James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour

IMG_9825 I have intentionally taken five days following the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour to let the mesmerizing moments and tastes and sights sink in. It was truly an honor to not only sit amongst such beautiful, appreciative Memphis company, but also to stand in the kitchen with top chefs and mentors of our country's food landscape.

Though the wine glass count per table topped almost 75, and the amount of foie gras arguably confused Tennessee for France, the entire evening's James Beard experience could be stripped down to one word: refinement.

Cultured elegance and pure creativity poured out of the hearts of the seven participating chefs and onto the plates of the 180 attendees. They were not about boasting skill sets over one another; they were about sharing and honoring the culinary insights James Beard had directly and indirectly passed onto them.

Jeff, our James Beard Foundation host for the evening, opened the sit-down dinner with the captivating storytelling of James Beard's culinary legacy. Immediately following Beard's 1985 death in Manhattan, Wolfgang Puck cooked in Beard's kitchen for a party of twelve to celebrate the chef's life and lasting impact. To this day, chefs nationwide prepare out-of-this-world cuisine in the James Beard House. Memphis is lucky enough to have been selected as a Celebrity Chef Tour stop, during which chefs road trip to provide a matched dining experience to the original in Manhattan.

The Memphis Zoo was an optimal and unexpected location for the dinner; in fact, it's the first zoo in history to ever host a James Beard dinner. Weather could not have been more wonderful for an outdoor cocktail hour and sea lion show. The rustic Teton Trek dinner site was gorgeously decorated with warm linens and gold flatware.

Memphis' Chefs Andy Ticer, Michael Hudman, Kelly English and Phillip Ashley Rix knocked it out of the park, and they were joined by Atlanta's Steven Sutterfield, Oxford's John Currence, and New York's Michael Ginor.


Chef Steven Sutterfield, whose kind personality complements his insanely talented work with the South's seasonal vegetables, magically turned a first flavor of fall--the delicata squash--into candy. New York Chef Michael Ginor's foie gras with brandied pickled quince and champagne brought me back to sparkly summer evenings in Paris in 2013.

Chefs Andy and Michael prepared a dainty ditalini pasta by hand with Southern lady peas and an inimitable broth. Shaved muscadine grapes studded the top of each plate for a punch of sweetness. I'm a sucker for all pastas, but this pasta...Oh man.


Chef John Currence's explanation of his sausage-stuffed quail over sweet potato epitomizes the union of cooking and community. Chef devoted each component of his dish to another chef in the room: The sausage's texture taken after Currence's first bite of Andy and Michael's meatballs at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen; the action of stuffing thanks to Chef Kelly English, who brilliantly stuffs everything; the pure sweet potato inspired by Satterfield's "insanely subtle things with vegetables." I agreed with Currence's remark that "there is no better justice to and interpretation of Italian food than Andy and Mikey."

That explanataion, to me, defines community and the reason we're all in the kitchen in the first place. Thank you, Chef Currence, for sharing the meaning of sharing.

I was lucky enough to stand in the prep line for Chef Kelly English's Lebanese-rubbed lamb; I watched the other chefs work to make English's plate look off-the-charts. Chef Andy Ticer spread the pureed cauliflower, while Chef Phillip Ashley Rix carefully placed each piece of lamb atop the base. It was a beautiful sight and, of course, made the first bite even more delicious. I'm refreshed by Chef Kelly's ability to show his well-rounded abilities, though he's known around here as the Creole master. I'll never forget his Asian-inspired dish at a Hog & Hominy fundraiser dinner. English proves over and over again that his work never settles; it's always evolving.

I realize I have yet to mention the wine pairings and libations, which consistently wowed every guest, my favorite being a special, limited edition Pinot Noir alongside Currence's quail. Mixologist Nick Talarico of Memphis' Andrew Michael trifecta prepared cocktails with herbs and fine liquors and gorgeous presentation.

The evening served as a collective toast to refinement; a proof that James Beard's original ideas are still thoughtfully impacting kitchens nationwide...even the Memphis Zoo's.

Skewer (Memphis)

IMG_9871 Skewers, sushi and ramen, oh my.

Nestled in a Sanderlin shopping centre with Napa Café, Muddy's Bake Shop, and Cosmic Coconut, Skewer's 50-seat restaurant carries a nonchalant, modest beat while preparing, in my opinion, the best Japanese in town. Chef Gai Klaimongkol, originally from my beloved Thai favorite Bangkok Alley, opened the spot in January to expand Memphis' Japanese palate. Chef did well.

While the sushi is fresh and reliable (and highly recommended), the rest of the menu boasts authentic excellence and creative twists to the "expected" Asian dinner menu.

For a lighter lunch or dinner, I recommend the fresh tuna tataki with addictive ponzu sauce and the three mushrooms salad. The salad boasts a combination of exotic pan-roasted mushrooms (that challenge even Whole Foods' selection) over baby greens and shaved almonds. The honey soy vinaigrette is unreal. I'm considering buying enough to use on my own home-prepared salads.


If you've ever been to Smorgasburg (or read my recap), you've heard about the famous ramen burger, in which the bun is brilliantly made of a crispy ramen patty. Skewer has mastered the dish here in Memphis; in fact, they take it up another level. Caramelized onions, bacon, and a side of nori, seaweed-dusted fries with spicy mayo put Brooklyn to shame.

Of course, the namesake is a must-try, too: I ordered a chili shrimp, beef tenderloin and asparagus skewer trio. The portions are perfect and allow for easy sharing. Okra and shiitake mushroom skewers are my other favorite vegetable offerings.


