Memphis has made national news. Again. We just can’t seem to escape the limelight thanks to yet another flurry of happenings affiliated with that “c” word. We’re on one of those lists. Again. It’s been published by news outlets and blogs around the country and is repeatedly mentioned on local news. What gives?! Well if you weren’t aware of it before, thanks to this latest wave of publicity you now should be: mention “culinary” and a mention of Memphis is likely to follow suit.
Local chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman were selected as semifinalists for the 2017 Restaurant and Chef Awards presented by the James Beard Foundation, a “prestigious culinary arts organization…at the forefront of America’s culinary community.” Two Memphis restaurants had menu items that made the “Best Burgers in the U.S.” list by Food & Wine magazine. We have numerous restaurants that have been, and will be, featured on the Food Network and whose chefs were selected to be part of high-ratings shows such as Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped. And while all of these public accolades are well worth celebrating, there are a few great things going on behind-the-scenes in Memphis that are worthy of fanfare, too. At the recent Green Leaf Spring Festival hosted by nonprofit Knowledge Quest, I discovered a hidden gem in the heart of our city that perfectly complements its ongoing rise in the culinary world.
Located in South Memphis, Knowledge Quest offers after-school programs to over 450 children in grades Pre-K through 12. The students “receive homework support, social and emotional literacy, recreation, a healthy snack and pursue individual interests through 6 “student passion” clubs.” They also learn about food, farming and farm-to-table through that gem I mentioned discovering: a certified USDA organic farm on 2/3 acre from which harvested produce is available to the public both on site and via local Farmers Markets. It is this same harvested produce that is used by high school students who are part of Knowledge Quest’s Jay Uiberall Culinary Academy, where they learn how to apply their gifts and talents to the creation of dishes through extensive culinary training and the assistance of guest chefs who visit the academy.
While I sat at one of the round tables under the newly unveiled Grizzlies Pavilion, overlooking the Green Leaf Learning Farm (as the organic farm is officially named), one of the fellow guests introduced herself to me. In between bites of healthy, satisfying food prepared by several of the culinary academy students we conversed; she proudly shared that two of her children (a set of twin daughters) were part of the program and members of that day’s culinary team charged with preparing all of the items being enjoyed at the festival. She spoke about the joy it brought her seeing such a beautiful space in their neighborhood, though it also saddened her that more people did not visit the farm, “probably because of the neighborhood.” They need to give it a chance, she explained. “We’re good people, hard-working people. This farm is important to all of us.” She credits Knowledge Quest for giving her daughters an outlet for their creativity and for sowing so much good into the community. “Maybe they’ll both be chefs” she beamed. If so, there is no shortage here of respected mentors and critically acclaimed restaurants from and in which they can continue learning. Perhaps they will be the next gems unearthed in this Memphis neighborhood.
To learn more about Knowledge Quest, its certified USDA organic farm and its culinary academy, please visit www.knowledgequest.org.