T hirty-four chefs, eight hundred guests, twelve arts groups, sixty performers, ten venues, twelve events.” That’s how Susan Schadt summarizes last year’s second annual culinary arts dinner series benefiting ArtsMemphis. But more than the chefs and guests, more than the performers and venues pictured in Schadt’s latest book, Memphis: Sweet, Spicy & a Little Greasy (Wild Abundance Publishing), there’s an ingredient to add to her list: recipes — dozens of them, from haute to down-home — that those 34 chefs served the lucky guests: Sophisticated recipes on the order of “Rai Ram Roasted Littleneck Clams/Mussels and Shrimp in Oyster Butter Broth with Mango Sherry Puree and Arugula Oil” (from Memphis chef and restaurateur Karen Carrier). Or, for something simpler: “Doves in Red Wine Gravy” (based on a recipe that Little Rock chef Lee Richardson borrowed from his grandmother).
Or take it from Memphis photographer Justin Fox Burks and his wife, Amy Lawrence. The couple cook vegetarian (and co-authored The Southern Vegetarian in 2013), and in Memphis: Sweet, Spicy & a Little Greasy, they steer clear of the greasy but not the spicy in their “Kombu-Cured Watermelon Crudo + Hot Peppers & Chives.” The inspiration for that dish? A ruby-red artwork, in the collection of the Hyde Family Foundations, by the late Memphis painter and printmaker Ted Faiers, and that’s the whole idea behind the culinary arts dinner series: bringing together chefs, artists, and designers — and local supporters of the arts — for memorable evenings featuring creative food and drink.
Among the musical artists were singer Valerie June (at Foxfield, the farm outside Memphis owned by Michelle and Bill Dunavant); the Bo-Keys (for a sit-down dinner inside the Stax Museum of American Soul Music); Marcella Simien and her band (on the grounds of the Metal Museum, with the Mighty Mississippi as backdrop), who sang for their “suppa”; and Eden Brent, who belted the blues (upstairs at Earnestine and Hazel’s).
Actors, visual artists, and dancers were invited too: Alice Rainey Berry and Jenny Odle Madden performing scenes drawn from a short story by Eudora Welty (at the home of Nancy McNamee); members of the Tennessee Shakespeare Company (performing al fresco at the home of Beni and Mike Dragutsky); Memphis College of Art alum and professor Derrick Dent, who executed onsite portraits (at the dinner hosted by Barbara and Pitt Hyde); sculptor Randall Andrews, who turned a garage into a caterers’ kitchen at Nancy McNamee’s, while a cast from the Hattiloo Theatre performed numbers from Grease and dancers from Ballet Memphis traded their slippers for sneakers at the Hyde dinner.
And don’t leave out interior designer Greg Baudoin, who transformed the home of Lucia and Ricky Heros into a setting for a Mardi Gras dinner, and Memphis magazine’s fashion editor, Augusta Campbell, who turned back the clock to remind partygoers of Stax in the Seventies. Chefs Keith Bambrick, Jonathan Magallanes, and Ryan Trimm took Southward Fare & Libations way south and back in time for a vintage Key West menu, while the outside block party hosted by some Midtown neighbors reminded partygoers that Memphis is still a city of neighborhoods — and newly popular food trucks.
But equally important, it’s a city full of first-rate chefs, and among them is Kelly English, who, in his foreword to Memphis: Sweet, Spicy & a Little Greasy, proudly refers to Memphis’ collective, collaborative spirit. That spirit was evident in the culinary arts dinner series. It’s evident in this handsomely designed, coffee-table-size book as well. Susan Schadt, ably assisted by Annie Bares, has written entertaining introductions to go with each of the events. Lisa Buser has photographed those events, from kitchen prep to finished dish, from table setting to behind-the-scenes down-time, with a real eye for the telling, colorful detail. And everywhere there’s cooking artistry on display. Just ask Chef Richardson, who discovered something about himself after a memorable weekend, complete with a 48-hour bonfire, whole-animal cooking, and fireworks, at Foxfield:
“I have been resistant to the idea of ‘chef as artist.’ In the context of this event, combined with the wide variety of art that we had available to us, it brought this concept together for me. It made me more comfortable in terms of what I do, in my mind and in my heart-of-hearts, as artistry.”
And speaking of heart, Memphis: Sweet, Spicy & a Little Greasy may make Memphians think twice about themselves and their city as well. Just ask Beni Dragutsky, a transplant from Chicago, who had this to say of her adoptive town:
“I don’t think that Memphians realize just what an amazing city it is with the arts, chef-owned restaurants, and everything that goes on here. It’s also got to be one of the most philanthropic places to live. There are so many good-hearted people here who really put themselves out for all of these different organizations, making it a truly wonderful place to live. … For everyone in Memphis who thinks that the grass is greener, take it from someone who has lived in other places, it isn’t.”
Kat Gordon, owner of Muddy’s Bake Shop, couldn’t agree more: “There is so much excitement in Memphis right now with food. Memphis is a big small town. We all know each other. I love that while the food industry has grown, it has kept that same sense of community. Every person in every aspect of food service in Memphis is a team player. You have this wonderful sense of camaraderie. I think it’s something really, really special compared to other cities.”
I f you need added proof of the sense of community described in Schadt’s book, see Feeding Memphis: A Celebration of the City’s Eclectic Cuisine (Urban Agrarian Publishing Group), written by Michael Glasgow and illustrated by a number of good photographers. The motto here is “Dine Local, Give Local.” And so, in addition to Glasgow’s profiling of many of the city’s high-end restaurants and chefs, you’ll find in these pages: The Arcade, Bangkok Alley, Brother Juniper’s, Cafe Keough, Cozy Corner, Huey’s, Las Tortugas, Lunchbox Eats, Memphis Pizza Cafe, Molly’s La Casita, and The Rendezvous. Glasgow writes that he wanted to focus on locally owned establishments: “Collectively, they represent the most accurate cultural representation of a city, as well as acting as daily ambassadors to those who visit.” That would be out-of-town visitors such as the Food Network’s Guy Fieri, who dropped in to film at Uncle Lou’s Southern Kitchen on Millbranch. That would be magazine editors visiting Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen on Brookhaven Circle, operated by Chef/Owners Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, who were named among the country’s Best New Chefs for 2013 by Food & Wine magazine and whose Hog & Hominy, across the street on Brookhaven, was recognized for excellence by GQ, Southern Living, and Conde Nast Traveler. But add to those visitors the Memphians who have made Gibson’s Donuts on Mt. Moriah, according to Glasgow, “the busiest independent donut shop in America.” And the Memphians who not only visit but work the kitchen at The Caritas Village in Binghamton. All employees there are hired from the neighborhood, and that means the staff’s diverse: African American, Hispanic, Nepali, and Sudanese. A restaurant, then, but also a community center, and how much more can you give locally in support? Here’s how:
For every purchase of Feeding Memphis, the publisher and Michael Glasgow will be jointly donating $10 to the Mid-South Food Bank to address food insecurity in the 31 counties the food bank serves. Thanks to those donations and to the food bank’s efficiently run regional network, each purchase means 30 meals to those in need. So do as the motto has it: Dine Local, Give Local.
For more on Memphis: Sweet, Spicy & A Little Greasy or to order the book, go to wildabundancepublishing.com. The website for Feeding Memphis, feedingmemphisbook.com, has more information as well, including an order form and a list of area bookstores and restaurants carrying the book.