Oh, and featured bonus: no corkage fee. Bring your favorite bottle of red, white or sake to enjoy with a yakitori dish or two! I look forward to cozying up with a bowl of ramen or a rice bowl once the weather cools to appropriate autumn temperatures.

Follow Skewer's mouth-watering menu items on Instagram.


Where to Brunch in Memphis


Caramelized_Brunch I frequently joke that my newest title should be the Caramelized "concierge," specifically because not one weekend passes without a text or email with restaurant requests. I'll admit--The answers now arrive more naturally, though it's terribly difficult to align my recommendations with the preferences of those asking.

In an attempt to cover the Memphis must-tries, I created a Memphis City Guide earlier in the year of my favorite finds around town. Karlee Bronson, a Memphis transplant and talented artist behind Milo Made Studio, reached out to illustrate the list in ink and watercolor. Her final product is effortlessly wonderful--I couldn't be more excited with the final piece! I urge you to share the list with friends and strangers, alike. We'll be working on more in the future.

A flaky almond croissant at Cafe Keough. Baked eggs in Brioche at Tart. A ginger scone and latté at Muddy's. Sweet potato pancakes in Elvis' booth at Arcade. Grapefruit brulée at Porcellino's. Migas and Bloody Mary at Beauty Shop. Cheese grits on cheese grits at Brother Juniper's.  The options are inevitably outstanding.

So, where to brunch first? Let me know where you choose during this gorgeous autumn weekend!


Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana (Memphis)

This month has marked the culmination of revisited old favorites in town. Perhaps it's the recent wave of new Memphis transplants who have yet to experience restaurants I had simply taken for granted. I've played the "concierge" hat this weekend, especially, introducing new friends South Main Trolley Night, impeccable seafood and a warm, familiar crowd at Tsunami, and a healthy quick fix at LYFE Kitchen. Yesterday's lunch at Las Tortugas acquainted a whirlwind of nostalgia and joy--It had somehow been about a year since I was able to enjoy the frescas and tortas and tacos and salsas. The original spot on Germantown Parkway (though a second location is in the works!) boasts no fanciness in decor or set-up, but instead a warm, wonderful greeting by owner Jonathan Magallanes at the cash register.

Having brought a new Memphian to try the restaurant for the first time, Jonathan whisked us into a tale of the Las Tortugas process and proper recommendations. Becci and I decided (with Jonathan's blessing) to split a few must-haves: tacos, tortas and mexican street corn. Jonathan was kind enough to give Becci a guacamole sampler to accompany our meal since we did not order the full chips and guac item--arguably the best chips and guac in town.


I am routinely drawn to the flaky fish tacos with avocado, lime and cilantro. We noticed, however, a Claybrook Farms brisket taco special in green Expo market on the register's accompanying white board. Great choice. Flaky brisket from a farm only miles away worked beautifully with the avocado, and an extra smoky barbecue-inspired sauce added a tasteful kick.

Becci and I also split the smoked chicken torta, which beats any typical sandwich and pleases our carb-mindful friends. The bread is hollowed out and grilled to mimic a crispy, almost tortilla-chip-like texture. Loaded with chicken, farmer's cheese, tomato and avocado, this Mexican take on a sub is a classic go-to at the restaurant.


And, of course, we savored the extra buttery, cojita-crumbled Mexican street corn with a squeeze of lime and sprinkle of spice. In my opinion, a trip to Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana is incomplete without the street corn side. No one masters it better in Memphis.

Here's to revisiting the old but good ones; the restaurants whose consistency and quality and passion once created and now sustain Memphis' culinary merit.


Memphis' Most Grateful

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My Sunday routine of coffee & quiet newspaper reading met an unusual and hard-to-believe occurrence this morning. Memphis Most winners were announced in a Commercial Appeal annual special publication. There I was (with martini in hand) next to the bolded phrase: Best Local Blogger/Blog.

Memphis, I've never felt more grateful for such recognition. The early morning alarms to conjure up recipes or write new entertaining tips are absolutely worthwhile. I am motivated more than ever to bring fresh and thoughtful Caramelized content.

Check out the full list of winners here; I am clearly in such great company. (Shout out to winning restaurant friends at Muddy's, Folk's Folly, and The Second Line!)

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A Generous Pour at The Capital Grille

IMG_8559 Wouldn't anyone prefer a generous pour? Well, The Capital Grille poses the term not simply for quantity (eight glasses, that is), but more importantly for the experiential quality of a truly differentiated wine offering. Rather than being forced to marry into an expensive bottle, the restaurant offers a $28 buy-in with eight outstanding Californian 3 oz. wine tastings to complement your steakhouse meal.

With an emphasis on all-female winemakers, the mini wine dinner gives tasters a chance to see the contrasts between grapes and advance wine palates. A sauvignon blanc and cabernet are rarely placed at the same place setting, yet The Capital Grille offers the opportunity, if desired. Waiters exercise their wine pairing ability; if you select the porcini-rubbed bone-in filet with aged balsamic, the Matanzas Creek benchmark Sonoma merlot could suit your fancy. The Chilean seabass might be joined by the Galierie "Naissance" Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc by winemaker Laura Dîaz Muñoz.

I was lucky enough to be walked through the Generous Pour offerings by Master Sommelier George Miliotes. Only 215 masters exist in the world since the program's 1958 inception. Pretty impressive, huh?

Our table's favorite was the 2007 Kinton Syrah, whose purity is usually savored for the end of the meal. 2007 marked a storybook vintage in California. The experienced finish is a can't-miss opportunity at the restaurant. As George noted, "We drink our wines so young! Seldom do we enjoy a perfectly aged glass. Here's your chance."

The restaurant's signature summer event, now in its 9th year, is available through the end of August. I highly recommend the experience!

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