First Memphis-raised head chef takes the helm at Chez Philippe

Chez Philippe, the fine-dining restaurant in The Peabody Memphis hotel, recently hired a new chef who learned his craft in local kitchens.

Chef Keith Clinton, who previously worked at Erling Jensen The Restaurant, has joined Chez Philippe’s culinary team as the chef de cuisine, or the head of the kitchen.

“I’ve always enjoyed cooking in some sort of luxury capacity, using extremely hard-to-find ingredients or processes that take extra time,” Clinton said. “Chez Philippe is one of the only restaurants in this area that really offered that style of dining.”

Clinton is also the first Memphis-born and -trained chef that Chez Philippe has hired in its 41 years.

“He’s good in so many ways,” The Peabody president Doug Browne said. “We’re excited about him. He is very humble, so personable and friendly.”

Browne has worked at the historic Memphis hotel for 20 years, and throughout those years, there have only been a handful of executive chefs at Chez Philippe — though other notable local culinarians, such as Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, also worked at the restaurant.

The search for a new chef for Chez Philippe was national, and Browne said finding Clinton was “pure luck.”

“I think we loved him from the minute he started,” Browne said. “He has been incredible.”

For the restaurant’s summer menu, Clinton focused on the acidity of his ingredients in both his seven-course chef’s tasting and four-course menu.

“Acidity is something that I always look for in a dish,” Clinton said. “It’s one of the components that I think most dishes need.”

One of the dishes Clinton is most proud of on the menu is the first course of the seven-course tasting: tuna crudo, with avocado, cherry blossom and grapefruit.

“It’s so fun,” Clinton said. “I think it’s a great opener. It sets the tone for the rest of the meal. It’s going to be thoughtful and really wake up your mouth.”

Clinton understands about half of diners will not like at least one ingredient in any given dish. But the reward for him is creating a flavor combination that changes people’s minds about what they think they don’t like.

Browne said Clinton’s talent isn’t only in the culinary aspect of the restaurant, but also the business side.

“A lot of times, you get these really highly talented chefs, but they’re not good business people as well,” Browne said. “Keith really has the whole picture.”

During service, Clinton will leave the kitchen and greet guests more than once, even going so far as to make sure servers know which hand is a guest’s dominant one.

For some courses, he will present dishes and add finishing touches to dishes at the table.

“Keith is very present in the dining room,” said Kelly Brock, the director of marketing and communications for the Peabody. “He comes out to every single table and chats up the guests and talks to them about food and travel.”

In between courses, Clinton will often also send complimentary tasting dishes to guests’ tables to see what they think of possible new menu items and to make the experience memorable.

“It’s a transition piece and makes the meals feel more fluid,” Clinton said. “I’d rather make a memory for them than just working at a place that (serves) 150 to 200 people a night and is just a regular Tuesday going out to eat with some people.”

Understanding fine dining restaurants like Chez Philippe are expensive, Clinton said he wants the meal to feel worth the expense.

Chez Philippe closed in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic but reopened in late 2022. During the two years it was closed, the hotel did renovations and touch-ups throughout the restaurant.

The restaurant offered a seven-course tasting menu when it first reopened, but with Clinton, Chez Philippe also now offers the four-course menu. The restaurant also brought back its 150th anniversary Royal Wagyu burger because it was so popular.

“I think (Clinton) will continue to grow (Chez Philippe),” Browne said. “I think you’re going to see some exciting things to come and new culinary delights that he’s going to come up with.”

As for Clinton, he feels similarly.

“I love the way that they give me the freedom to use my own vision to make fine dining great again,” Clinton said.

This article was originally featured at  “dailymemphian.com

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