Chef Max Hussey comes to Memphis from San Francisco and New Orleans, bringing an experienced blend of cooking styles to eighty3.
Chef Max Hussey perfected his Elvis chops long before January 1 when he took over the kitchen at eighty3, the restaurant at downtown’s Madison Hotel.
In San Francisco, he served his Memphis-style spin on Bananas Foster as executive chef at Southpaw BBQ, the Southern-inspired restaurant on Mission Street where he worked before coming to Memphis.
“We layered it into a Mason jar and as fast as we made it, people ate it,” Hussey said. “We also did an Elvis-inspired cheesecake, but you definitely needed a nap after eating that one.”
At eighty3, Hussey commemorates the King’s 80th birthday with an Elvis Sundae that elevates the traditional Elvis triptych into a surprising elegant dessert. Truth be told, I’m not crazy about ice cream sundaes (too many different ingredients, and I like my bananas plain), but this dessert delighted me with a bacon caramel sauce that hardens into delectable bites of candy when poured on vanilla and peanut butter gelato, both house-made.
And the bananas flambéed with rum are excellent, making me rethink my pedestrian morning approach.
Curious about the bananas, I asked Hussey how he prepares them. Here’s what he said:
- Melt about one-and-a-half tablespoons of brown sugar in a medium hot pan.
- Add the bananas to the pan. When they are coated with sugar, remove the pan from the heat.
- Hit the bananas with about two ounces of dark rum. Flambé!
- Reduce the liquid by about half and finish with a little butter.
For the caramel sauce (so good!), Hussey mixes sugar and water and adds heavy cream at the end along with a little bacon fat. He folds in chopped bacon and warms it all up before plating.
The Elvis Sundae seems a fitting rollout for a chef who left Boston at age 23 to cook in New Orleans, where Bananas Foster was invented. Hussey’s move to New Orleans from a traditional Boston seafood house was a fortuitous one, prompted by a book-signing in 1998 with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
“I bought a book, had him sign it to my mother, and then handed him a resume,” Hussey said. “Two weeks later, Emeril’s chef de cuisine called and asked if I wanted to move down to New Orleans.”
Described by Hussey as “a great program to be part of,” his work with Lagasse (sous chef at Emeril’s, executive sous chef at Delmonico) led him to restaurants in Ashville, N.C., and eventually to San Francisco, where he was part of the startup team for Twenty Five Lusk, Matthew Dolan’s award-winning restaurant in the SOMA district.
At eighty3, Hussey hopes to incorporate his compilation of cooking styles into a new menu later this spring that could include spontaneous free-style cooking. “I love free-style because it gets you out of cooking the same menu every night and regular customers get to try new things,” Hussey said.
For now, Hussey is focusing on logistics and kitchen organization. “I want the kitchen to see what I expect and for us to all get comfortable cooking together,” he said.
Hussey is also exploring Memphis restaurants and was happy to find downtown’s Flying Fish, a seafood restaurant reminiscent of home.
“Flying Fish reminded me of my favorite restaurant in New England called Woodman’s. It’s this great restaurant with giant kettles out front for cooking lobsters. It’s not fine dining, but that’s sometimes the most fun.”
At eighty3, the Elvis fun continues through the month of January with the sundae ($7), along with Elvis waffles, a sinful plate of four mini waffles and bananas draped with whipped peanut butter marshmallow sauce and sprinkled with bites of bacon ($11). If a grilled Elvis sandwich is a must, eighty3 has one of those too, served with sweet potato fries, skinny and crispy ($11).
Eighty3, 83 Madison Ave. inside the Madison Hotel (901-333-1224)