Photo: Focus Mid-South
The taste of Memphis isn’t just a regional craving. It is a worldwide craving, and Eli Townsend wants to share his love for all this Memphis soul food with the world. That is exactly why Eli, who was born and raised in Memphis, has taken to learning and discovering the art of crafting delicious food and is now serving it in his hometown. While some of his travels have taken him away from Memphis, the city’s native son has returned to offer up his take on soul food to anyone hungry for old-meets-new soul food.
Discovering his food roots
Eli was born in Memphis and always had a love for food, but he took a round-about path to discovering it as his calling. At first, he took a job with Tower Center catering where he became the chef de cuisine and learned from several mentors as he started to experiment with his own love of food.
However, he eventually moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he attended Pulaski Tech, majoring in hospitality and tourism. While in school, he took a job at Community Bakery and learned about the world of baking. He has gone on record saying he was never a huge fan of baking because he found it to be more about science, whereas he wanted to be a creative chef artist.
He was exposed to a larger world of baking and eventually went on to become the program manager for Kaleidoscope Kitchen. In the kitchen, he and Olivia Haslop created a cooking curriculum for the local community that was based on foods brought in by the influx of immigrants to the area.
Through his training and tenure at a number of restaurants, he has returned to Memphis to open SAGE, a restaurant and lounge designed to give guests a relaxed yet high-end dining experience. He wanted to offer traditional Southern soul food with an artistic flair, which he found was missing in traditional Southern food.
SAGE has since turned into a go-to spot for young professionals looking for a cocktail after work or who want the perfect place for a dinner date, where the dining is full of delicious, well-prepared food while still being casual.
Soul for Harlem Week
Harlem Week is coming up, and while Eli Townsend is not from New York or Harlem, his food does offer A New Century of Soul. His soul food creations draw not only from Memphis soul food and what he learned in Arkansas but from around the country, including New York City. What often goes under the radar in New York is the city’s incredible and vibrant soul food. However, it is possible to enjoy A Taste of Memphis & Harlem by stopping by SAGE during the up-and-coming Memphis Harlem Week.
Featuring everything from soul waffles to vegetarian fried green tomatoes, there is something for everyone.