Call it a coup for the zoo. The James Beard Foundation celebrity chef tour is a hot ticket in every city it visits–and for the first time ever, the Beard Foundation brings its tour to a zoo–the Memphis Zoo.

“We are extremely honored to be chosen as the first zoo ever to host a dinner of this caliber,” says Memphis Zoo CEO Chuck Brady, who says the foundation contacted the zoo based on its reputation for unique venues and successful events.

Teton Trek

The Teton Trek’s gorgeous log cabin and surroundings provide the setting for the James Beard Foundation dinner.

On October 8, chefs hand picked by the foundation will create a five-course feast for guests, who will gather for the dinner at the Teton Trek exhibit. Two of the chefs—John Currence, of Oxford’s City Grocery, and Michael Ginor, from Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Great Neck, NY—are Beard Award winners, and they will be joined by five local and regional chefs with national reputations.

Chef Kelly English plates burgers at the 2014 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

Chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris and The Second Line plates burgers at the 2014 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

Memphis chefs are Kelly English, from Restaurant Iris and The Second Line, Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer, from Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, and Phillip Ashley Rix, from Phillip Ashley Chocolates. Steven Satterfield from Miller Union in Atlanta rounds out the culinary talent. The Andrew Michael chefs are 2015 JBF finalists for the best chef in the Southeast.

While the menu will be a complete surprise right up to the dinner, we do know that each chef is preparing a specialty dish that pairs with a carefully chosen selection of wine. Nick Talarico, from Andrew Michael, is the mixologist who chose the pairings, and he’ll also be on hand to create special cocktails for the evening.

chef john currence

Chef John Currence of Oxford’s City Grocery is a James Beard Award winner—and one of the featured chefs at the foundation dinner. Image: City Grocery

Phillip Ashley Rix_Phillip Ashley Chocolates

Chef Phillip Ashley Rix will bring his signature French bleu cheese truffle, as well as a plated dessert, to close the dinner.

“This will be my first JBF experience, and I’m extremely honored that they have included me on their Memphis leg of the tour,” says Phillip, the Willy Wonka of designer chocolates who produces between 5,000 and 7,500 individual pieces of chocolate every week.

He says the JBF left the menu planning to the participating chefs, who collaborated via email to create what’s sure to be a divine dining experience. “We all have a great appreciation and understanding for the caliber of event the JBF tour represents, so we were able to successfully orchestrate a menu without having to meet up,” he says. “I will say a chef  ‘jam session’ would’ve been quite the tasty treat!”

We did get Phillip to dish on one dish–he will be passing his award-winning French bleu cheese truffle, and will close out the meal with a plated dessert “that’s a chocolate play on one of my favorite Southern desserts.”

For Phillip, the celebrity chef dinner is all about extreme excellence. “Executing at a high level and doing it on demand is my daily aspiration,” he says. “I’m looking forward to exceeding the expectations of devoted foodies that will be attending.”

A cookbook author and teacher, James Beard was a mentor to many chefs, both professional and nonprofessional. His foundation continues his work to both educate food enthusiasts and celebrate American chefs.

The James Beard Foundation 2015 Celebrity Chef Tour at the Memphis Zoo takes place Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, at 6:30 p.m. Tables of eight are $1,600, and can be purchased by calling the zoo at (901) 333-6571.

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