The South is all about palate. Preparation of the delectable is artistry. These ingredients--inspired creativity, intuitive food interpretation, keen attention to detail, commitment to quality, adroit decisiveness--combine to yield some of Tennessee's most talented, taste-tempting chefs. In our great state, we bow with gratitude to those who conjure masterpieces of culinary magic.
Chef Reny brings his love of the farm, the sea to Chez Philippe
Chef Reinaldo Alfonso's arrival at Chez Philippe, the 4-star Memphis Peabody's legendary restaurant, was heralded by a enlivening relaunch of the refined, elegant dining room. A French-Asian menu created from the chef's culinary school training and experience in the kitchens of Le Bernardin, The Forge, and Tsunami met with wide Memphis acclaim.
While French presentation remains a constant at The Peabody's signature restaurant, the Asian influences have all but disappeared. They have been replaced by vivid interpretations of family recipes, a childhood spent fishing in the ocean and stoking the fire at Cuban pig roasts, and a defining trip to Austria. Today, "Chef Reny," as he's now known at The Peabody, brings his love of two things to the kitchen of Chez Philippe: the farm and the sea.
Chef Reny's earliest culinary experiences were born of his Cuban heritage. Raised between Miami and Costa Rica, the son of Cuban parents, Reny's relationship with food began in his grandmother's kitchen, preparing family favorites like ropa vieja and natilla. Backyard pig roasts, where a whole pig is laid flat, and slow cooked over hot coals on a makeshift cinderblock grill, were the way his family celebrated many occasions.
In 2007, Chef Reny joined The Peabody's Executive Pastry Chef Konrad Spitzbart on a trip to Austria, where Konrad's family owns a farm that specializes in raising Mangalica pigs. The two spent their vacation helping out on the farm and feasting on headcheese, fresh sausages and cured meats.
Reny returned home a self-professed "porkaholic" with a passion for charcuterie. He immediately sought out books, recipes and equipment; he built a cold smoker and a cure box in his garage. As it happens, one of the leading heritage Berkshire pork farmers in the U.S., Newman Farms, is located just a few hours from Memphis. He bought a 250-pound whole pig as his first project.
A few years and several pigs later, Reny feels confident enough to bring his affair with charcuterie to his guests in Chez Philippe. Items like chorizo sausage, sopressata, salami, ham and bacons can be found on the menu as weekly specials. Reny has become a regular at the Memphis Farmer's Market, partnering with local farmers to bring local and organic meats to his restaurant guests--an effort that has extended to included produce and spices wherever possible.
Living near the ocean most of his life, Reny enjoyed fishing for grouper, snapper and wahoo, cooking his day's catch for dinner that night. Even today, the ocean plays heavily into his food memories. He recalled to the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the first food he remembered eating was an "unbelievable ripe mango that was peeled by hand and dipped in ocean water before each bite."
Today he brings that reverence for the sea to his menu by serving only sustainable seafood, as recommended by the National Resources Defense Council. Fish served at The Peabody's gem extraordinare is either hook-and-line caught or raised at farms that have met sustainable guidelines provided by the NRDC, SeaWeb or Cleanfish.
Come be Chef Reny's guest at Chez Philippe for a superb dining occasion.