River Oaks' Chef José Gutierrez Reflects on 30 Years in Memphis
Note: This is the third entry in our new weekly blog, "Beyond the Bio," where we ask MBQ Power Players to write a post of their choosing about their industry. The Power Players category in the November/December 2012 MBQ is Restaurateurs. Last week we had Lauren Boggs McHugh of Huey's on growing up in the food industry, and the week before Ben Smith of Tsunami talking about the "new normal." This week, Jose Gutierrez, chef of River Oaks restaurant, reflects on 30 years in the Memphis dining scene. Check this space weekly for future installments of "Beyond the Bio."
I recently celebrated 30 years in Memphis. Looking back, I realize just how long 30 years in one city really is, and it makes me grateful for all of the incredible people I have met. I have so many fond memories of my 22 years at Chez Philippe, but my absolute favorite part was the chef’s table in the kitchen that seated 30 people.
From those early experiences at Chez Philippe, I learned that in order to be a great chef in this city, you must know your customers and what they like. We just put ingredients together. The farmers are the true stars. They work extremely hard and sacrifice so much to bring us the very best products. Then you must serve it to the people the way they like it. My customers know I will always listen to them and that I appreciate their feedback. Jack Belz comes to my restaurant, River Oaks, because I always make him a special vegetable soup. Customers know they will find the foods and recipes they love.
Those same customers also joke with me about my French accent, which is still very strong after 30 years in the South. What they might not know is that language barriers drove me to this profession. During my school days, I developed an open curiosity about things and a desire to learn on my own. That has helped me because my customers’ interests are so diverse. A life in the kitchen would be very boring without customer interaction, and I enjoy discussing a wide range of topics — everything from photography to childhood nutrition.
Some might get bored being in the same city for 30 years. I am greatly humbled by the love, support, and friendship I have received. I consider myself lucky that I am a Memphian, and I have been able to share my love of food and conversation with the wonderful people of this great city — first at Chez Philippe, then at Encore, and now at River Oaks.
Power Player Bio:
Chef of River Oaks Restaurant. Professional Culinary School in Manosque, France; trained under Chefs Roger Petit, Francis Trocelie, and Paul Bocuse. Previously owner and chef of Encore Restaurant and Bar; Chef de Cuisine of Chez Philippe, Peabody Hotel for 22 years; Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant de France, Meridian Hotel in Houston. Master Chef of the Year 2011 and 1996 — Maitre Cuisinier de France; Great American Chef Award 1999; Chef of the Century 1998, The American Academy of Hospitality and Sciences. Married to business partner, Colleen.