Every time I finish talking to Kelly English, I'm hungry. It only seems fair for me to leave you the same way. Until you get to Restaurant Iris, feast on this close-up of the Lobster Knuckle Sandwich.  Photo courtesy of Green Line Marketing.
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Memphis Chef Shows Soul at Grand Cochon Finals in Aspen

What were peaches from Millington and pork smoked at Memphis’ Bar-B-Q Shop doing in Aspen, Colorado on June 17?

Dazzling foodie Andrew Zimmern for one, and repping for the home team.

The tastes of Tennessee were incorporated by Chef Kelly English of Memphis’ Restaurant Iris during Grand Cochon, the national finals for this year’s Cochon555 series, which just unfolded at the Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic. Specifically, English turned the smoked pork into boudin blanc; then pickled the peaches (from Millington’s Jones Orchard) to make a mustard for dressing the sausage.

Chef Kelly English plating a Lobster Knuckle Sandwich at his Restaurant Iris in Memphis. Photo courtesy of Green Line Marketing.

Similarly, English’s Restaurant Iris marries his native Louisiana with his current Tennessee home. Benton’s bacon and Gulf oysters co-exist on the menu, though English told me they’ll soon be sharing space with Ripley tomatoes. “It will be a tomato festival at Iris,” he laughed, explaining, “Tomato season is my favorite. It’s the fifth season to me.”

Outside Restaurant Iris in Memphis. Photo courtesy of Green Line Marketing.

For that bounty, English credits the Delta terroir he’s forever championing – whether he’s supporting local farmers, chatting with the public in his restaurant or the grocery store (seriously – read my last story about him), or cooking for Andrew Zimmern.

Yet anyone who tastes English’s food knows it’s the soil and the soul that make it so good.

Another element of his Grand Cochon trio was lo mein-gone-gourmet, thoroughly infused with pork fat. English entered a similar dish at the Memphis Cochon555 event he won. He told me after that competition that the dish was an ode to the cold Chinese-American leftovers he lived on in college, adding, “You’ve got to cook the food that speaks to you. [These are] things I like to eat…that speak to who I am and my journey from childhood up.”

English wasn’t crowned “Prince of Porc” in Aspen. But, like his beloved Delta, he showed a lot of soul. While sampling English’s dishes at Grand Cochon, Zimmern was quoted as saying, “I love stories that translate food into something so personal. It really shows that Kelly is such a soulful chef.”

The big-name endorsement isn’t foreign to English, who trained under Chef John Besh and was named a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for “Best Chef: Southeast” in 2010 and a FOOD & WINE magazine “Best New Chef” in 2009. Still, he lets passion, not the stars, guide him.

“Passion translates so well into a plate,” he told me. Taste it for yourself this summer at Restaurant Iris.

Every time I finish talking to Kelly English, I’m hungry. It only seems fair for me to leave you the same way. Until you get to Restaurant Iris, feast on this close-up of the Lobster Knuckle Sandwich. Photo courtesy of Green Line Marketing.

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

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