Memphian to Meet: Chef Kelly English

Posted on June 1, 2014


By Kendra Lyons
2013-Chef-Kelly-English-PHOTOChef Kelly English, a New Orleans native, and alumni from University of Mississippi and theCulinary Institute of America, is the genius behind Restaurant Iris and The Second Line,both located in Overton Square. GRIND readers and writers alike have raved over the food at his establishments, so we decided it was time to talk to English and get the inside scoop on his passion for food and what makes Memphis the perfect place to make a name for himself:

How did you end up in Memphis?
My wife is a native Memphian. When we got the chance to move here and do something we thought was really special, we did not hesitate.

How did your career as a chef begin and evolve to what it is today?

I started as a busboy and catfish fileter. It’s funny, when I think about what turned me on to cooking, it was the idea that through work I can make people smile…and that is the same thing that gets me going today

What do you think makes Restaurant Iris was has been hailed by many as “the best restaurant in Memphis?”
I think our staff is the biggest reason. They care so much about what they do and making people happy.

How is The Second Line different from Restaurant Iris? How do the dining experiences vary? 

They both are rooted in passion for food and fun. At iris, we cook what I think the people who settled in Louisiana would have cooked if they settled here, given the local bounty…in a fancy setting. At the second line we take an honest approach to what I think is the backbone of eating in New Orleans, the average every day casual spot that turns out impeccable food.

What is a typical day in the life of Chef Kelly English like? 
I wake up about 7:30 or 8 and have coffee with my wife. I am at the restaurant at about 9:30 and check emails and prep lists. If the sous chef is off, I get to work prepping until about 2 pm. By then our chef de cuisine, Brian Thurmond, has shown up and is taking things out of my hands and we will chat about menu direction or new ideas. I go back up to the office and do office things until about 5. I’m usually out of the door these days between 10 and 11 pm (it was much later before Brian started to take over some things…usually 12:30). I go home and chat with Angela and hit the sack. The next day is rinse and repeat.

The food culture in Memphis is dominant. How do you compete with all of the other restaurants in the area? What is your tactic to stand out from the rest? 

The thing is I don’t think we compete. Sure, we all want to be as good as we can be, but we do that being ourselves, not by any tactic. I want people to eat in other restaurants…those are my friends that own them and I love them and what they do.

Memphis is known for its barbecue. As a Chef of your own restaurants that provide tons of variety to the traditional Memphis dining scene, how would you redefine what characterizes Memphis cuisine? In other words, how would you describe to someone who has never been to Memphis before, what its food is like and how it varies from other cities? 
I describe Memphis dining with a word that most people who have never been here are not expecting: diverse. From BBQ, to fancy shmancy, to Venezuelan, to real Mexican, to Italian, etc., we got it. I have learned so much about so many other cultures by just eating here. Do you know we have an Ethiopian restaurant?

English’s accomplishments at Restaurant Iris and The Second Line are just the beginning. At the end of June, The Grand Casino in Biloxi will complete its transformation into Harrahs Gulf Coast. “Come check out our newest restaurant Magnolia House there, focusing on the daily haul from the Gulf of Mexico,” English adds.

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