Master Chef Jose Gutierrez explained his ArtsMemphis culinary series menu inspiration wisely: “Let the space inspire you.” This “space” – the historic James Lee House – was recently renovated into a state-of-the-art bed and breakfast, reserved on a Wednesday evening in January exclusively for ArtsMemphis dinner guests. The vast white mansion, with storytelling facets in every nook, now houses five bedrooms of varying size and design. As guests entered the home and picked up a cocktail, they were whisked throughout the two floors to explore and discover such architectural beauty.
Because of the existing furniture’s fine detailing, stylist JJ Keras added small, complementary pieces to tie the evening together. Candlelit tables, gold dishware, and Ashlye McCormick floral design created a breathtaking backdrop for the four courses.
Prior to the first course, seated guests enjoyed a performance by the Prizm Ensemble, a mixed chamber ensemble committed to chamber music education and young musical development. The program has been introduced to schoolchildren in underserved communities, where, in strong partnership with ArtsMemphis, lives have been transformed and impacted immeasurably.
As one student musician proclaimed in the James Lee House parlor: “I had a spark—Now I have as spectrum.”
The James Lee House’s classic and elegant atmosphere, paired with a mature audience who admires the classic arts, prompted Chef Gutierrez to reflect his surroundings on his plates.
The butternut squash bisque, served in gorgeous white china with gold spoons, introduced a slightly sweet first bite. Yet with studded mozzarella squares and basil ribbons, savory tones came through to create a beautiful balance of taste and texture.
The crispy, almond-crusted mild trout posed atop a “pimientos de piquillo piperade,” which reminded me of a ratatouille with an enfolded lightly scrambled egg. The burst of flavor in the roasted tomatoes, onions, ham, and spices was addictive.
Beef bourguignon has been Chef Gutierrez’s signature dish since Julia Child sealed it with approval upon first bite at the Peabody Hotel. The beef is braised for 12 hours on low heat (Chef places it in the oven at 10 p.m. at takes it out at 10 a.m. the following morning!) to bring out the natural juices and flavors. Caramelized pearl onions tasted like fine sugar, and a wild mushroom medley brought hearty earth tones to the table. All was served on a bed of house made fettuccine, which held the medallions of beef nicely. The accompanying pinot noir was divine.
As guests settled before dessert, globally renowned soprana Kallen Esperian and organ prodigy and concert pianist Gary Beard (now an artist-in-residence at Lindenwood Church) provided a jaw-dropping performance of pure artistic talent. Guests demanded an encore upon hearing her rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” which rang richly throughout the James Lee House.
The echo of Kallen’s voice complemented River Oaks Pastry Chef Frank Oysdel’s quince and golden raisin tart with rich, buttery almond ice cream and caramel sauce. The dessert placed everyone on a much-deserved high note.
Bravo to ArtsMemphis, Chef Jose Gutierrez, Chef Frank Oysdel, PRIZM Ensemble, Kallen Esperian, Gary Beard, Jay and JJ Keras, Cara Greenstein of Caramelized, Ashlye McCormick, Melissa Sweazy, Kathy Buckman and J.W. Gibson, Gwen and Michael Driscoll, and Sasrah and Philip Spinosa.
Passed Hors d’oeuvres
Chorizo with potato crisps
Biscuit croque monsieur
Basil wrapped potato lace shrimp
Butternut squash bisque with fresh mozzarella and basil
Qupe Bien Nacido Cuvee
Crispy trout with pimientos de piquillo piperade
Qupe Bien Nacido Cuvee
Beef Bourguignon with housemade fettuccini, pearl onions and wild mushrooms
Clos Pegase Pinot Noir
Quince and golden raisin tart with almond ice cream and caramel sauce