stop there. The aspiring chef would work long hours in a hot South Mississippi kitchen, and then go home and practice some more. He immersed himself in cookbooks and experimented with different recipes.

“In a world where everyone is concerned about what the other person is doing. Jordan keeps his head down, does his job and does it well,” says Ortego.

Colleague and Cotton Blues Pastry Chef, Shaun Davis, says he isn’t sure the general public realizes how much work and effort Jordan and his crew put into each dish.

“For example, a pan-roasted chicken with carrots and mac and cheese. We get whole organic chickens in, we have to break that chicken down,” says Davis.

And Davis says the carrots are not as simple as pulling them out and putting them in a pan. “A prep cook had to take those carrots, peel them, slice them, blanch them. So it doesn’t take 30 minutes for you to get your entree.”

Davis says the mac and cheese is the same way. They had to boil the mac, chop up all the vegetables that will be mixed in, sautee them, and prep the cream mixture.

“And then you have to time it so that everything comes out right,” says Davis. “It’s pretty amazing what they pull off day after day in that kitchen.”

Keeping it local

Southern Cuisine Hattiesburg MississippiCreel was born and raised in Oak Grove Mississippi, just a couple of miles from where Cotton Blues resides. His earliest memory of cooking goes back to when he could smell his mom’s eggplant parmesan as a child. But in hindsight, he wished he learned to cook earlier in life.

“I didn’t get a lot of exposure to food growing up there [in Oak Grove]. My mom and my grandma would cook a lot, but usually, it was the same dishes over and over again” But when it comes to the culinary choices in Hattiesburg, Creel says he loves watching the area grow.

“I like it. It seems like there are fewer chains around now. There are more places like us that do everything from scratch.”

Creel says the older he gets, the more important it is to be close to home. As for Cotton Blues owner, Chris Ortego, he loves that he has two great chefs that are homegrown in South Mississippi and know how to make some incredible southern cuisine.

All Rights Reserved. Cotton Blues 2012-2019.

MISSISSIPPI MADE

Over the past seven years, Cotton Blues has become the premier destination for dining in Hattiesburg Mississippi. The restaurant’s commitment to celebrating the Southern Kitchen has resulted in elaborate dishes like their Praline Blackened Catfish and their Fried Green Tomatoes topped with tomato jam and pork belly. But the praise does not stop with appetizers and entrees. Thanks to a perfectly executed Lemon Icebox Pie and a top secret Cheesecake, patrons celebrate Cotton Blues desserts as some of the best in the south. The desserts are so popular, Pastry Chef Shaun Davis and his creations are somewhat of a local celebrity in the Hub City.

Coincidently, the menu at Cotton Blues is not the only thing that’s Mississippi Made. Both of Cotton Blues’ top chefs are also homegrown in Lamar County Mississippi, the same county where Cotton Blues now reigns the king of southern cuisine.

INSPIRED BY PUBLIC TELEVISION

Chef Shaun started baking at a young age

Purvis, Mississippi, is a small town of about 2,300 people. It’s the county seat of Lamar County, but it has a fraction of the population of neighboring Hattiesburg, which is about 20 minutes away.

Purvis is also the hometown of Pastry Chef Davis. As a child growing up in a town with just two stop lights, Chef Davis says he didn’t have a whole lot of choices when it came to entertainment on the TV.

“I mean we had three channels when I was growing up, it was PBS, divorce court, and whatever else was on if it was a cloudless day,” says Davis.

Davis gravitated to cooking shows on PBS, especially, anything featuring Julia Child’s love for the culinary arts. For the young Davis, Child’s passion was infectious enough to motivate him to dive into the kitchen as a young teenager.

The aspiring chef would test his baking skills on his family and friends.

“I cooked in my church a lot,” says Davis. “I was on a Wednesday night supper team; we’d cook for like 120-150 people.”

THE LEAP OF FAITH

After graduating from high school, Davis decided to chase his dream. He applied to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Las Vegas and was accepted.

“Mom and I packed up my car, we drove out, and I was all alone in Vegas at age 18,” Davis says laughingly. “My mom is probably the most supportive person in my life.”

The leap of faith Davis took started to sink in on the first Sunday he was there. All the school offices were closed, and he didn’t know a soul.

Chef Shaun forming a cheesecake crust

“I’m just chilling at the hotel, by myself, and I’m just like, I’m really doing this. I’m 18 and from Mississippi and just chilling in Vegas.”

Davis was the youngest of his classmates, which ranged from age 18 – 65. He quickly learned that culinary school is not all fun and games. Le Cordon Bleu doesn’t just teach recipes; they show you how things work. They break down of the science of baking.

“Why you would use baking soda instead of baking powder?” says Davis. “What makes things rise, different mixing methods, the eight different types of flour.”

Davis finished at Le Cordon Bleu in two years. He wasn’t ready to come home to Purvis, but there was a problem. He was just 20 years old.

“I wasn’t old enough to work at any of the casinos, or anywhere you could actually make money.”

A KINDA CRUMBY START

Davis came home, with the intention of heading back to Las Vegas in a year. He first worked at a French Bakery in Hattiesburg named C’est la vie under the tutelage of Janusz Lukowski. Lukowski taught him about business and “money-saving hacks” when it comes to baking. Davis is thankful for the skills he learned, and he says he misses his old boss who passed unexpectedly in 2018.

But over time, the demands of having breakfast pastries ready at C’est la vie each day started to wear on Davis.

“I was sick and tired of waking up at five in the morning to go bake croissants,” says Davis. “They were awesome croissants, but I was just tired of being up that early.”

The young chef had hit a wall, and he was ready to quit and go back to college for something else.

