The city of Memphis is a captivating one. From the neighborhoods of Midtown to Cooper-Young, there is something special about the place and its history. For Chefwear, which has been creating apparel for kitchen staff for over twenty-five years, Memphis is more than a destination—it’s a new home. The company recently announced its new headquarters in Olive Branch, Mississippi, just miles from the storied, cultural metropolis.
Memphis evolved from a major American trading center in the nineteenth century to the birthplace of much of modern music, from blues to jazz and gospel to rock n’ roll (not to mention, the chosen home of “The King” himself, Mr. Elvis Presley). A wealth of social, economic and historical influences has always attracted a diversity of dynamic figures and populations; it’s a college town with contemporary allure but rich with history. Memphis is known for being a major center of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and integral to the identity of the American South. And that’s all to say nothing of the food—known the world over for its regional specialties, Memphis and the Mississippi Delta have set the bar for barbecue and beyond.
The chefs in town recognize that special something. Like Chef Karen Carrier, who credits the city with helping bring her ideas to life. “The colors of the trees turning in the fall in Memphis. The sticky humid muggy days of summer. Chomping down on a big wedge of bright red watermelon. Fried chicken slowly cooking,” she says, painting a scene of the city’s many simple, but one-of-a-kind pleasures.
Chefs are known to acknowledge the importance of their surroundings to the food they create and serve—ingredients and climate, farmers and friends. For Chef Wally Joe, the place has been not only his lifelong home, but a platform for his career. “Having grown up and lived in the Mississippi Delta most of my life, it is also where I found my voice and where my career took off. For the national media to have discovered someone like me in the ‘middle of nowhere,’ my profession speaks volumes,” he says. “I have been fortunate to have been recognized with prestigious industry awards and countless media recognition.”
Memphis is a southern city with a culinary heritage spanning generations. Today’s restaurants are taking diners on fresh new food journeys, while paying homage to the work and world their predecessors built. For those in the kitchens, cooking is part of the journey; whether in a family member’s familiar kitchen or the corridors of a city half a world away, chefs study ingredients and cultures, connections and communities, learning to create for other people and better serve their guests.
That path is just as much about passion as it is precision. Memphis chef Karen Carrier says, “You can have great execution, you can go to school to learn how to cook; but if it’s only the execution you display then the poetry is lost. This is why cooking is an art.”
The journey of a cook is that art in motion. It’s about what drives each individual and what propels a career forward. It’s about tapping into memories and translating passion to the plate. “Cooking is not about construction,” Carrier continues. “It’s about flavor. You have to have sensitivity to the food and intuition.” In the kitchen, chefs acknowledge where you come from plays a major part in where you’re going. According to Carrier, “You have to honor the memories of your grandmothers, mothers, aunts, uncles and mentors. Without this, you are just a technician and you have nothing to say.”
Chef Joe agrees, taking steps forward means taking direction from those who came before. “I stand on the shoulders of the giants who paved the way for me,” he says. And just as important are the people around us today—the ones following their own paths, sometimes outside the immediate team. He continues, “The ‘tools’ I rely on are having a great relationship with my vendors and suppliers. We rely on having the the best products to serve, whether it’s fish, seafood, mushrooms or wines.”
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Whether the rich culture, the sun setting over the Mississippi, or the faint sound of blues audible pretty much anywhere inside or outside the city limits, Memphis is indeed special. And no matter the position, whether a few weeknight shifts as a dishwasher or the executive chef, kitchen teams constantly push to learn and grow, fueled by dedication, innovation and passion to achieve their goals. Whether in Memphis or beyond, Chefwear shares the philosophy of building on the past, paving the way for the future—a belief that what is created today comes from a lifetime of learning and experience and sensitivity to surrounding elements—location included.