If the foodie faithful were to track the history of the culinary scene in Memphis, they could almost date the chronology BE and AE, or "Before Erling" and "After Erling."
Born in Denmark 59 years ago, Erling Jensen made his Memphis debut in 1989 after answering a New York Times ad for a job at a French-traditional restaurant named La Tourelle. Legend has it Memphis restaurateur Glenn Hays, who could also serve as a criterion for Memphis gastronomes, hired him over the phone.
Jensen, who graduated from Tech College Aalborg in Denmark with a culinary degree, took the venerable eatery to new heights, garnering awards and recognition over his seven-year tenure at the turreted house on Monroe.
In 1996, he ventured out on his own to open his eponymous eatery on Yates, with the vision of keeping it real, quite literally.
"My vision has always been to stay within my European background — no cutting corners," Jensen says.
That means making all his sauces from scratch as well as his veal and fish stocks.
That does not mean staying within any status quo.
"My influences come from everywhere," he says. "I'm all over the map. I do some Asian things, new American. There's a lot of good stuff coming up now."
It all seems to have worked for the venerated chef. Erling Jensen: The Restaurant has made frequent appearances as "Best Restaurant" on various Memphis polls year in and year out.
Some dishes have come and gone, and some have become a Jensen tradition.
His rack of lamb has been synonymous with the Jensen name since his days in Midtown. The pasta with shrimp and scallops, his crab cakes, and his Dover sole are institutions.
Most recently his bison burgers have made their way on to the list of reliables.
The foodie faithful might just be wondering what's next for the Memphis darling?
A celebratory 20-year anniversary dinner, anyone?
Starting Thursday, November 17th through Saturday, the 19th, Jensen will offer a special five-course dinner.
The three days are sold out, but Jensen is considering adding a Sunday dinner if enough interest warrants the move.
On the menu for those nights:
Scallops with saffron vanilla sauce, Scottish pheasant breast with lingonberries, roasted lamb loin en croute with lobster glacé, and bison ribeye with foie gras and a demi glacé.
The fact that it ends with his chocolate soufflé deserves its own paragraph.
Each course is paired with wine.
In the meantime, his energy is contagious.
In addition to running a longstanding landing-place, where he can be found every other day and where he designs weekly menus, he's at nearly every restaurant event in Memphis, and he has a 3-year-old little boy, Blake, to look after as well as a new wife.
"I would say everything's been going pretty good," Jensen says. "It's had its ups and downs, like everything, like life.
"I try not to rest on any laurels. All the restaurants we have now. It's crazy. It's good. You have to be on your toes. You have to be on your toes every day."