Come for the Food: Memphis Rocks the James Beard House

Chef Felicia Suzanne Willet - Justin Fox Burks

Felicia Suzanne's restaurant is an intimate setting that blends a young, contemporary feel with classic Southern charm. Photo by Justin Fox Burks

Chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Huffman

Chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Huffman. Photo by Justin Fox burks.

Wally Joe at ACRE - Justin Fox Burks

Chef Wally Joe is one of the chefs at Acre in Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Cocktails at Sweet Grass Next Door. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Sweet Grass and Next Door make sweet culinary magic in Midtown Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

BD bbq

Charles Vergos' Rendezvous Barbecue Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. Image by The Commercial Appeal

The Memphis culinary community has been singing the praises of Bluff City cuisine for many years. We may be known for barbecue and soul food, but the quality and variety of our food is truly unparalleled. In addition to being honored with numerous awards from entities like Food & Wine, GQ, Travel + Leisure, Bon Appetit and Southern Living, several Memphis chefs have been privileged to cook at the famed James Beard Foundation House in New York City. 

This exclusive venue hosts more than 200 lunches, dinners and events every year, and you don’t just call up the foundation and ask to cook a meal. You have to be invited. Over 25 Memphis chefs have brought their unique twists on Mid-South cuisine to the insatiable, and discerning, palates of James Beard House diners. Chef Wally Joe (Acre) was featured in a regional showcase dinner in 2010. Charlie Vergos (the Rendezvous) headed up a Sizzling Summer Barbecue in 2000, and Chefs Andres Kisler and Alfonso Reinaldo (Chez Philippe) celebrated the Peabody Hotel’s 75th anniversary with a delicious, duck-free, dinner in 2008.

Local blogger and photographer Justin Fox Burks did a lunchtime demonstration with recipes from his Southern Vegetarian cookbook in 2013, and estaurateur Jimmy Ishii showed New Yorkers how Memphians do Japanese food in 2002. Chefs Karen Carrier (The Beauty Shop, Bar DKDC), Jose Guitierrez (River Oaks) and Erling Jensen (Erling Jensen’s) have cooked at the James Beard House twice, but the late Raji Jallepalli (Restaurant Raji) led the charge with six appearances from 1992 to 1998.

Cooking at the James Beard House takes a lot of hard work and preparation, as most events are multi-course dinners with many components. Most believe it is definitely worth the effort, because being able to say you’ve cooked at the Beard House can boost any chef’s resume. Only the best of the best are invited to participate in one of the James Beard House’s prestigious dining events, and Memphis is lucky to be home to so many who’ve been tapped to cook there.

On April 22, eight Memphis chefs will trek to the James Beard House to host a “Made in Memphis Dinner." Chefs Felicia Willet (Felicia Suzanne’s), Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy), will be returning for repeat performances, while Ryan Jenniges (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy), Jonathan Magallanes (Las Tortugas), Miles McMath (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital), Patrick Reilly (The Majestic Grille) and Ryan Trimm (Sweet Grass, Southward Fare & Libations) will make their debuts. This the first time that such a large Memphis contingent will be cooking at the Beard House at the same event. The meal will feature passed hors d’oeuvre and six courses of some of Memphis’ finest cuisine.

For tickets or more information about the "Made in Memphis Dinner," visit the James Beard Foundation website.