The French Connection

After thirty years in Memphis, River Oaks chef/owner Jose Gutierrez reflects upon his distinguished culinary career.

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You become a slave to quality, and you forget to live life,” Gutierrez says now of his early years at Chez Philippe. “People don’t understand how you can be so addicted to pain and suffering, but it gives meaning to your life.”

As head chef, and now owner, of the French-American bistro River Oaks, Gutierrez takes on this new phase of his career with an easier temperament. He recently celebrated 30 years in Memphis, three as head chef of River Oaks and his first year as its owner.

He says that while the food at Chez Philippe was interesting and pushed boundaries, it was often esoteric. “The reason I wanted [my own] restaurant is that I don’t want people to come see me once every six months, on birthdays, anniversaries. I want people who come three or four times a week.”

Gutierrez has found that in River Oaks, where he spends much of his time with his wife and business partner, Colleen, their daughter, Jolene, and their granddaughter. He makes time to ride his bike. At his Midtown home on a Saturday afternoon, his dachshund mix, Molly, at his feet and an espresso on the table beside him, he pauses to look up from the boxes of old menus and photos of the celebrities he has cooked for and the chefs he has cooked alongside.

“It’s great to live for your craft, but you have to live a little,” he says, and then dives back into the box for more photos. Many of these are featured in these pages. Enjoy! 

Julia Child and the Chez Phillipe staff, 1994. Gutierrez' future wife, Colleen, is on the far left.


Hannah Sayle is a staff writer for 
the Memphis Flyer.

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