“It had really made me not want to be a pastry chef if this is how it was going to be,” says Davis.

DISCOVERING THE PERFECT MIX

In early 2012, Davis says he met the Owner of Cotton Blues, Chris Ortego, through each other’s parents. In a weird twist of fate, Ortego’s dad had fallen off a ladder and went to the hospital. Davis’s mom was his nurse.

Having gotten Ortego’s phone number through his mom, Davis decided to give him a call.

At the time, Cotton Blues wasn’t even open yet, but the concept of the Southern restaurant was already on Ortego’s mind, and he knew he wanted Davis to be his pastry chef.

“How many times can you find a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef with ties to Hattiesburg, Mississippi?” says Ortego.

For Davis, it was a much-needed change, but it wasn’t a walk in the park. Davis says the restaurant business is a lot more difficult than people realize.

“For example, a piece of Lemon Icebox Pie. You have to think through, making the crust, cooling the crust, grinding the crust, whether or not it freezes well,” says Davis. “You have to look at the quality of your lemons, how much lemon zests you’re going to get off those lemons. The yields, the costs, so you’ll know how much to charge on the menu and not lose money. Your labor, it’s a whole business, it’s not just the food.”

Fortunately, Davis says he enjoys the business side of the restaurant. Plus, he still loves to bake, even when he’s not making Cotton Blues desserts. Some of his favorite creations are bunt cakes, cookies, and his grandmother’s peanut butter fudge.

THE GROCERY EXPANSION

Davis doesn’t just oversee Cotton Blues desserts. He’s grown into one of Ortego’s closest confidants, and he is critical to the production of the Cotton Blues line of Cheesecakes that are available in local grocery stores in five states.

Cotton Blues Desserts Cheesecake

Chef Shaun with a slice of his famous cheesecake

Of all of Cotton Blues desserts, the chef says he’s most proud of the Sea-Salted Caramel Swirl Cheesecake.

“It’s our best seller, aside from the original cheesecake, in both the grocery stores and the restaurant.”

GLAD TO BE HOME

The child that grew up just 20 minutes from Cotton Blues is now at peace with being back home. He says he loves the small town feel and all the attention over his desserts certainly doesn’t hurt.

“The amount of time that I don’t know people’s names and they know mine is still shocking to me,” says Davis. “It’s a good feeling. I like to get my ego stroked,” he says jokingly.

Best Lemon Icebox Pie Hattiesburg Mississippi

Cotton Blues Lemon Icebox Pie

A few years ago, Davis received the best compliment of his life. He was catering a party in the Cotton Room at the restaurant and on the menu was Lemon Ice Box Pie.

“Dessert came out, and about three minutes later, I saw a man walking out of the Cotton Room onto the patio. He went out into the corner, and I went to go check on him,” says Davis. “He was crying because the Lemon Ice Box Pie reminded him of his grandmother that he had just lost a year prior.”

For Davis, moments like these make all the hard work worth it.

“The thought that I can emotionally connect with someone through a slice of dessert is the highest honor I can have,” says Davis.

All Rights Reserved. Cotton Blues 2012-2019.

Mississippi Made | New York Approved

Cotton Blues, an independently owned restaurant in Hattiesburg, MS is experiencing exponential growth of their cheesecake business. The spike in sales happened when they began selling to grocery stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas.
Cotton Blues Cheesecakes began as a regular dessert on their restaurant menu, but customers started ordering whole cheesecakes for parties and social gatherings.

“EATING CHEESECAKE AT THIS RESTAURANT HAS PRETTY MUCH RUINED ME EATING CHEESECAKE ANYWHERE ELSE…IT’S A PROBLEM”

Lacey H.


The 4lb Cheesecake

To reach more customers, Cotton Blues began partnering with grocery stores. In a matter of months, markets from all over the southeast started carrying the 4lb cheesecakes.
The cheesecakes are crafted in small batches and offered in four flavors, original, strawberry, blueberry, and sea-salted caramel. Each sauce is scratch made, and the graham cracker crumb crust is carefully pressed.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Pastry Chef Shaun Davis. “I get to make people happy through a slice of cheesecakes.”
The proprietary value of Cotton Blues cheesecakes comes from their secret method of folding in the ingredients.  The process is so hush-hush that each employee taught the process is required to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
“I don’t care if we’re in thousands of grocery stores, ” said Cotton Blues owner, Chris Ortego. “It’s going to have to be handcrafted.”

“Go get one swear on life it’s literally heaven”

Mindy T.


Cotton Blues is now planning to expand into a cheesecake factory to meet demand.

Cotton Blues Lemon Icebox Pie is one of the most popular desserts on the Cotton Blues menu.

With its picture-perfect meringue and the delicate balance of sweet and sour, the dessert screams south Mississippi.

Between 2012 and 2016, patrons of Cotton Blues begged pastry chef Shaun Davis to share the recipe. In May of 2016, Chef Shaun and owner Chris Ortego let the cat out of the bag by publishing step-by-step video instructions.

Making lemon icebox pie

“You can find some great lemon icebox recipes on the internet, there’s no secret ingredient in ours,” says Cotton Blues owner Chris Ortego. “But Chef Shaun’s execution of our lemon icebox pie is what sets it apart. That’s why we wanted to offer recipe in a video format.”

In the video, you can see how Chef Shaun makes the gingersnap/vanilla wafer crust and pipes a beautiful meringue.

“Great food is not the only aspect of a great restaurant. Service and atmosphere also set a restaurant apart,” says Ortego. “We’re comfortable sharing some recipes because we believe it makes an overall great experience for our customers and it allows us to play a bigger roll in the culinary community.”

All Rights Reserved. Cotton Blues 2018.

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