The French Connection
After thirty years in Memphis, River Oaks chef/owner Jose Guitierrez reflects upon his distinguished culinary career.
Chef Jose Guitierrez in the mid-1980s at Chez Phillipe.
photograph courtesy Jose Guitierrez
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Mid-afternoon, around 2 p.m., is espresso time at José Gutierrez’ River Oaks restaurant. Before us on the sleek bar top is the paragon of espressos: a rich dark base crowned with a centimeter of velvety caramel-colored crema. Nearby, Gutierrez’ phone displays an identical image to that before us on the bar.
“I made this one,” he says, pointing to the espresso pictured on his phone. “The machine made this,” he says, pointing to the one in front of him.
“Watch,” he says. He walks to a machine at the end of the bar, pushes a button, and out pours a perfect espresso. “I could make it myself, but this is faster.”
Gutierrez leaves the espresso-making to the espresso maker. He takes the upcoming Saturday-night dinner service with a laidback assuredness. After 30 years in Memphis, 22 of them spent at Chez Philippe in The Peabody, Gutierrez has mellowed. He is, after all, the dean of Memphis cuisine, a master chef who has seen restaurants come and go, and a mentor who has played a significant role in nurturing many of the individuals who are at the center of this city’s contemporary culinary scene. And it’s been quite the journey . . .