Phillip Dewayne had no desire to be a chef when, as a teenager, he landed a job washing dishes at The Peabody.
His friend's mom got him a job in the banquet kitchen. "Which is hundreds and thousands of dishes a night because of the capacity of work they do," Dewayne says.
That's when he met the man he calls "Dad" — Andreas Kisler, The Peabody's executive chef.
- Michael Donahue
- Phillip Dewayne
Dewayne now is chef/owner of Park + Cherry at Dixon Gallery and Gardens. "I never would have taken this journey without him," he says. "Honestly, I owe everything to that guy."
On February 20th, Dewayne and Aaron Bertelsen, author of Grow Fruit & Vegetables in Pots: Planting Advice & Recipes from Great Dixter, will create a three-course dinner.
Dewayne, 30, who grew up in a two-bedroom house with his mother, grandparents, sister, and brother in Klondike in North Memphis, had never met anybody like Kisler. "Kisler and I had a few talks, and he basically told me, 'You know, if you take this seriously, you listen to me, one day you can go on to open your own restaurant. You'll be as successful as you push yourself and allow yourself to be.'"
Dewayne became a cook, and Kisler yelled at him like he did the other cooks. "I would overcook things," he says. "I would undercook meats. I screwed up a lot. I was 18, 19 at the time. I wasn't always prompt. I got sent home a ton for not being in the right attire."
But Kisler also told him, "You know, I have to be that guy because I have to get the team in order."
Dewayne became Kisler's "go-to guy." He helped him with the hotel's wedding tastings and banquet events. "We became like Batman and Robin," Dewayne says.
He refers to Kisler as Dad. "Not having a dad, he kind of stepped into that role for me," he says. "I had the ultimate respect for him. I knew that he was really trying to give me something I could have for a lifetime."
After a few years, Dewayne left the hotel and went to work for River Oaks' chef/owner Jose Gutierrez. "Andreas probably would have preferred for me to stay and work my way up, but my ambition pushed me to want to leave The Peabody," he says.
Dewayne also worked at Restaurant Iris under chef/owner Kelly English. "Andreas and Jose were more French technique straight by the book," he says. "Kelly was true to the South. Very Cajun, very New Orleans Creole."
After Restaurant Iris, Dewayne took a job at the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, joined the Navy, then moved back to Memphis, where he worked as a private chef, became part of a catering business, and began his own meal prep business.
Dewayne then got the job at Dixon, where he focuses on farm-to-table dishes. As for the "Phillip Dewayne style," he says, "I like Asian [food], so I'm trying to create more of a French-Asian fusion. ... I love to create a taste that people never had before."
Dewayne's excited about working with Bertelsen. "We're going to team up for a USA-UK collaboration take on dinner. We've created a menu that's American and British, based on some of the recipes from his books. I've tweaked them a bit to add a little a Southern flair."
And now Dewayne is giving back. He created the Chef Phillip Dewayne Foundation. "I teach parents how to nourish their kids. It's an effort to fight childhood obesity and give food knowledge to poverty-ridden neighborhoods."
Garden to Table dinner with chef Phillip Dewayne and Aaron Bertelsen from the Great Dixter House & Gardens in East Sussex will be held at 6 p.m. on February 20th at Park + Cherry restaurant at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 4330 Park. Tickets are $150, which includes all food and beverages and a copy of Bertelsen's book. To make reservations, call 761-5250 or visit dixon.org.