Restaurateurs and chefs included in the Memphis Business Journal's Best Chef in Memphis tournament — which pits 32 chefs against each other in a bracket, with online voting to determine a winner — responded Wednesday afternoon with a letter to the paper.
The letter outlines the community spirit of Memphis restaurateurs and reads, in part, "The people who have chosen to make Memphis their culinary home in the past few years have done so with the forethought that Memphis can be and is different than other cut-throat restaurant towns. As such, we feel we will have to respect[fully] decline your offer to participate in the MBJ's Best Chef in Memphis Competition as it is currently structured. It just does not reflect the way in which we choose to do business and support each other."
The full letter below ...
Dear Mr. Epley & The MBJ Staff,
Thank you for your recent offer to participate in the inaugural MBJ's Best Chef in Memphis competition. As people who work hard everyday to elevate the culinary experience in Memphis, we appreciate your coverage of the restaurant and hospitality industry in the Bluff City. The MBJ can serve a vital role in helping to tell the story of the incredible economic, cultural and social impact the restaurant industry has on the MidSouth, and spread the word of the amazing culinary talent and even more unique, the story of our community of shared success.
As the Memphis restaurant scene has continued to develop, especially with the increase of Chef-Owned Restaurants, we as key players in this development have worked to cultivate an environment of inclusiveness. Luckily, this is an environment that is natural to the many of us who have chosen to make Memphis our Restaurant Home. Instead of competing with each other, we send each other business. Instead of poaching talented staff, we share resources to ensure a future of talent. If one of us runs out of lettuce, we run down the street and get a loaner from our neighbor. If one of us receives national praise, the rest of us promote the great news to our own customers. Is there a competitive spirit? Of course. We are, after all, business people. But the people who have chosen to make Memphis their culinary home in the past few years have done so with the forethought that Memphis can be and is different than other cut-throat restaurant towns.
As such, we feel we will have to respect[fully] decline your offer to participate in the MBJ's Best Chef in Memphis Competition as it is currently structured. It just does not reflect the way in which we choose to do business and support each other. We encourage you to look to organizations that focus on highlighting the positives of restaurant communities, such as Cochon555. They have developed a fun way to highlight the talents of local chefs and at the same time elevate the entire food community, rather than "squaring us off" against each other in an arbitrary popularity contest. That is not beneficial to anyone, in the restaurant community or beyond.
We hope that through this process, you may have a little more insight into how much we work together to promote Memphis as a culinary family that is and will continue to be a shining star of the South. That is the real story and one worth telling time and time again.
Patrick & Deni Reilly, The Majestic Grille
Kelly English, Restaurant Iris
Felicia Willett, Felicia Suzanne's
Jose Gutierrez & Colleen DePete, River Oaks
John Littlefield & Bert Smythe, McEwen's & Alchemy
Ryan Trimm, Sweet Grass & Next Door
Andrew Ticer & Michael Hudman, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Jeff Dunham, The Grove Grill
Jonathan Magallanes, Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana
Jason & Rebecca Severs, Bari Ristorante e Enoteca
Bill Taras, Jim's Place East
Mac Edwards, Gannon Hamilton, Leslee Pascal, The Elegant Farmer
John Bragg, Circa
Robbie Cirillo, Bleu & the Westin
Javier Lopez, Folks Folly
Karen Carrier, The Beauty Shop, Molly Fontaine's, Do
Nick Scott, BlueFin Edge Cuisine
David Cleveland & Laura Krug, Cortona
Tommy Peters, Itta Bena, BB King's
Michael Patrick, Rizzo's
"We all work very hard to support each other, promote each other," said one restaurateur who signed the letter. "We all work together to create a restaurant community in Memphis."
When asked how the MBJ's contest differed with the Flyer's Best of Memphis poll and Memphis magazine's Restaurant Poll, the restaurateur responded, "You're not necessarily pitting restaurants against each other." The restaurateur said that MBJ had reached out to those included in the bracket and suggested they use social media to "smack talk each other."
The restaurateur noted that there were some in the bracket who had not signed the letter but that it did not indicate if they agreed or disagreed with the letter to MBJ, only that they could not be reached before the letter was sent on Wednesday before 5 p.m.
Voting in the Best Chef in Memphis began today and runs through February.